Heathrow, Schiphol, Berlin: The airports trialling AI technology to limit flight delays

Shaving mere minutes off flight times might seem trivial on paper, but it can result in huge savings for airlines.
Shaving mere minutes off flight times might seem trivial on paper, but it can result in huge savings for airlines. Copyright Daniel Lim
By Rebecca Ann Hughes
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Shaving mere minutes off flight times might seem trivial on paper, but it can result in huge savings for airlines.

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Airlines are trialling new techniques to shave minutes off turnaround procedures as a way to cut costs.

Flight companies in the US are making changes to reduce taxiing times and manage gate assignments more effectively.

It’s good news for carriers, who save money, but also for travellers who could experience fewer delays.

Here’s how air travel might become more efficient in the future.

Airlines look to make flying more efficient

Shaving mere minutes off flight times might seem trivial on paper, but it can result in huge savings for airlines.

It also means an improved service for travellers. Arriving a couple of minutes earlier can make the difference between catching or missing a connection.

It also reduces the domino effect of delays, meaning flights across the board are more likely to be on time.

London trials AI to improve airport capacity

London's Heathrow airport is currently testing the use of AI technology to improve traffic management. 

The system will help the airport recover capacity losses of 20 per cent due to low cloud and reduced visibility from the control tower. 

Heathrow hopes to minimise flight delays by using ultra-high definition cameras, advanced AI and machine learning technology to take over from human controllers when weather conditions impair visibility. 

This will allow runways to be cleared more efficiently and ensure the next flight can arrive or take off on time. 

The technology is also being used at Eindhoven, Schiphol and Berlin Brandenburg airports.

US airlines introduce time-saving technology

Major carriers in the US will continue trialling novel procedures over the notoriously chaotic holiday season.

Last year, air travel saw severe disruption with thousands of travellers stranded at airports.

American Airlines has already introduced new technology to allocate gates at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, the world’s second-busiest airport.

The automated system reduces the chances of planes being forced to cross from one side of the vast airport to another.

The result was an average saving of two minutes of taxi time per flight - or 11 hours saved per day - according to the carrier.

For passengers, it also meant 50 per cent fewer gate changes and a reduction in delays.

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“If you try to do late-minute gate changes as planes arrive […] you could get out of sync with your caterers and fuelers,” American COO David Seymour told CNBC. This causes delays in parking and departing.

Dubbed the Smart Gating programme, it has also been rolled out at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, Miami International Airport, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.

This year American ranked third among major US airlines for on-time arrivals, up from fifth place during the same time period in 2022.

Airlines trial faster boarding techniques

Carriers are also looking to reduce flight times by expediting boarding procedures.

United Airlines has introduced a new system for economy class, with window-seat passengers boarding first, followed by middle seats and then aisle.

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“It spreads people out along the aisle of the airplane so that more people can put their luggage away at the same time. That's the main thing that speeds up the boarding process,” explains Jason Steffen, an associate professor of physics at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

The flight company says the technique can save up to two minutes per flight.

Southwest Airlines trialled ways to speed up boarding with clearer signage and music on flight bridges to make passengers move more quickly.

Low-cost carrier Frontier Airlines skips the bridge altogether because disembarking using stairs means being able to use two plane doors instead of one.

This can save the airline up to 10 minutes in turnaround time, CEO Barry Biffle said.

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These time-saving techniques could mean more planes available and the possibility of adding more flights.

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