Imagine a world in which an airline, prior to take-off, can wirelessly sell empty first-class seats to passengers sitting in the economy section.

That was among the ideas floated yesterday at an ALTA Airline Leaders Forum panel focused on the ways technology and connectivity may influence airlines in the coming years.

"Being able to electronically and wirelessly sell that upgrade to a passenger in the back, and validate that he is able to pay for it, and charge that credit card, will allow us to do things differently," says Rockwell Collins senior vice-president Colin Mahoney.

He says new "threat track" weather systems on aircraft can evaluate if weather conditions pose a threat to the aircraft, allowing crews to fly through weather they might otherwise have avoided.

Jared Harckham, vice-president of consultancy ICF International, predicts that the amount of data transmitted from commercial aircraft will increase more than 1,000% in the next 10 years.

Although some airlines have adopted electronic charts, dynamic weather systems and automated weight-and-balance calculations, they have been slower to digitise a host of maintenance functions, says Harckham.

For instance, many carriers are still using paper service records, he says.

"The use of this technology, just in these maintenance areas, will be worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year to the industry," he says.

Passengers can benefit too, says Renaud Irminger, director of technology company SITA Lab, which has developed a smartphone-based system that assists passengers through every step of the air travel experience.

The system uses Bluetooth-enabled beacons positioned through airports to detect a passenger's position in an airport and guide them to the gate.

Source: Cirium Dashboard