Wow: Alaska Airlines Saves 480,000 Gallons Of Fuel With AI Assisted Flight Planning

Artificial intelligence that helps dispatchers make flight operations more efficient and sustainable by optimizing routes and improving the predictability and flow of airline traffic has saved Alaska Airlines 480,000 gallons of fuel in six months. Or, from another perspective, it is 4,600 fewer tons of carbon emissions in our atmosphere.

Alaska Airlines saved 480,000 gallons of fuel in the last six months by using an AI platform. Photo: Don Wilson/Sea-Tac Airport

“Artificial intelligence and machine learning is among the top drivers of technology today and, for the first time, have been applied to the airline flight planning environment,” said Pasha Saleh, flight operations strategy and innovation director for Alaska Airlines.

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Software platform from a Silicon Valley startup cuts fuel costs at Alaska Airlines

Fuel is always a big cost for any airline. Alaska Airlines spent US$203 million on fuel in the first three months of 2021. Airlines buy their fuel in advance, using hedging to get the best possible price.

Factoring in hedging, alongside fluctuating fuel prices, it is difficult to place a precise dollar value on the 480,000 gallons saved. But Alaska Airlines jets consumed 126 million gallons of fuel in the first quarter of 2021. Using these figures as rough yardsticks, AI saved Alaska Airlines around $300,000 in fuel costs over the last six months.

An Alaska Airlines Airbus A320 on final approach. Photo: Denver International Airport

A dollar saved is important for an airline in this cash-strapped era. But Alaska Airlines is choosing to highlight the non-monetary benefits resulting from the AI trial. The airline teamed up with Silicon Valley-based startup Airspace Intelligence. They create software that uses machine learning models of national airspace and prediction services to support traffic flow optimization at scale.

“Our AI platform gives enhanced levels of predictive situational awareness, to augment the quality, speed and precision of human decision-makers,” said Phillip Buckendorf, CEO of Airspace Intelligence in a statement.

Airspace Intelligence AI makes a big impact at Alaska Airlines

The AI platform is called Flyways and Alaska Airlines was the first airline to use it for such an extended period. Alaska’s dispatchers used the software to help them plan, monitor, and make recommendations for rerouting flights, avoiding issues like congested airspace and bad weather.

Flyways found an opportunity to reduce miles and fuel use for 64% of jet flights. Dispatchers didn’t accept all the software’s flight recommendations. They incorporated just 32% of recommendations into their decision-making. But that 32% had significant positive implications for Alaska Airlines.

“Flyways AI has transformed how Alaska Airlines approaches route planning and optimization, enabling our highly skilled dispatchers to work even smarter to deliver the safest and most efficient routes to our pilots, saving time and carbon emissions, mitigating congestion and creating a better experience for our guests,” said Alaska’s Diana Birkett Rakow.

Alaska Airlines will continue to use the Flyways AI platform. Photo: Vincenzo Pace/Simple Flying

Alaska Airlines is going to keep continuing using Flyways, a significant win for Airspace Intelligence. For Alaska, it is a no-brainer. In addition to offering significant day-to-day cost savings, the AI platform makes flight planning and managing traffic flow easier.

It also offers solid green credentials. The airline has an ambitious 2040 net-zero emissions goal, a goal that is unlikely to be met relying solely on sustainable aviation fuels and novel propulsion techniques. Instead, Alaska Airlines is rolling out a portfolio of measures to support its carbon emissions goal. In this context, the Flyways AI platform is one piece of a much bigger picture.