Source: EU -Eurocontrol, European Aviation/ATM AI High Level Group (EAAI HLG), March 5, 2020.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is already starting to transform how the world lives and works, and the pace of AI deployment is currently rapidly accelerating. In a world increasingly driven by big data, and with massive developments in recent years in computing power and advanced algorithm use, AI will play a major role in all industrial sectors, driving competitiveness and productivity, and offering, if correctly deployed, huge economic and societal advantages. In the global race to achieve a crucial advantage in innovation, Europe needs to keep pace with other actors which are leading the way in AI development, which is why the European Union has declared AI to be a major strategic priority. At the same time, the EU also aims to ensure that European AI developments are also safe, secure, human-centric, ethical, and trustworthy and support the core values of the EU.
As a sector, aviation and air traffic management (ATM) is ideally placed to take full advantage of AI, in particular 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. Indeed, AI and machine learning are already contributing to a wide spectrum of value opportunities in the aviation/ ATM industry, from efficiency-focused to safety critical applications. 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), 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) further complexify the existing use of airspace. AI will also increase safety through the provision of new conflict detection, traffic advisory and resolution tools as well as cyber resilience. As aviation actors increasingly embark on digital transformation journeys, AI represents a potential breakthrough technology, capable of transforming the aviation/ATM industry value chain. 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 both tackle capacity and environmental impact, the twin major challenges facing aviation today.
However, the full potential of AI is far from being harnessed across Europe or in aviation/ATM. While there are many AI success stories, they remain limited in scope. Understanding of how AI can generate business and societal value remains in its infancy, and expertise is scarce.
In recognition of these challenges, EUROCONTROL together with the European Commission and a wide range of partner organisations took the decision to set up a European Aviation High Level Group on AI (the EAAI HLG) with the goals of advancing understanding among aviation/ATM actors of AI and its potential, demystifying the topic, and helping accelerate the uptake of AI in our sector.
To help drive AI forward, we conclude with a practical “FLY AI Action Plan” with a series of recommendations, notably to create a federated AI infrastructure containing historical data for training purposes and to develop AI applications, together with an appropriate governance structure; to accelerate the deployment of AI notably in the areas of cyber and non-safety-critical applications, to conduct more AI research and development in particular to help respond to the safety-criticality of aviation/ATM operations, to foster the emergence of an AI Culture through training and re/upskilling of staff across enterprises; to foster partnerships with other Digital Innovation Hubs, AI specialists and other industrial sectors; and to facilitate and increase experience/knowledge sharing, communication and dissemination.
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