Disruptions cost airlines around US$ 25 billion in 2016.In a game-changing initiative, SITA is pioneering disruption management capabilities and emerging technologies to help tackle this waste.

The air transport industry is based on the premise that it can take people and goods safely, reliably and efficiently almost anywhere in the world.But as demand continues to grow exponentially, operational inefficiencies and flight disruptions have become one of the core challenges airlines and airports face on a regular basis.

The industry is responding aggressively, ramping up investments in tools that will enable them to predict disruption, according to SITA’s recent report ‘The Future is Predictable’.For example, over the next three years 91% of airlines are investing in business intelligence (BI) and 84% in predictive analytics.

The permutations for any kind of disruption are considerable.Bad weather, industrial action, IT outages, unexpected technical faults, staff sickness can hit at any time.Delays involving another airline or airport disruption may result in the crew running out of legal work-time, Notice to Airmen (NOTAMs) may be overlong and not fully digested, leading pilots to miss potentially important information.


The resulting delays and flight cancellations are stressful for passengers, airlines and airports alike.It hampers their ability not only to provide exceptional customer service, but also to reduce operational costs while expanding their network and maximizing revenues.

Poor on-time performance (OTP) results in loss of revenue and passenger loyalty, and can eventually affect brand and reputation.SITA analysis shows that 50% of delays are under the airlines’ control, with 30% due to weather, 20% to air traffic control issues and less than 1% to security.

By collaborating more effectively and making the right decisions earlier, airline Operations Control Centers (OCCs) and Hub Control Centers (HCCs) would prevent and mitigate over 20% (i.e. 10 percentage points) of those delays, saving the industry an estimated US$ 3 billion annually.

Early answers

Long-term the industry aims to enhance its predictive capabilities, to avoid or mitigate disruptions to airport and airline operations.However, more immediate efforts are focused on disruption management initiatives to improve recovery, in particular resolving the impact of disruption on passengers.

Recent initiatives have included Italian airline Meridiana’s disruption notification service via SMS and email, as noted in ‘The Future is Predictable’, which enables the airline’s passengers to accept or amend proposed flight changes at the touch of a button and, in some cases, to apply for refunds.

KLM provides rebooking via WhatsApp for connecting passengers arriving at Schiphol Airport during a major disruption.Overall, the report notes that about two thirds of airlines are planning to enable re-booking services for all passengers, including self-service tools via kiosk or mobile.

Airline staff and operational service partners, such as ground handlers, are also vital links in the chain and, over the next three years, a growing number of airlines will be rolling-out mobile devices to staff to allow team members to access information and tools to help them deal with flight delays and cancellations.

Tech is key

Technology is the critical element here.To enhance their capabilities, airlines are turning to common or well-integrated systems to improve the quality of their data and their ability to share it internally.

They also intend to implement automated tools to prevent or mitigate predicted flight disruptions:by the end of 2019, 63% of airlines expect to have implemented integrated systems to predict potential disruptions and their impact before they occur; and 61% expect to be automatically preventing or mitigating predicted flight disruptions, according to SITA’s report.

Airports are looking to mobile devices too, as well as social media, to provide mass notification of disruption while improving the flow of information to staff and stakeholders.By the end of 2019, almost two thirds of airports will have implemented tools for automated and real-time communications and status visibility for service stakeholders.

Increasing focus is being placed by airports on collaborative decision-making (CDM) programs – not only to maintain flight schedules and aircraft turn-around times, but also as the key to managing disruptions.


While these actions are an essential part of the response to any kind of disruption, they relate to disruption management.What’s needed, in addition to managing disruption effectively when it happens, is more time to allow airlines and airports to plan ahead.

A small number of airports are using predictive technology to minimize disruptions.However, by 2019, almost 50% of the world’s airports expect to be using integrated systems to predict potential disruptions and their impact before they occur, while four out of 10 airports are looking to implement automated predictive alerts before flight disruption events.

But all of these initiatives depend on ready access to high quality data – and the tools to interpret and deliver relevant information which can be used to avoid disruption or to manage it so that there is minimal impact.Technology is critical, but so is the process used to provide optimal results.

For example, interpretation will depend on the perspective of the airline or airport towards disruption.Is passenger satisfaction a greater priority than minimizing the cost of disruption?Is the airport constrained by night-time flying limits?Is resolving disruption constrained by runway and taxiing capacity?How far is passenger flow management constrained by security and immigration?

Community program

As part of its remit to work for the benefit the air transport community, in 2016 SITA launched a number of community innovation programs to explore new solutions to some of the industry’s most pressing challenges.The programs look further into the future at promising technologies or new ways of doing things that could have a big impact on the industry.

One such program is to explore the provision of information and updates through a global disruption warning system accessible to SITA members.This will consider the different perspectives and objectives of stakeholders involved, while citing common issues faced and the emerging technology and approaches that promise to 'defeat disruption'.

The program will also investigate the potential use of emerging and new technologies, including operational intelligence, business intelligence, artificial intelligence (AI) and cognitive computing.


"SITA has been pioneering with disruption management capabilities to help tackle the huge challenge faced by air transport – to boost OTP and reduce costs to the industry."



SITA’s initiatives in this field began with work on a disruption management platform, in partnership with Australia-based Constraint Technologies International (CTI), which is being progressed by SITA’s Airports business, with the SITA Lab looking at disruption detection and disruption prediction.

“SITA has been pioneering with disruption management capabilities to help tackle the huge challenge faced by air transport – to boost OTP and reduce costs to the industry,” comments Nick Gates, Portfolio Director for Airports, at SITA.

Working with CTI, SITA is developing an advanced disruption management system which Gates describes as a “game-changer” for the air transport industry.

In Q4 2017, SITA will launch the first version of this innovative disruption management solution for airline OCCs and HCCs, enabling them to make the right decisions earlier.“In fact, our software can help prevent and mitigate over 20% of those delays in the control of airlines,” says Gates.

“It works by integrating siloed data to create a ‘single truth’ data set in real-time,” he adds.“By using optimization algorithms, a wide range of day-to-day operational issues, such as flight delays, total delay cost and the impact on subsequent flights, crew assignments, connecting passengers and baggage, can be solved in real-time.”

A fully functioning decision-support tool, based on a rules-processing engine and mobile technologies with interactive visualizations (for networks and airports), Gantts and dashboards, is available for demos and trials.

Proof of concept - a call to airlines

SITA is inviting forward-thinking airlines to take part in a disruption detection and prediction proof-of-concept (POC) exercise.No upfront cost will be required and no substantial effort is expected.

A non-disclosure agreement (NDA) and a letter of approval will be signed to allow SITA to process the airline’s flight data, including ACARS data.We envisage that POCs will take three to four months from the time the data is provided.The results will be shared with participating airlines.

If you’re interested in taking part, please contact us through your SITA account manager.  


SITA’s community program for a global disruption warning system will also evaluate ideas for disruption detection and prediction, notes Thierry Le Gall, the Program Manager at SITA Lab.

“Taking into account flight, weather and other data, we’ll explore the possibilities for airline and airport visualization and  monitoring of incidents, as well as historical and trend data, and the emerging technologies such as AI.

“To succeed, we need a good understanding of the past – which means a lot of data over a long period.Airlines have increasingly large repositories of data, but they have tended to regard it as proprietary.If the community can pool that data, then greater accuracy can be found in predictions,” Le Gall adds.


Disruption detection requires analysis of a mass of existing data on flight movements, weather and flight delays, to build an environment that looks as closely as possible like the real world.

This includes NOTAMs (which alert pilots about potential hazards along a flight route or at a location that may affect the safety of the flight), as well as news feeds from local and national sources worldwide.

To help analysis, there’s strong potential in using AI machine learning with sophisticated analytics to extract and decode information from the NOTAMs.

Join a POC?

Predictability is a natural antidote to passengers’ anxiety and, for many, the inevitable stress of traveling.It also helps all those working to ensure the smooth operation of air transport.

Thierry Le Gall, Program Manager, SITA Lab


“Predictability is a natural antidote to passengers’ anxiety and, for many, the inevitable stress of traveling,” says Le Gall.“It also helps all those working to ensure the smooth operation of air transport.”

“A far greater sense of predictability for day-to-day travel would be a valuable step forward for the air travel community, helping airlines and airports to reduce the US$ 25 billion wasted every year through flight disruption.

“In the meantime,” concludes Le Gall, “we’re inviting forward-thinking airlines to take part in a proof-of-concept (POC) exercise. 

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