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Artificial intelligence in the aviation industry – on the road to autonomous flight?

The aviation industry is a sector that is generally characterised by technological innovation. Artificial intelligence (‘AI’) has the potential to revolutionise the aviation industry by increasing efficiency, enhancing safety and improving the passenger experience. At the same time, the use of AI in aviation presents significant legal and ethical challenges that need to be carefully addressed. 

Even if systems for fully autonomous flight control are still a dream of the future, AI systems are already supporting pilots today with assistance systems that help with navigation and flight manoeuvres.  There is also the possibility of decision supportAI can support pilots in critical situations by providing recommendations for action based on the analysis of flight data. 

Opportunities for AI also exist in the area of aircraft maintenance – AI systems analyse sensor data from aircraft in real time in order to identify potential problems at an early stage and plan maintenance work proactively. This reduces downtime and maintenance costs. Automated inspections such as Drones and AI-supported image processing technologies can be used to inspect aircraft quickly and accurately.

Many possibilities are available in the field of air traffic management:  

Optimisation of flight routes: AI algorithmms can optimise flight routes in real time to minimise fuel consumption and reduce delays. They consider weather conditions, air traffic volume and other relevant factors.  

Airspace monitoring: AI supports the monitoring and management of airspace by analysing radar data and predicting flight movements, which increases safety and efficiency. 

AI can analyse passenger data to provide personalised offers and services, such as tailored travel recommendations and individual in-flight entertainment. Automation of processes: Self-service terminals and chatbots operated with AI can make check-in, boarding and answering passenger requests more efficient. 

However, the use of AI in aviation raises complex legal issues due to the already existing tight regulation and safety relevance, which must be carefully regulated to ensure safety and public trust. 

The European Union’s groundbreaking legislative initiative, the EU Artificial Intelligence Act, which was adopted on 21 May 2024, provides for different requirements and risk classifications for AI use cases. Unacceptable risks are prohibited (e.g. social rating systems and manipulative AI). The majority of the regulation deals with high-risk AI systems, which are regulated. Other regulations that play a role are the GDPR or the EU Data Act. 

 Further vertical or sectoral regulations are to be expected for air transport, as a large number of issues need to be regulated, so it is to be hoped that the emerging regulation will continue to enable the development and application of innovative technologies while at the same time ensuring safety and trust. 

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