Air New Zealand uses AI-based visual systems to reduce turnaround times

Auckland, New Zealand - Air New Zealand is using computer-vision and AI-equipped cameras to track the activity of its planes at Auckland Airport to help them turn around faster for their next flights.

The airline has released more details of a trial using computer-vision artificial intelligence (AI) which it hopes will help improve its on-time performance.

The new technology, made available through a partnership with Switzerland and United States-based technology company Assaia and alongside Auckland Airport, uses computer-vision AI-equipped cameras to capture key aircraft turn activities and to predict future operational needs.

An aircraft turn involves more than 50 coordinated activities.
These include disembarking of passengers and crew, cabin cleaning, catering and restocking, offloading of arriving baggage and cargo, refueling, safety and airworthiness inspections, loading of departing baggage and cargo and passenger embarkation.
Turn time of an aircraft is the time from when an aircraft stops on the gate to the time the aircraft leaves the gate.

The process involves the planning and handling of the tasks that ensure the cleanliness, safety, and efficiency of the next flight. The turn time is a significant contributor to positive passenger experience and airline performance.

Last year the airline outlined a number of measures it was putting in place to improve its OTP (On-time performance), which had slipped down global rankings, partly because of knock-on effects of Dreamliner engine problems and a series of adverse weather events. Air New Zealand aims to have OTP of 85 percent - a plane arriving within 15 minutes of its scheduled time - but had seen that slip at times to 76 percent.

It aims to turn around an Airbus A320 on domestic routes in around 35 minutes. Air New Zealand program manager for operational performance Marianita Willis says the Assaia Apron AI technology helps operations staff to better monitor and understand what is happening during an aircraft turn and offer real-time alerts and predictive analysis to better manage operations.

"For each flight, there is a precise timeline associated with each activity to get the plane turned – understanding what is happening at each of these points enables us to proactively manage them. The technology enables additional data points to be collected in a real-time situation, offering a bird's eye view which helps us get the necessary equipment and people in place."

She said the Assaia Apron AI system generates timestamps, predictions, and alerts that allow operational teams to proactively make improvements.

"Trends can be identified which allow us to predict the future challenges we might face, therefore allowing us to make significant improvements to our operations. It is often the potential issues that we resolve ahead of time that are key."

Last year the airline's chief ground operations manager Carrie Hurihanganui told the Herald that other measures to improve OTP included the reduction in the number of crew swapping between aircraft had been reduced and turnaround managers had been put at gates to ''quarterback'' the operation. Air New Zealand's chief digital officer, Jennifer Sepull, said the use of artificial intelligence is an example of how the business is exploring new technology and innovations to help solve real business challenges and improve performance for its customers.

"In leveraging machine learning and computer vision in this way, we have been able to get actionable data insights. Technology is becoming increasingly accessible through both local and global innovation ecosystems and this is a powerful example of what you can achieve when you build strong technology partnerships."

The airline will continue the Assaia Apron AI system trial into 2020 and the next steps will be to better understand the data and analytics and to more fully assess the technology's value to the business. British Airways last year also started a trial using Assaia technology. In this first stage of the trial, British Airways and Assaia have installed four cameras on three stands at Heathrow Terminal 5.