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When it comes to flying, there’s one thing most passengers agree on. An on time flight is the single greatest metric of satisfaction in passenger opinion surveys. When it comes to pushing a plane back from the gate on time, you’re only as good as your weakest link, and quite often, the weakest one is the most frustrating.

If one beverage truck is slow off the mark, or one ground staff member isn’t pulling their weight, everyone suffers.

In a Matrix movie style twist, British Airways is amongst the very first airlines to use cameras with VR and artificial intelligence technology to measure what the weakest links are, and how to take action. In early trials, more flights are pushing back on time than ever. Even if British Airways isn’t always your cup of tea, they’ve actually always had an excellent punctuality record, and it’s about to get better…

So how on earth does this work? Basically, it’s a lot of cameras all pointed toward the plane around the gate area. Think: a camera looking at the cargo bays, where the jet bridge attaches to the plane door and so forth.

Rather than just entertainment to someone with their feet up in a security office, the intelligent cameras analyse what’s going on, like when a door swings open, creating countless metrics which measure everything needed for an on time departure.

LONDON, UK:
Sukhminder Khangurra (Aircraft Dispatch Manager) using a smart watch and iPad to connect to the Assaia system using AI to monitor a turnaround at Terminal 5, London Heathrow on 13 November 2019. Using a network of cameras set up around the aircraft stand by technology start-up Assaia, an alumni of British Airways’ parent company IAG’s Hangar 51 start-up accelerator programme, artificial intelligence is employed to compare live footage of the complex turnaround process with the proposed schedule. If the technology detects any issues that could put the aircraft at risk of a delay, an alert is sent to the manager in charge of the turn within seconds via a smart watch, informing them of the issue and empowering them to take action to get the flight back on track.
(Picture by Nick Morrish/British Airways)

How long did it take for the jet bridge to attach to the plane? How long did loading the cargo take? Is there a truck that’s blocking another from completing their gig on time?

These are the sort of things the cameras are measuring for, and if an anomaly is detected, an alert is sent to the manager of the turnaround, so that action can be taken to push the plane back in time for an on time departure.

Currently, British Airways is using the setup at three gates in their Heathrow T5 home base, with plans to expand the technology across all gates, as the trials develop. Despite early IT woes, British Airways CEO Alex Cruz has made technology a key focus of his tenure with the airline, bringing early adoption of biometric boarding, remote controlled electric gate tugs and now – some futuristic cameras to find root causes to passengers most frustrating problem.

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