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With one of its 300 aircraft taking off from somewhere in the world every 90 seconds, British Airways runs a hugely complex global operation, 24-hours a day. Chairman and CEO, Alex Cruz, has laid down a challenge to artificial intelligence experts to help him transform the customer journey.

Mr Cruz asked delegates at the AI Summit at London Tech Week to help his team of 80 data scientists offer customers new, intuitive services, change the way tickets are sold, guarantee no bags are ever misplaced and replace airport queues with virtual ones.

Above:Alex Cruz speaking at the AI Summit, London 2019 (British Airways)

Mr Cruz is encouraging entrepreneurs and start-ups to submit proposals to its parent company International Airlines Group's (IAG) accelerator programme, Hangar 51, which sees successful applicants embedded in the heart of the business working side by side with an international team of mentors and experts from across IAG. The 10-week accelerator nurtures start-ups with a broad range of technologies, enabling them to develop and test their products on a global scale. Mr Cruz also outlined some of the advancements the airline is making using AI to improve the service it offers its customers.

Via Hangar 51, British Airways is currently working with technology start-up Assaia. Its intelligent software captures on video every moment from when an aircraft arrives at the airport to its departure, helping airline workers to see the numerous tasks going on around the aircraft (fuelling, cleaning, baggage and catering loading and unloading) and alerting them to issues that could delay the flight's departure. ​

The airline is also trialling driverless vehicles at Heathrow. The luggage of customers travelling on certain flights from Terminal 5 is now being driven from baggage belts to aircraft on driverless baggage trucks, speeding up the delivery of bags. ​

As the skies become busier, British Airways is trialling a computer system which looks at flight plans, pulls up to the minute data from the Global Air Traffic Control database, and suggests quicker routes – reducing delays for customers, and the airline’s team of AI specialists has designed and created machine learning algorithms to adjust the volume of fresh food being loaded onto individual flights to help meet customer demand and minimise waste.

British Airways' Chairman and CEO said: "It is important that we deliver the best service to our customers and that's why we are looking for the best people to help us. We have a big team of specialists but British Airways and IAG Digital are open to new ideas about how we can use AI to try to reduce flight delays, eliminate airport queues or create a more personalised service for our customers - providing them with relevant in-the-moment travel updates or a unique service, like reserving their favourite seat or serving their favourite meal."

Pitching Ideas to Silicon Valley

London and San Francisco – A British Airways flight has touched down at London Heathrow from San Francisco this morning, having been on quite a unique journey – it hosted the Pitch on a Plane competition using on-board WiFi. The airline joined up with Founders Forum to give five start-ups the chance to pitch their ideas to a host of judges on board the flight including Alex Cruz, British Airways Chairman and CEO and leading tech entrepreneurs, investors and CEOs.

Using British Airways’ onboard high-speed WiFi, the start-ups were on the ground in the UK while a team of judges cruised at 30,000 feet on flight BA284. Following the pitches and a Q&A session, the judges chose three finalists who will pitch their idea face-to-face at the Founders Forum in London. Experts taking seats on the judging panel included the President of WeTransfer and GM of Robotics at Google X.

Above: Pitch on a Plane (British Airways)

The entries were focused on air travel innovation and the ideas they presented included a solo travel app, airline inventory management using blockchain technology and a new jet engine design. The top three finalists are:

  • Pruvo –The website aims to save travellers money even after they have booked a hotel room. It searches for hotel price drops secret deals.

  • Pluto – A travel insurance app that claims to be easy to understand, hassle-free and there when customers need it.

  • Reynolds Aero – REYNOLDS is a UAV gas turbine design bureau and manufacturer of an advanced jet engine for fixed-wing aircrafts.

Alex Cruz, Chairman and CEO of British Airways, said: “British Airways has a long-standing history of driving innovation in the aviation industry and it remains a huge focus for us this year. With the initiation of our BA2119 programme focused on fuels, customer experience and careers of the future, as well as a £6.5 billion investment designed to take British Airways to 2020 and beyond.

"Being able to run a pitch process between the ground and the air is something we’d have never dreamed possible, now with the introduction of high-speed WiFi at 30,000 feet it’s a reality. We look forward to harnessing the talent that exists globally to remain at the forefront of aviation.”

The lucky winner of Pitch on a Plane will receive 100,000 On Business points in British Airways’ business loyalty programme (equivalent to four return flights in World Traveller Plus to New York JFK from London Heathrow), 100,000 Avios, a profile in Business Life magazine and a business meeting with Brent Hoberman, founder of and the Founders network.

British Airways is rolling out industry-leading high-speed streaming WiFi on its flights. The roll-out of industry leading WiFi forms part of British Airways’ £6.5bn investment for its customers over the next five years. Over half of its long-haul fleet are currently Wi-Fi enabled and all new aircraft will arrive with it. The remaining fleet will be fitted over the next few years. The airline is also fitting 128 long-haul aircraft with new interiors, ensuring power is available in every seat and taking delivery of 72 new aircraft. The airline has also revealed a brand-new Club Suite (business class seat) with direct aisle access which will debut on the Airbus A350 later this year.

Below: One of BA's Airbus A380s with the Red Arrows (British Airways)

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