Air Canada Has A Digital Focus On The Road To Recovery

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In recent years, airlines have been looking at digital systems to improve operations across the board. However, the global health crisis has pushed companies to speed up this process. At the World Aviation Festival yesterday, Air Canada SVP and CIO Catherine Luelo spoke about how her carrier is putting modern technology at the forefront of its recovery.

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Air Canada recognizes the value of keeping up to date with technology in the current climate. Photo: Getty Images

Pressure creates diamonds

It is evident that the pandemic has been a catalyst for innovation. Usually, it can take many months or even years for businesses to implement a new technological process. From research to construction, it can be a time-consuming process with several factors involved. However, during the downturn, organizations have had to reprioritize.

Air Canada is familiar with this practice. For instance, it had an idea that it wanted to introduce contactless bag tagging. Subsequently, it had the systems built and deployed within 21 days. The airline had recently been migrating to a new passenger service system (PSS) called Altéa Suite. So, the work preparing for this switch has helped it manage in the current conditions.

Air Canada
With several planes still on the ground, airlines are giving additional attention to other areas until demand returns. Photo: Getty Images

High-tech solutions

However, it’s not only physical systems that Air Canada values the importance of in the current era. The carrier is also doing great work with Artificial Intelligence and data. Amid all the uncertainties, these features can go a long way in the industry. The operator has been a fan of these innovations due to their groundbreaking abilities. For instance, they can provide predictive maintenance from the firm’s modern aircraft, such as the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Notably, Air Canada has dedicated Artificial Intelligence Labs to deliver on its ambition to permeate AI within its operations and customer experience departments.

“So for me, it’s less about creating your digital agenda. It’s creating your data AI agenda. We’ve had that. I think that our ability to apply some of these things and move faster is different than it was before. The reality is, it’s an industry with no money right now. Every industry is hurting. And you can, absolutely, take a look at it as what it is. It’s depressing, and it’s not a great time to be in our industry,” Luelo said during the discussion at the World Aviation Festival.

“But with the technology team at Air Canada, we talk about, “Out of great crises comes great innovation.” When you have no money to spend, sometimes you have the most innovative ideas because you look at the tools that you have at your disposal, and you’re maybe a little bit different in terms of how you think about it. But bottom line for us, self-service will continue to be very important and something that we’re going to continue to invest in. Data and analytics [are] going to be part of how we dig out of this.”

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Air Canada’s Artificial Intelligence team won big at the 2019 IATA Datathon. Photo: Getty Images

Time to regroup

There is still a lack of passenger activity across the globe amid all the travel restrictions in place. However, airlines could be using this time to address issues that couldn’t be looked at before. By taking action in these areas, operators would come back stronger following the worst of the pandemic.

Luelo says that now is the opportunity for process transformation. For instance, issues with baggage have been with airlines have for a long time. Now is the chance to fix these problems. Much like how Air Canada wants to get its aircraft utilized, it thinks of its IT equipment in the same way. The company ultimately wants to make sure it is fully optimizing these assets. Even with its new PSS, it wants to make sure it’s making the most out of the investment.

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Air Canada
Amid the downturn in passenger activity, Air Canada has been putting several of its aircraft to use on cargo operations. Photo: Getty Images

Collaboration is key

Luelo highlights that the Canadian aviation industry is coming together during this crucial period. She calls the collaboration a “beautiful cooperation” that has come about during this challenging situation. Airports across the country and even competitors such as WestJet are communicating well with Air Canada.

The airline feels that this factor is great because there are certain things that they are always going to want to compete on, but there are specific things that they need to pull together on as an industry and provide consistency. Altogether it believes that it is crucial to trial projects, share information, and then come up with a made-in-Canada solution for Canadian travelers to increase comfort.

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Canadian carriers are combining well amid the tough situation. Photo: Getty Images

Partnerships will help the industry resolve critical issues that are keeping operations on the ground. So, Luelo spends a good part of her day working on what’s the right solution for Canada. She emphasizes that from a technology perspective, innovations such as contact tracing and testing are all part of the narrative.

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Above all, the focus on utilizing modern technology will enable Air Canada to manage the crisis better and help it return with confidence. Features such as digital equipment, AI, and data analysis will help the airline predict traveler demand and also make the customer journey as smooth as it can be in the post-COVID-19 reality.

The coronavirus pandemic has undoubtedly rocked the aviation industry from top to bottom. However, those that are using this time wisely have a chance of returning stronger when passenger demand picks up again. Moreover, the traveling experience will be different for customers. So, technological innovations can help reduce stress across the market in the current age.

What are your thoughts about Air Canada putting digital technology at the forefront during the company’s road to recovery? How do you see the situation panning out over the next few months? Let us know what you think of the initiatives in the comment section.

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