This article is part of our new series, Currents, which examines how rapid advances in technology are transforming our lives.
With few flights and even fewer passengers, the coronavirus pandemic unleashed a wave of challenges for airlines. Some have gone out of business and others are barely surviving as global passenger volume hovers at around 50 percent of 2019 levels.
Without passengers to fill them, airlines have been retiring their older aircraft faster than normal. The more than 1,400 planes airplanes parked in 2020 that might not return to service is more than twice as many aircraft as would customarily be retired in a single year, according to a 10-year aviation forecast by the business consulting firm, Oliver Wyman. The result will a more modern fleet, the report states.
In a glass-is-half-full observation, David Marty, head of digital solutions marketing at Airbus, noted that planes remaining in airlines’ fleets are younger, more fuel-efficient aircraft, with lower carbon dioxide emissions.
Boeing 737 Max flights to capture any anomalies for analysis. This is in response to the nearly two-year grounding of the Max following two deadly crashes. The Max returned to service at the end of 2020. (Some of the planes were grounded again this month because of a potential electrical problem.)
To show how fast change has come, Kevin Michaels, the managing director of AeroDynamic Advisory, an aerospace consultancy, points to the newest Airbus airliner, the A350. It typically records 800 megabytes of data per flight. The Airbus A380, the world’s largest passenger airliner, which began operation in 2007, can provide only half of that.
“There’s a lot more data available and better algorithms,” Mr. Michaels said.
At Delta Air Lines, new technology has led the airline to create apps pilots use on a tablet like Flight Weather Viewer to avoid flying through turbulence. It was first launched in 2016 and updated over the years as new capabilities became available.
Its Flight Family Communication app, started in 2018, lets all employees working on a specific flight communicate among themselves, from ground crews to flight crews. John Laughter, the airline’s chief of operations, says one of the best uses of the new data is predicting when parts will fail so maintenance can be done proactively.