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Automation in aviation in a post-pandemic world

With social distancing shaping up to be a more permanent pattern in the fabric of global society, could automation solve some of the challenges that the industry is facing?

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No matter where you are in the world, if you remove all of the divisive politics from the solutions surrounding COVID-19, social distancing has arguably been one of the most effective ways of flattening the curve.

However, there is no doubt that social distancing and remote working, or a combination of the two, have created some serious challenges in industries like aviation. On the passenger side, it has required a fundamental rethinking of how to orchestrate the travel experience, once hinging on the expediency of passenger throughput.

On the supply and production side, the challenges revolve around how operations can resume while removing any danger to workers.

Automation could be the panacea for both these problems, and we have already begun seeing both airlines and airports accelerate their automation initiatives.

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A Pre-2020 recap

Automation has been a buzzword within the industry for well over a decade now. However, it was only in the latter half of the last decade, that we began to see interest turn into initiative on much broader scale. We have covered the topic of automation from many angles over the years. 

We've looked at the question of whether automation will make the human workforce obsolete in Inside the warehouse of tomorrow: Are robots the new warehouse workers? We've covered Lufthansa Technik's use of automation in their digital warehouse in the article Investigating Lufthansa Technik's leading aviation digitisation strategy.

During the pre-2020 "boom-years," you couldn't avoid the topic of automation in nearly every trade publication or trade show.

And while many of those digital initiatives have recently been put on hold, automation seems tailor-made to solve the current challenges that the industry is facing. So let's look at how.

Freeing up bottlenecks in the supply chain

Arguably, one of the biggest challenges that many supply chain industries are facing is how to get the workforce back safely. The news in recent months has covered both positive and negative examples of how to handle the situation. 

During the initial months of the pandemic, many suppliers we able to manage their workforce, and undergo an effective production ramp-down. However, this begs the question of whether we will begin to see supply bottlenecks if flight operations start to ramp up faster than future-proof safety protocols can be implemented along supply chain operations.

Automation by-and-large negates this bottleneck challenge by removing safety hazard to workers. The trade publication Inbound Logistics goes into far more detail regarding this issue in the article Automation Is the Key to Warehousing During COVID-19

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Peace of mind on the passenger side

Without a doubt, the events of 2020 have fundamentally restructured some perspectives regarding how we interact socially. And the airline travel industry is right on the top of the list of who is being affected by it. 

Until there is a vaccine or global herd immunity to COVID-19, there is likely no amount of safety protocols, cleaning or hand-sanitiser in the world that will take passengers back to the level of comfort they had with the travel experience just one year ago. Airlines and airports have had to rethink their digital strategies to accommodate this change in passenger mindset, and automation may play a big part in it.

Hong Kong International Airport has begun using three self-driving robots to clean public areas and toilets. It has also tested autonomous intelligent sterilisation robots, equipped with high-tech sensors to roam the airport and disinfect passenger facilities.

Our thoughts on automation            

One thing is certain for decision-makers within the aviation industry: the future of the industry is going to be determined by the companies that can solve the challenge of getting back to the pre-2020 operational standards with far more constraints.

Airline and airports could look at this time as an opportunity to ramp up necessary technologies to support automation further. It could be the future-proof answer to increased efficiency with minimal human contact. Either-way, technology will surely be at the heart of helping airports and airlines overcome the hurdles of our new reality. 

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About this blog

This blog is driven by Satair Marketing & Communication with input from both internal and external contributors.