By: Burns & McDonnell

The commercial aviation industry is at a crossroads. For airlines, business is booming — mid-2019 International Air Transport Association (IATA) projections estimate that 4.6 billion passengers will take to the skies this year, a 130% increase since 2004. But despite the industry’s latest technological improvements to accommodate its expanding traveler volume, recent IATA surveys find that passenger perceptions of their travel experiences have not changed appreciably.

Increased passenger capacities are fueling the need for airport expansion, but whether airports and airlines can keep pace to match forecasted growth is still unclear. Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), additive manufacturing and generative design may hold the answer.

Advancing AI and ML: Aviation industry leaders have begun turning to AI and, more specifically, ML to find cost-effective solutions for keeping pace with rapid rates of passenger growth. Tools that apply ML include computed tomography to improve threat detection and biometrics to decrease processing time for matching modalities like faces or fingerprints. As demand grows, however, the industry needs to expand the use of AI to include facility and process design.

Adopting additive manufacturing: Additive manufacturing — more commonly known as 3D printing — facilitates faster prototyping, fosters design creativity and enables engineers to test performance before production. Its ability to reproduce obsolete or out-of-production parts means that it adds to the resiliency of an airport or airline by extending the useful life of facility assets or aircraft parts.

Growing generative design: The airports of the future can also expect to benefit from generative designs that apply nature’s evolutionary approach to garnering new ideas.Generative design begins with collecting information regarding the owner’s design goals, criteria and parameters on everything from materials and manufacturing methods to cost constraints. That data is then fed into AI software to produce dozens — potentially hundreds — of possible design options, enabling team members to develop even more innovative solutions.  

The application of these and other technologies will grow more urgent as the aviation industry contemplates the next generation of airports and how they might be scaled to serve future generations. AI will be needed not only to support the design of future airport terminals, but also to implement technologies and tools that enhance operational resiliency, expand capacity and enrich the customer experience.

Learn more about how Burns & McDonnell is employing technology to help the aviation industry enhance the passenger experience.