Artificial Intelligence will soon run the Finland’s Airports

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October 28, 2019

Fourkind, a hands-on advisory company and Reaktor, a global hybrid agency, to take a closer look at the small airport of Kittila in

Fourkind, a hands-on advisory company and Reaktor, a global hybrid agency, to take a closer look at the small airport of Kittila in Lapland, commissioned by Finavia, the state-owned company that runs all of Finland’s 21 airports. The situation there was surprisingly getting similar to major airports like Heathrow or JFK. There were recurring delays with overcrowded departure gates and exhausted, dissatisfied passengers.

During the winter months the number of visitors grows exponentially as tourists flock to catch a glimpse of Santa Claus and the Northern Lights, thus struggling to match the volatile needs of Lapland’s booming tourism. The humble-sized airport was spread thin trying to fit a higher than normal amount of planes to only 12 parking lots, while also transporting people between gates and planes thus securing enough airport buses and drivers. The delay-causing puzzle was hard to crack due to frequent scheduling interruptions and unpredictable weather.

“Adding more staff would be pointless as the airport receives just one or two flights a day outside the holiday season,” explains Henri Lehtonen, Finavia project leader. Finavia, Fourkind and Reaktor, the three firms then came up with a system to automate aircraft parking.

The first-of-its-kind digital parking system informs all airport activities, from the selection of bus routes to the allocation of check-in counters to landing permissions. With data science at its heart, the program generates a mathematically perfect plan based on all available flight information in mere seconds, while also taking into account defined rules and preferences, such as assigning non-Schengen aircrafts to gate nearest to passport control.

“We discovered that we can find the unique best parking solution among the billions and billions of alternatives very effectively by using a customized optimization algorithm by formulating all goals and constraints relevant to the aircraft parking problem mathematically. There is a lot of uncertainty about the operations at the airport, but predictive modeling is the best way to incorporate this into the optimization process, “says Fourkind’s Maria Pusa.

New system’s results are impressive: During a holiday traffic peak in December 2018, the device was able to reduce the number of airport-related flight delays by 61% and the average delays by 66%, boost 124,000 passengers ‘ holidays and save an estimated EUR 500,000 in a month. In addition, it strengthened coordination between Finavia’s expert teams and decreased local CO2 emissions as the device minimized the probability that an aircraft would have to circle Kittila before a parking space was available.

“The system provides Kittila’s operations with a lot of flexibility and robustness. If conditions change suddenly and the current plan is obsolete, you can easily create a new one with a click of a button,” explains Lehtonen.

 “We built a system to realize the full potential of the template which better complements the daily work of the flight control experts. At a small airport such as Kittila, the stand allocation occurs from an airfield vehicle, which means that the tool needed to be tailored for complete portable work. The flight control experts are free to focus on ensuring that everything runs smoothly during the busy holiday seasons by visualizing the optimized plan for the day while still providing the tools to react to changes and making manual overrides, “says Reaktor’s Edward Landtman.

It will get even more impressive this year. By the sudden improvement of Kittila, the company is encouraged to take the innovation to Ivalo and Rovaniemi in Lapland as well as to Helsinki Vantaa, an airport where 20 million passengers are served each year.

Flying to Finland will be relaxing and at ease for various visitors, after the introduction of modern technology. It is high time for airports around the world to follow this step of smart airport; it would have fewer emissions, lower costs, and less waiting.