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Terminal turmoil? Air travel chaos finds Israeli tech solutions in plane sight

Airport efficiency is top priority as Covid restrictions fade and passenger numbers climb

Millions of people around the world enthusiastically grabbed their passports and dusted off their suitcases, buoyed by the fading of coronavirus travel restrictions. But on arrival at the airport, they met total chaos: security lines snaking around the terminal, departure boards flashing red with thousands of cancelled flights, and luggage snafus that left seas of suitcases scrambled and separated from their owners across the world.

The number of travelers is not expected to decrease anytime soon, so the airline industry must look for ways to make the experience more efficient by using new technology, according to startup CEOs participating in ‘Investing in Solutions to the Airline Industry’s Jet Lag,’ an online forum hosted by Jerusalem-based OurCrowd.

Behind the chaotic scenes at many airports are hundreds of moving parts contributing to widespread delays. The turnaround process of getting a recently arrived plane ready to take off on its next flight requires 360 different activities, says Udi Segall, CEO and Founder of IntellAct. These include luggage unloading and loading, catering, fueling, de-icing in the winter, and much more.

Video feeds

Managing this complex process currently relies on turnaround coordinators watching video feeds with a manual checklist on a clipboard, trying to ensure multiple aircraft depart on time – a nearly impossible task. If there is a problem in any of the 360 steps, flights are delayed at an annual cost to the industry of more than $20 billion. From June 14 to June 23, almost a quarter of US flights were delayed by up to 55 minutes, creating enormous losses.

IntellAct uses artificial intelligence (AI) and machine-learning algorithms to monitor the same video feeds, identifying how planes are progressing in each of these processes and flagging possible delays or hazards in real time. The system identifies and alleviates bottlenecks, improving safety for staff and passengers alike.

The company just signed a contract with Indra, a multibillion-dollar provider of airport management systems worldwide, to integrate Intellact’s technology into Indra’s platform.

“They get service alerts when things do not progress as planned. For example, if loading of the luggage takes longer than anticipated, we can flag an alert,” explained Segall. A coordinator could dispatch additional workers before the issue delays the plane, sending staff to the area where they are most needed – essential when labor shortages are affecting all parts of the industry.

The monitoring, through existing CCTV cameras, has other benefits. It can help avoid accidents and give airports an accurate picture of the amount of time a plane is expected to be at the gate.

The environment

“One of the themes we talked about at all the trade shows was sustainability,” said Segall. “The smoother the operation of the airport is, the less time that you hold airplanes in the air, the better it is for the environment and the better it is for the aviation industry.”

“People see that the status quo that we had pre-pandemic with respect to the aviation industry is not sustainable, both for operational efficiency and also from the climate perspective,” Segall said “Our partnership with Indra marks a step in the right direction. We are offering the airlines, airports and ground handling operations a multibillion-dollar proposition. The room for improvement is gigantic.”

One of the most visible issues at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport these days is the security check, with lines stretching out of the terminal building. It’s a scene repeated at many airports around the world, as widespread labor shortages wreak havoc.

Speeding up the security process could have a huge impact on these lines, according to SeeTrue, a company that uses AI to speed up the process by up to 30 percent.

“Security screening can’t handle the loads of post-pandemic demands,” said Assaf Frenkel, CEO of SeeTrue. The company’s automatic threat detection is faster and more accurate than security workers watching an X-ray scan, cutting the time for each bag to one second from between eight and 12. The technology can identify prohibited items more quickly and more accurately than human sight, with fewer false positives, Frenkel said. It also allows passengers to leave items inside their bags, speeding up the process even more.

Fewer screeners

“When you have people looking at the screen for hours after hours, obviously they get tired and less alert over time,” said Frenkel. Because the initial screening process is automated, it requires fewer screeners who only step in only after a bag is flagged.

The company is seeing a surge in demand as airports grapple with the challenging combination of a growing numbers of travelers, labor shortages, and increasing security requirements.

Despite rising costs and inflation, air travel is growing. Even with all of the challenges in the aviation industry over the past years, 10 new airlines took to the skies in 2021, said Melissa Drew, Digital Transformation Executive Advisor at IBM. These low-cost carriers are proving to be highly adaptive, forward-thinking companies that are integrating technology to increase efficiency and reduce costs.

“We always thought that, for a brand new airline, the cost of going into the market was too high,” Drew said. But it is the older, more established airlines that are struggling. “When you look at the larger airlines, the ones that have been around for the longest, it’s going to take them longer to shift.”

“Embracing these AI technologies, and embracing these other emerging technologies, isn’t a trend any longer. It’s truly what’s going to make that airline differentiate from its competitors. And if it doesn’t move quickly, or at least start in that direction, then they’re going to be falling behind,” she said.

‘Investing in Solutions to the Airline Industry’s Jet Lag’ hosted by OurCrowd is available for streaming HERE.

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