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Airline industry IT company highlights opportunities and risks for industry from AI

21st August 2023

By: Rebecca Campbell

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

     

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The global air transport industry information technology (IT) and technology solutions company SITA has highlighted the opportunities, as well as the risks, presented to the commercial aviation industry (both airlines and airports) by generative artificial intelligence (AI) technologies. (SITA originally stood for Société Internationale de Télécommunications Aéronautiques, but that full name has not been used for decades; it must not be confused with South Africa’s State IT Agency.)

Generative IT encompasses Large Language Model (LLM) platforms, of which the best known currently is probably ChatGPT. Although Chatbots and virtual assistants date back to the 2010s, with, for example, Siri and Alexa, their capacity was quite limited and their use required a company to invest significantly in developing, training and tuning such systems. Generative AI, especially LLMs, do not need expensive machine training, yet can provide a much richer user experience and a much larger knowledge base to draw on.

SITA’s strategic research and development entity, SITA Lab, is examining how generative AI can be used in commercial aviation, to increase the efficiency of processes, develop new operational perspectives, and improve interaction between all the industry’s stakeholders. These stakeholders include of course the airlines and airports, but also governments, among others.

“For instance, much process interaction between these stakeholders is through text-based document exchange (for legacy reasons),” cited SITA Lab director Gustavo Pina. “LLMs make it possible to extract meaning and intent from these human-readable documents into machine-readable and interpretable information. This bridge from human-readable text to digital computer interfaces will enhance greater collaboration and knowledge sharing, speeding up processes and enhancing industry efficiencies.”

SITA already offers a number of AI-based data analytic solutions, including for the optimisation of airliner flight paths (through the analysis of aircraft and weather data), allowing fuel consumption, and so greenhouse-gas emission, reductions of up to 5%; for the tracing and return of lost luggage; and in biometric identification technologies for border control. SITA Lab is currently developing next-generation “digital assistants” that use LLMs to create much improved Chatbot-style interfaces; some of these are intended for use by passengers, others for use by airline or airport staff to help with routine operations.

“There are many opportunities that we are exploring with AI,” he highlighted. “Of course, AI has several potential risks, from privacy violations to discrimination. In addition to the traditional machine-learning risks, generative AI brings a new category of risk. The most commonly known is when ChatGPT ‘hallucinates’ and provides answers that sound convincing but are wrong or just invented. In the case of LLMs, careful use of Prompt Engineering and limiting the LLM to a specific data source (such as an airport’s operations manual) can prevent this from happening. Until trust in these systems is established, it is important to have a human in the decision-making process and to build guardrails to autonomous systems.”

Edited by Creamer Media Reporter

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