Air Canada flies high with boost from digital technology

By , Aisha Walcott, and Aisha Walcott | 4 minute read | October 23, 2018

air canada plane

When we ask our customers, “What makes Air Canada a great airline?” we hear that we’re reliable, consistent and trustworthy. We also hear that we have a great fleet and a wonderful staff, and that we really know our business. And because we really know our business, customers trust us.

We love the fact that our customers appreciate the value they get when they travel with Air Canada. We want to design and deliver a great travel experience every time, so we’re always looking at ways that technology can help us improve flight reliability and safety and provide the most personalized travel experience available in the industry for our loyal customers.

Improving comfort, reliability with real-time communication and analytics

Those of us at Air Canada are quite excited about working alongside Apple and IBM to develop an electronic cabin logbook that provides real-time data communication and updates between flight and ground crews. We’re among the first airlines in the world to go on this electronic logbook journey. The logbook process has always been on paper since its inception in the 1960s. We’re about to transform that process by digitizing it on iPads, which is a major culture change for our crews and for the industry.

Until now, when we’ve had a maintenance issue on an in-flight plane, we’ve recorded it into the paper logbook during the flight, and then pulled it out and handed it over to the ground crew when we land. There’s no advanced notification, so there’s no way for the maintenance crew to prepare to fix a problem.

Now, with real-time communication of defects – for example, a broken seatback tray table – our inflight crew can notify ground staff, who can have a part or replacement waiting when the plane lands. The table can be fixed before the next passenger boards. With paper logs, there was no notice, so no way to have the part waiting. Gate turnaround times are short, so minor problems like this might not have been fixed, allowing the defect to remain and have an impact on each subsequent passenger until the end of the plane’s daily service. To those passengers, a broken tray table is a big thing, and leaves a very bad impression of their experience, and the airline.

Having the real-time communication also allows us to predict the downtime required to fix larger issues, so we can more accurately estimate the expected return to service of the aircraft. We’re working toward using predictive analytics and machine learning to help prevent future defects and to proactively address potential issues before they become in-flight problems.

We’d love to use AI to capture all the knowledge and expertise from every technician that has turned a wrench at Air Canada, from every pilot that’s flown one of our aircraft or any flight attendant who has serviced our customers. We could take all that knowledge and funnel it into one repository. Imagine the 80-plus years of the airline and the hundreds of thousands of service-hours from all our employees tied into one little smart box. Why wouldn’t we want to do that?

Boosting passenger safety with real-time weather data and analytics

Air Canada is also working closely with IBM to improve flight safety by sharing data from The Weather Company, an IBM Business, in real time with our planes. We’re using another product from The Weather Company called the Turbulence Auto-PIREP system. It’s the epitome of safety transformation for the industry because these analytical tools predict turbulence well ahead of time so that we can avoid it. It also provides real-time monitoring and alerts for severe weather, so we can optimize flight routes to keep passengers safe and comfortable.

Enhancing passenger experiences with analytics

We’re also using new technology to enhance the customer loyalty experience on our Passenger Plus App. The app lets our service directors onboard the aircraft know who’s flying – what their trends are, what they need and their in-flight preferences – so that we can be proactive in our customer engagement. We’re also better able to target their experience with direct sales because we understand what they enjoy and what they like. We want happy passengers, so we’re engaging with them in new and better ways all the time.

Transforming the flight experience – bringing data, analytics and connectivity together

We’re using data, we’re using analytics, we’re using connectivity and mobility to distribute the right information to the right people at the right time. Now our customers have the information they need to make decisions, and our employees have the information that they require to support a better customer experience and our primary goals of passenger safety and fleet reliability.

We love seeing passengers’ reactions when they receive an exceptional experience, whether booking a flight, at the airport or onboard our aircraft. And we love seeing them come back again and again. We also enjoy watching our employees’ eyes light up when they see how all the new technology helps make their jobs easier and makes them more efficient and better at their all-important job of providing a safe, reliable and enjoyable flying experience for our customers.

Given all that we are doing to upgrade the overall flight experience, it was really no surprise when Air Canada was awarded the Best Airline in North America in the 2018 Skytrax World Airline Awards. What made it even more satisfying was knowing that the award was based on our passengers’ votes.

Watch how Air Canada is using data, analytics and mobility to transform the flight experience for customers and employees: