European partners deliver first ‘FLY AI’ report

Artificial intelligence (AI) is already starting to transform how the world lives and works, and the pace of AI deployment is rapidly accelerating in all sectors, particularly in aviation including ATM. Aviation and ATM are ideally placed to take full advantage of AI, in particular via machine learning: ATM is powered by air to ground and ground to ground data flows, and big data’’ is a prerequisite for the successful use of AI.

This first edition of the ‘FLY AI’ report provides a review of the current use of artificial intelligence (AI) in aviation, and assesses its future potential to transform the sector. Produced by the European Aviation High Level Group on AI, a group set up after EUROCONTROL’s inaugural conference on AI in May 2019, the report pools the expertise of EUROCONTROL and a wide range of key representatives from all aviation sectors (airlines, airports, Air Navigation Service Providers, manufacturers, EU bodies, military and staff associations).

It aims to advance understanding among aviation and air traffic management (ATM) actors of AI and its potential, to “demystify AI”, and to help accelerate its uptake in aviation. It concludes that there are a number of practical actions that could be taken to accelerate the development of AI in European aviation and ATM, which form the basis of a ‘FLY AI Action Plan’.

“This ‘FLY AI’ report provides a comprehensive overview of the various ways in which AI and machine learning are already contributing to a wide spectrum of value opportunities in our industry, with an extensive list of current initiatives in the sector. It puts into context the progress that we have made already and demonstrates that by joining forces, we will be in a position to demystify and accelerate AI development and unlock its potential for the benefit of the whole community and the European Network in particular. No one party was responsible for this report, it was a big team effort and my thanks go to all experts from the various organisations involved – the European Commission but also ACI-Europe, Airbus, ASD, CANSO, Heathrow Airport, Honeywell, IATA, IFATCA, IFATSEA, the SESAR Joint Undertaking, Thales, as well as our military partners EDA and NATO,” said Eamonn Brennan, Director General, EUROCONTROL.

The report finds that AI has huge potential for use in areas where it can reduce human workload or increase human capabilities in complex scenarios, e.g. to support air traffic controllers (ATCOs), Air Traffic Safety Electronics Personnel (ATSEP), pilots, airport operators, flow controllers or cybersecurity officers. AI will also play a fundamental role in driving the development of new ATM/U-space services, as new airspace users (high-level vehicles, low-level drones) seek to enter an already busy and complex airspace. AI will also increase safety and cyber resilience through the provision of new conflict detection, traffic advisory and resolution tools.

In particular, AI will enable better use of aviation data leading to more accurate predictions and more sophisticated tools, increased productivity and enhanced use of scarce resources (e.g. airspace, runways, staff), helping to tackle both capacity and the environment, the two most significant challenges facing European aviation today.

The ‘FLY AI Action Plan’ put together by EUROCONTROL and its partners, suggests a number of practical measures designed to help advance the use of AI in the aviation and ATM sector, including work on a federated AI infrastructure, more AI research and development in key ATM areas (safety, cyber, operations both safety-critical and non-safety-critical), a focus on fostering the emergence of an AI Culture through training and upskilling of staff across enterprises, more partnerships with other Digital Innovation Hubs, AI specialists and other industrial sectors, and continued experience/knowledge sharing, communication and dissemination.