Alaska Airlines has saved 480,000 gallons of fuel in six months as a result of the use of artificial intelligence in flight operations. Optimizing routes and improving forecasts and flow of plane traffic has helped Alaska Airlines make flight operations more efficient and sustainable. Another way of looking at it is that there are 4,600 fewer tons of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.
“Artificial intelligence and machine learning is among the top drivers of technology today and, for the first time, have been applied to the airline flight planning environment,” said Pasha Saleh, flight operations strategy and innovation director for Alaska Airlines.
For any airline, fuel is always a major expense. In the first three months of 2021, Alaska Airlines spent US$203 million on fuel. Airlines buy their fuel in advance, using hedging to ensure the best price. Considering hedging and fluctuating fuel prices, it is difficult to determine the exact dollar value of the 480,000 gallons saved. Yet Alaska Airlines jets consumed 126 million gallons of fuel in the first quarter of 2021. Based on these figures, Alaska Airlines saved about $300,000 in fuel costs during the last six months.
In these times when airlines are strapped for cash, every dollar counts. Alaska Airlines, however, has chosen to focus on the non-monetary benefits of the AI pilot program. The airline partnered with Silicon Valley startup Airspace Intelligence. They develop software that uses machine learning models of national airspace and prediction services to optimize traffic flow at scale.
“Our AI platform gives enhanced levels of predictive situational awareness, to augment the quality, speed and precision of human decision-makers,”
said Phillip Buckendorf, CEO of Airspace Intelligence in a statement.
The AI platform is called Flyways and Alaska Airlines was the first airline to use it for such an extended period. Alaska’s dispatchers used the software to help plan, monitor, and reroute flights in order to avoid problems like crowded airspace and bad weather. Flyways were able to reduce miles and fuel for 64% of its jet flights. Some of the flight recommendations made by the software were not accepted by the dispatchers. Just 32% of recommendations were incorporated into their decision-making. However, that 32% had significant benefits for Alaska Airlines.
“Flyways AI has transformed how Alaska Airlines approaches route planning and optimization, enabling our highly skilled dispatchers to work even smarter to deliver the safest and most efficient routes to our pilots, saving time and carbon emissions, mitigating congestion and creating a better experience for our guests,” said Alaska’s Diana Birkett Rakow.
Alaska Airlines will continue to use Flyways, a major win for Airspace Intelligence. There is no question about it for Alaska. Apart from reducing day-to-day costs, the AI platform simplifies flight planning and traffic management.