The aviation industry is undergoing massive changes. Smart airport concepts rely on a profound digital infrastructure to enable autonomous and sustainable operations. Ericsson’s firsthand experience with airports indicates that private 4G and 5G networks play a key role in enabling digitalization. In this blog, we describe the challenges and trends in the industry and the role of private networks to realize a sustainable future.
Aviation 4.0 – Sustainable and efficient operations through digitalization and automation
Think of an airport as a huge and complex ecosystem formed by multiple stakeholders, each one responsible for executing various processes across air transport – both passenger and cargo. Now, imagine that all of them – airport authorities, airlines, ground handlers, retailers, caterers, maintenance, government bodies, and so on – must communicate perfectly and operate seamlessly to offer the best and safest experience to billions of people every year. It is not difficult to see why this is easier said than done.
Across the globe, airports welcome about 4.5 billion travelers annually. According to a report from Airports Council International, the COVID-19 pandemic has hit the sector very hard with an estimated 60% decrease in passenger traffic in 2020. Going forward, it is expected that the “pre-covid” numbers will recover as an annual growth rate of 3.7% is predicted until 2040. Also, air cargo is foreseen to reach a 2.3% annual growth rate. It in turn results in a considerable rise in flight movements to cater for that expansion.
The financial health of an airline and airports is always at risk. Factors like delays, inefficient operations, heavy fuel bills and emissions, and numerous others impact its resources. The result? A considerable decline in profit margins and threat to industry players growth & sustainability over the past years.
"Successful collaboration and cooperation between Air Navigation Service Providers, airspace users, airports, regulators, manufacturing industry, and regional and global organizations are paramount for the sound development of air transport" (IATA - International Air Transport Association). Technology ranging from 5G connectivity, AI/ML, and the cloud strengthen collaboration across the aviation ecosystem. It has the potential to disrupt and transform the air transport journey, optimize operations systems, personalize the travel experience.
While the world is changing at a fast pace, the aviation industry must be prepared and ensure environmental, operational, and financial sustainability to be able to follow such transformations. Airports are re-visiting the way they operate to become safer, more viable, secure, and efficient by adopting and implementing new technologies.
One way to do that is by deploying connected aircraft solutions. Another is leveraging technologies like augmented reality for automated airside operations to help maximize capacity and improve on-time-performance (OTP) of aircrafts. Leveraging artificial intelligence in aviation industry and digital twin solutions contribute to collaborative decision making.
Building a foundation for future innovation
Operational efficiency, increased productivity, and reduced OPEX and CAPEX are crucial drivers for the adoption of new technologies. Digitalization and automation rely on data sources. For example, gathering data helps lower the risk of misplaced luggage or improve customer experience by decreasing time on security lines.
The key features of private networks, especially when powered by 5G, are availability, reliability, and security. Private 4G/5G networks enable an amplitude of applications. For instance, using real-time data from connected aircrafts and devices to optimize operational efficiency.
Even though many airport operators are interested in the concept of connected aviation, Ericsson is often asked where to start. Together with our partners, we have identified that addressing On-Time-Performance in turnaround times of an aircraft is essential. Delays are expensive for the ecosystem, drains buffer time into schedules, creates operational challenges, burns additional fuel, requires additional customer interaction and reduces customer loyalty.
The journey towards Aviation 4.0 starts with integrated real time communication – Land-Mobile-Radio (LMR) modernization, connected operations and autonomous fleets.
Integrated real-time communication by means of Mission critical push-to-talk contributes towards the advancement of operations, being a first step in the airports’ digital transformation and laying the basis for several other more advanced use cases (e.g., using real-time analytics).
In the coming years, legacy communication solutions, like TETRA and P25, will be unfit for the purpose.
Ericsson deployed a private mobile network covering the complete outdoor and indoor areas at Paris Airports Charles de Gaulle, Orly and le Bourget for Groupe ADP, Hub One and Air France. According to Henri Tallon – Business Unit Manager Telecommunications at Hub One, connected workers execute a much more efficient job. Having a high quality, fast, and secure connectivity in Charles de Gaulle Airports is an absolute must. It consolidated obsolete siloed technologies into a single connectivity solution which also provides them with the more advanced integrated communication systems for Push-to-Talk, Video and Data.
By digitalizing, checks that were normally executed with manual labor were decreased leading to an immense efficiency benefit.
Massive machine type communications enable connected assets. Applications such as asset monitoring contributes to agility, advancement of operations, and unlocking intelligence with data insights. During the aircraft turnaround processes, artificial intelligence on video feeds enhances staff productivity and optimizes the use of existing assets through data sharing and analytics.
Connected aircrafts can access application priority to offload telemetry data and upload entertainment content during the turnaround process time of taxing.
Digital Load Control with AR in real time reduces the critical path of loading and unloading services and drives effective capacity utilization of the airside with faster turnaround.
Aircraft turnaround is more cost efficient and saves time. Another advantage is that fleet and asset maintenance is predictive and can be addressed with AR enabled remote experts.
Autonomous and teleoperated machinery creates more agility and leads to more advanced automated tasks. With automation, scalability is no longer an issue for operations as automated robots’ capacity can be deployed where and when it is needed.
Critical wireless communication is needed for teleoperated and autonomous ground support equipment to unlock the driverless fleet. Ground handling support equipment such as baggage trucks, autonomous push-back of aircrafts and baggage handling are just some of the examples where applications of this kind can be implemented and help establish a more efficient environment.
The business value of private networks for connected aviation
The aviation industry is key for global economic development, but it requires stability and soundness to support itself and expand in a sustainable way in the years to come.
Cellular connectivity brings a new dimension of mobility and allows convergence with existing technologies. Private networks provide a platform for the future for enabling aviation 4.0 use cases where technical requirements are defined based on the application's features and maturity. Cellular connectivity brings a new dimension of mobility and allows convergence with existing technologies. Ericsson is a leading technology partner to the aviation industry and application partners, helping to optimize airside operations for turnaround improvements already being implemented today.
The way we see it, these are exciting applications that 4G and 5G private networks are making possible and enabling digital transformation in airports.
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KEYWORDS: NASDAQ:ERIC, Ericsson, 5G, connected aviation