American airplane manufacturer Boeing recently partnered with Microsoft to leverage its Azure cloud platform to improve operational efficiency through the use of big data and artificial intelligence.

Boeing will begin migrating its digital solutions to Microsoft Azure, and will make use of Microsoft services such as Cortana Intelligence and the Azure IoT Suite to improve the air travel experience. Nathaniel Crook, Microsoft’s director of enterprise sales in the Pacific Northwest, said that the announcement affects: “Anyone who has sat on a runway during a maintenance delay for longer than five minutes.”

In an official blog post announcing the partnership, Microsoft noted that the collaborative effort will “enable airlines to solve business challenges by becoming more adaptive, innovative and intelligence-driven.” A big part of this will be the use of big data analytics to improve predictive maintenance efforts, optimize fuel consumption, and improve the passenger experience. The analytics will rely somewhat on sensors and telemetry information.

“In the aviation sector, there is a lot of transformation occurring with the explosion of data,” said Greg Jones, Microsoft’s global industry director for travel. “Carriers want better access to information, so they can eliminate operating inefficiencies.”

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Those inefficiencies are what every traveler dreads, and what make airlines regularly one of the lowest performing industries on the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) every year. Hopefully, the new initiative could help lead to more on-time flights and happier customers.

As noted predictive maintenance is a big part of this. Using data, Boeing could pre-empt potential problems by staying on top of regular maintenance, or noting any irregularities in its system performance. Potentially, it could also help with flight scheduling and offer more tools for the “connected traveler” or “connected airplane.”

The incentives for such improvements and improved customer satisfaction could lead to a competitive advantage for carriers. Andrew Gendreau, the director of advanced information solutions in Boeing’s Digital Aviation division, said that “airlines are a very competitive business with profitable but narrow margins; leveraging data and analytics not only improves performance and experience, but will give airlines a chance to sustain profitable growth.”

Microsoft’s blog post also said that the partnership could lead to improved crew productivity and ground-to-air communications, but the possibilities for how this could play out are still open.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. Boeing is moving its digital solutions to Microsoft Azure, and will be leveraging services like Cortana Intelligence and the Azure IoT suite to improve its operations.
  2. The partnership will focus on big data, which Boeing will use to improve maintenance efforts and optimize how it consumes fuel.
  3. Airlines routinely rank very low on the ACSI in terms of customer satisfaction, and utilizing analytics to improve the customer experience could be real-world evidence of big data improving an industry.