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Air Traffic Safety












The global aviation system has acquired a distinct air of notoriety for its glaring affinity with technological innovations. From digitalization and automation technologies to virtualization and cloud computing technologies, the aviation ecosystem continues to revel in its traditional addiction to technologies and techniques that have shown some kind of potential in driving the safety, security, modernization, harmonization, interoperability, efficiency, and sustainability of international civil aviation operation.

With the buzz of artificial intelligence (AI) incrementally pervading virtually all the spheres of human engagement, attention is again shifting to the highly hounded aviation realms and legitimate questions are being asked regarding how the aviation ecosystem is likely to fare as it continues in its increasingly desperate attempt to catch up with the advancing AI train. That aviation’s ongoing flirtatious tendency towards AI – and its derivative, Machine Learning (ML) – is increasing is no longer debatable and those gentlemen and ladies in and out of the industry who are currently lending their voices in a flurry of emotion to the emerging incursion of AI and ML into the aviation landscape actually know what they are talking about given the nuances and affordances of AI. The flurry of emotion is even bound to heighten with the imminence of Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) – an AI variant with the ability to understand as well as perform cognitive functions to the level of a human being – coupled with the fear that aviation will most likely come to the embrace of this AI variant.



To be sure, AI is all about non-human intelligence and that’s what makes it artificial. Dr. Sallami Chougdali, Head of Laboratories Management Unit at the Moroccan Airports Authority’s Mohammed VI International Academy of Civil Aviation in Casablanca, describes it in the interview featured in this edition’s Horizon as “the development of computer systems that can perform tasks that typically require human intelligence.”

The ability of AI applications to perform tasks that typically require human intelligence is, perhaps, what has been driving the fears about job displacement and all what not. Recently, the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Kristalina Georgieva, remarked that AI will affect almost 40 percent of jobs around the world, with the likelihood of about 60 percent of jobs being impacted by AI in advanced countries and 40 percent and 26 percent in emerging markets and low-income countries respectively. And speaking on Thursday, 2 November 2023 on the sidelines of the First Global AI Summit, which held at England’s Bletchley Park from 1 to 2 November 2023, owner of Tesla, SpaceX, X (formerly Twitter), and the AI startup, xAI, Elon Musk, had warned that AI can potentially become the “most disruptive force in history” with the capability of putting everyone out of a job.

In debating the question of exactly what aviation has got to do with AI and ML, the preponderance of expert opinions admits to sympathy with the fact that the adoption of AI in aviation means quite a lot for the industry in terms of efficiency, environmental sustainability, safety, innovation, growth, and automated operations. However, every piece of opinion about AI opportunities in aviation has always carried a caveat. Captain Sully Sullenberger, the hero of the ‘Miracle on the Hudson River’, had, in a December 2023 edition of his LinkedIn newsletter, stressed the need to “balance technological prowess with the indispensable human element” while also recognizing, among other opportunities for aviation, the potential of AI to optimize flight paths, reduce fuel consumption and help in critical decision-making.

Clearly, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) recognizes and continues to advocate the indispensability of the human element in every sphere of civil aviation operations irrespective of the sophistication of the technology deployed or the levels of automation implemented. That much has been affirmed in one of the organization’s documents – the ICAO Doc 9694.

No doubt, the adoption of AI in aviation is a good thing to do. But, given the nature of civil aviation operation and the complex web of operational, technical, safety, compliance,  and regulatory frameworks in which the aviation ecosystem is cocooned, any AI adoption strategy must be propped against a framework of governance and regulation. ◙