Image: deavmi via Wikimedia Commons

APEX Insight: British Airways, Heathrow Airport and SITA are using blockchain to test better ways of sharing information. Blockchain allows for operational flight data to be synced, meaning that everybody can work from, and make decisions based on, the exact same data set.

For the last two months, British Airways, Heathrow Airport and aviation IT solutions provider SITA have been running a limited use case, behind-the-scenes trial of blockchain, with the aim to produce a white paper at conclusion and share findings with the industry.

At the annual SITA Air Transport IT Summit May 23–24 in Brussels, APEX Media spoke with Kevin O’Sullivan, lead engineer at SITA Labs, who explained how the three stakeholders are studying the efficacy of the technology to sync and share operational flight data. Precision syncing promises to ensure that all parties involved in the operation of the flight ­ departure airports, arrival airports, airline crew, ground services and passengers ­ are working efficiently from the exact same, trusted information.

“We’re trying to solve the flight info problem.” – Kevin O’Sullivan, SITA Labs

“We’re trying to solve the flight info problem where everyone has got different information about a flight. When a passenger turns up in an airport, their app will say one thing, the display in the airport says another, and then the crew on the ground says something else. Then the ground handlers often have different information as well,” said O’Sullivan. “The reason for that is that everyone has got their own copy of the data, and it’s not in sync. Even when they try to keep it in sync, it falls out of sync.”

In the ongoing test with BA and Heathrow, SITA is having each owner of flight data Œpublish information to the blockchain. The departure airport publishes departure gates, the arrival airport publishes arrival gates and baggage carousels, and the airline is sharing plenty of its own info too. Through the data protocol of the blockchain, these bits of information will merge together and become synced, meaning that everybody can work from, and make decisions based on, the exact same data set.

O’Sullivan says that to date, numerous data sets from BA flights both in and out of Heathrow have been successfully merged using blockchain, and there’s been plenty of interest from other airports and airline spectators eager to see if the result is as exciting as the promise, but it’ll be a while yet before the aviation business truly unravels the full potential blockchain.

“It’s been successfully synced in our proof of concept environment, but it hasn’t yet been pushed out and used for operational tasks. It remains to be seen if we will do that. We might, that’s not our priority at this early stage. If it does live up to what blockchain says it will do, then maybe Heathrow and BA will take that on and put it to some operational use as well, we’ll have to see – that would be a phase two,” he adds.