January 2019: Digital revolution

Founded in 2005 with a focus on flight delays and flight data transparency, VariFlight is now helping airports to embrace new technologies to improve efficiency. Founder and CEO Zheng Hongfeng tells Kimberley Young how the company is helping airports reduce delays and improve the passenger experience.

Can you tell us about VariFlight’s background?

Our business started with a focus on the issue of flight delays. We spearheaded flight data transparency in China by collecting live flight status data from various sources and sharing with passengers through a website and mobile application. In 2011, we were able to cover 100% of domestic flights in China, and now, our data covers 94% of global commercial flights.

However, we found that notifying passengers of flight delays alone would not eliminate the issue, so we went one step further to explore factors that lead to delays.

What is VariFlight’s offering within the airport sector?

In a nutshell, we help airports manage their operations and services more efficiently by adopting new solutions, including next-generation technologies.

Our business is centred around our Airport Collaborative Decision Making (A-CDM) system which helps to bridge the gap of live aviation data between airports, Air Traffic Controllers (ATC), airlines and other stakeholders and helps to optimise the processes related to flights and ground support. Currently our A-CDM is installed at over 85 different-sized airports across China.

Can you tell us more about the A-CDM solution and how it is helping airports to improve OTP and efficiency?

Our A-CDM system features components like data collection, data analyses, data exchange and intelligent decision-making, all of which are mostly done automatically.

This includes the use of the ADS-B network and artificial intelligence to optimise ETD [Expected Time of Departure]. Our algorithm can also generate a more efficient strategy for stand allocation based on ETD data and the frequency of the use of aerobridges can be increased by 10-15% in this way.

Additionally, we also track all vehicles on the ground with the help of GPS and the BeiDou Navigation Satellite System, and connect this data with aircraft ground position data to optimise start and end working time for vehicles through machine learning.

We also apply visual recognition technologies into the data collection process to monitor stages like push in/out, arrival/departure at aerobridge, door close/open etc. And, we continually study and optimise the route of logistic resources on the ground based on real-time data we collate from our system.

How does VariFlight use data and analytics to help medium-sized airports improve operational efficiency and reduce delays?

Firstly, we try to eliminate idle stands, vehicles and personnel by providing the most up-to-date predicted time of arrival calculated with our live flight status data.

Secondly, we are promoting a more digitalised airport in China. We are integrating data that has previously not been taken into account by airports, as well as data they already have, to establish a full process circle and monitor areas that are causing delays.

Alerts and recommendations are shared with airports to help improve their on-time performances, and by looking into the data in greater detail, we can also identify the weak points in the operation so airports can decide whether they need a renewal or supplement of equipment, or improvement in their operation process.

With passenger numbers in Asia set to rocket, what challenges do airports in China and the surrounding region region face and how is VariFlight planning to help overcome these hurdles?

One of the biggest challenges with the rapid growth of passengers is how to get passengers in and out of the airport punctually and smoothly. We aim to address this issue by introducing more new technologies to help airports improve operational efficiency and service quality.

We are also planning to expand our focus to passenger services. Security, for example, can benefit from our dynamic human-flow monitoring and analysis system and passengers can get to their gates faster with the help of our personalised and intelligent navigation services.

What does VariFlight have lined up for the future?

In the first half of 2019, we will launch a demonstrative 5G project at Hefei Xingiao International Airport in the capital of east China’s Anhui Province. With the high-speed and low-delay 5G technology, operational data at Xingiao Airport can be transmitted wirelessly and the airport will also become the first 5G airport in China.

At present, we are actively promoting our services in Southeast Asia and we have extensive co-operation with ICAO, IATA and ACI. I believe that as we are growing stronger in China, there will be more international opportunities for us in the near future.

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