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Welcome to the official blog of the International Society of Automation (ISA).

This blog covers numerous topics on industrial automation such as operations & management, continuous & batch processing, connectivity, manufacturing & machine control, and Industry 4.0.

The material and information contained on this website is for general information purposes only. ISA blog posts may be authored by ISA staff and guest authors from the automation community. Views and opinions expressed by a guest author are solely their own, and do not necessarily represent those of ISA. Posts made by guest authors have been subject to peer review.

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How IoT Is Empowering Safety and Efficiency in Aviation

IoT has changed operations in many industries, including aviation. Anyone who has spent time at an airport knows how many things go on behind the scenes to ensure planes take off and land safely, passengers get the right boarding information and bags reach their destinations. Smart sensors can increase visibility and safety, helping these operations run more smoothly. 

 

Shortening Baggage Transit Times 

Getting bags from check-in desks to the correct planes is a major undertaking. Many airports are upgrading their technologies to make the process more manageable. Besides accelerating bag-related time frames, this approach could decrease baggage mistakes.

One recent case involved Ireland’s Dublin Airport, which installed a €200 million system to improve service to its tens of millions of passengers each year. The solution involves several miles of conveyor belts. In addition to its numerous tracking sensors, the technology has cameras that monitor each bag as it moves. This setup minimizes bag jams, which previously slowed operations. 

The technology also shortens the time for bags to arrive in the claim area after the plane lands. The European Union’s average is 40 minutes, but this new system has lowered Dublin Airport’s average to 18 minutes.

Many passengers get frustrated by lost bags or long wait times to claim their luggage, opting to only travel with carry-ons. However, this decision cuts into airlines’ bottom lines because the fees for checking baggage are usually higher than those associated with bags brought onto planes. Using IoT to streamline baggage handling could result in satisfaction for everyone involved. 

 

Automating Plane Movements 

Many aviation decision-makers are exploring how they could use IoT sensors to automate more of the most demanding tasks. Airbus is in the last testing phase of an autonomous system to handle landings, diversions and taxiing. 

During real-world tests at France’s Toulouse-Blagnac Airport, the technology enabled real-time obstacle avoidance. Such use cases could significantly increase safety. The system relies on IoT sensors, computer vision and flight data to guide planes to the correct locations. 

Information from the company that developed the technology indicates it could let a plane fly and land safely, even if the pilot becomes incapacitated. Landings are some of the most dangerous parts of flying due to the low altitude and shorter amounts of time pilots have to react after noticing faults. 

However, accidents are gradually declining. There were 1,728 aviation accidents in 2001, with 326 involving fatalities. Contrast that with 2019, which had 1,228 accidents, with 233 causing deaths. Technology advancements like those tested by Airbus are important for continuing the trend of safer air travel. If some critical operations are even partially automated, the overall stress and demands placed on pilots could decrease, too. 

 

Monitoring Passenger Flow Patterns 

Airports have high activity levels during most hours of the day. The specifics depend on when flights land and depart and how full they are. However, people can usually buy meals, sip alcoholic beverages and shop at duty-free outlets during hours when restaurants and shops elsewhere are closed. Getting data about how customers spend their time at airports can help managers make better staffing decisions that reduce wait times and increase satisfaction. 

At the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, leaders deployed IoT sensors to understand how departing passengers move through the various facilities. The airport was an early adopter of IoT technology in aviation, rolling it out in 2014 at security checkpoints. That technology detected Wi-Fi and Bluetooth signals to determine when passengers entered and left the security areas. The same tech will monitor passenger movements at other places in the airport. 

Executives envision the IoT technology will shorten passenger wait times and give airport employees the data needed to prevent overcrowding. If passengers have better experiences, they’ll be more likely to fly from particular airports again and recommend others do the same.  

Some IoT solutions can also provide real-time place-finding guidance to passengers. Airports are often sprawling places, which can overwhelm people unfamiliar with their layouts. When people get information that updates as they move, they’ll feel more confident walking to their gates, finding the closest restroom or locating the correct check-in counter. 

 

Improving Maintenance Procedures 

Airplanes must undergo specific maintenance measures occurring after particular numbers of flights or flight hours. However, line checks are the most basic and frequent, occurring after as few as 24 flight hours. Even once maintenance happens at the right times, problems can still arise. Those issues often lead to canceled or delayed flights.

Many maintenance professionals are changing their processes with IoT sensors. The associated data can help people be more proactive about which measures happen and when. Although regulatory requirements dictate the timing of each maintenance check, connected sensors tell people about problems between those examinations. 

The maintenance operations spaces where checks and repairs occur can get crowded, especially when several planes are in those areas at once. However, one IoT-based product can provide real-time visual data to track all the aircraft, tools, crew members and cargo in the area. That data gets streamed to tablets, keeping the information easily accessible for those overseeing maintenance tasks. 

Thanks to the increased spatial awareness the technology provides, it’s less likely that planes will bump into other aircraft, people or the sides of a building while moving. Individuals can even use the tablets to see how far they are from obstacles. They can then make better judgments to minimize accidents. 

 

Advancing Air Travel Operations

Although IoT sensors cannot replace human expertise, they can boost outcomes by helping decision-makers understand what’s happening at any given time. Strategically deployed sensors can also assist pilots and passengers, reducing stress and providing reliable data. The use cases explored above are among the most common. However, as leaders continue exploring the technology, more ways to use it will become apparent. 

Anyone considering adding IoT products to air travel should pinpoint the most error-prone, time-consuming or costly processes. Those are often the best ones to focus on first because they’ll provide the most meaningful results.

Ellie Gabel
Ellie Gabel
Ellie is a freelance writer who also works as an associate editor for Revolutionized.com. She covers the latest innovations in the tech and science space for an audience of industry professionals

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