In the increasingly crowded aviation sector in India, airlines are jostling for not only airspace but also a loyal customer base. And they are turning to digitisation and data solutions to craft the perfect customer service and operational excellence. 

A prime example of this is FLY91, the youngest airline in India with a focus on regional connectivity. On its maiden flight from Goa to Bengaluru, alongside local fruit juices and savouries, a host of digitised services have been laid out to give customers a memorable 80 minutes in the air.

The airline’s technology team has built a data warehouse that collects data in a structured manner from multiple sources. 

“Every shred of data in the company, whether it is about sales or operations, goes into the warehouse. We can pull out the data to make real-time decisions,” says FLY91’s managing director and CEO Manoj Chacko. 

He says the biggest problem facing airlines is the fact that people at the top have limited visibility on day-to-day happenings on the ground. The data warehouse — a central repository of integrated data from disparate sources — can, in a jiffy, churn out information on aircraft utilisation and fuel consumption for every flight. 

Chacko said the team building the data warehouse in-house is also developing an app to give the airline staff quick and easy access to a range of information. 

Aiming to be a pure-play digital airline. FLY91 will issue customers their boarding passes immediately on booking a ticket. “We don’t expect to have dedicated offices to sell tickets at all airports,” Chacko says. 

Cost savings

Larger carriers such as Air India and IndiGo, too, have been stepping up their digitisation efforts, especially in the area of safety and service. The payback is in the form of cost saving and revenue growth. 

Air India, for instance, has revamped its website, added new design features to its app, and launched the airline sector’s first generative AI chatbot to address customer queries. New capabilities using computer vision technology will also be introduced for accessing mobile app features. It is also among the first airlines to do away with data centres in favour of a cloud-based data platform. 

It recently tied up with GE Aerospace for a software solution that will use advanced analytics and real-time data monitoring for enhanced flight safety and fuel efficiency; it can provide pilots insights to make informed operational decisions.

Customer satisfaction

The digital footprint extends all the way to fine-tuning customer relationship. “We are now utilising deep analytics and insights on guest experience through extensive net promoter score measurements [gauging how likely is the customer to recommend the business] and systems for closed loop actions [response to customer feedback] across departments to drive superior customer experience,” Air India’s chief digital and technology officer, Satya Ramaswamy, said in a staff note on Friday.

The airline has hired 250 IIT graduates to build its tech team.

“Data and technology play a critical role in airlines — from planning to performance and product perspective. This includes the selection of the right type of aircraft, route development, and optimal utilisation of aircraft and crew, among others,” says Vishok Mansingh, CEO of Vman, an aircraft-leasing firm. 

“There are many variables in aircraft operations such as pilot duty time or maintenance tasks after a certain number of hours or flights. Thus, technology solutions become important, especially in times of disruption, as decisions on flight cancellations need to be taken quickly,” he explains further. 

On the role of technology in enhancing customer engagement, including personalisation of services, Gautam Shekhar, Senior Vice President and region head of IBS Software, says, “The needs of air passengers have evolved from transaction-centred interactions to experience-centred interactions. Meeting their digital needs will be crucial for building loyalty through best customer experience.”

Crew safety

A few months ago, IndiGo introduced an AI chatbot to address customer queries in ten languages. The chatbot, developed in-house in collaboration with Microsoft, led to a 75 per cent decrease in the workload of customer service agents, the airline says. 

IndiGo is also an early adopter of the Thales group’s fatigue analysis tool to assess pilot alertness levels. It is currently conducting proof-of-concept trials. “The proof-of-concept trial from our fatigue analysis tool is ongoing. No conclusions have been drawn at this stage,” the Thales group says.

The airline hopes the initiative will help “develop a fatigue detection model that will offer detailed insights into demographic data including routes, pairings, crew profiles and more.”