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Using artificial intelligence to improve efficiency in the aviation industry


By: Harshpal Singh Vilku 
Date: July 2022Coloured dividing banner

Taking place from June to September, the Strategic Business Project forms the concluding and essential part of the Durham MBA (Full-time). Students work with businesses to analyse and evaluate a strategic issue. This provides an excellent opportunity for students to gain experience relevant to their career aspirations and enhance their professional network. 

Full-time MBA alumnus Harshpal Singh Vilku has a background in food and textiles and currently works for Coca Cola Europacific Partners. He was looking for a Strategic Business Project which would be challenging, interesting, and one where he could apply his management knowledge. With a keen interest in the aviation industry, Harshpal decided that a project with Boeing would be an ideal fit. 

What is your project about?

My Strategic Business Project was focused on aviation turnaround management. Aircraft turnaround operations are the activities conducted to prepare an aircraft ready for departure. The turnaround process is a critical activity for airlines, airports and ground handlers and if done efficiently can help to save billions of dollars by overcoming delays and damages.  

Turnaround operations have been evolving from traditional to more technologically driven methods. The emergence of new technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) has opened new possibilities that can bring even more transparency to turnarounds. Boeing is leading this change by developing an AI-based model which offers two versions, a short-term and long-term solution.

The purpose of my Strategic Business Project was to research and plan a successful business model for the two versions of the AI-based model. The project explored what the market was like for turnaround operations, researched how tech-ready stakeholders were, investigated what additional infrastructure would be needed for stakeholders, reviewed which set of stakeholders we should work with first, and significantly, covered the data privacy issues related to the implementation of both models. The project also involved interviewing stakeholders from multiple airlines, airports, and ground handlers across different regions.

What were the project outcomes?

One theme that emerged was that all stakeholders were willing to use new digital solutions for turnaround operations, with the majority preferring short-term solutions. 

The final proposal for the project was that Boeing was likely to benefit from the immediate launch of a short-term solution at multiple airports and in partnership with multiple airlines. The recommendations for the long-term solution was that Boeing should continue to work with all stakeholders in removing constraints for implementation.

Did you find it beneficial to undertake the project, and if so, how?

Indeed, it was very beneficial. The project was challenging in nature, and I knew my skills would be tested due to the very nature of the project. These were my key highlights:

•  I enjoyed interviewing airline officials and learnt a lot from that experience. I have always been fascinated by airline brands and listening directly to officials from major airlines was an exhilarating experience.

•  The key concept of the project, turnaround management, was very interesting, and I was particularly fascinated with the use of AI for this.

My Strategic Business Project was both challenging and rewarding; it enabled me to use the knowledge and skills I had developed from my MBA. The experience of working with PhD researchers from Boeing was extraordinary. 

Weekly meetings ensured that I was always up-to-date with the project timeline, and kept me engaged with the project every single day. The knowledge sharing and support was immense, and I learnt so much from their way of thinking and working. 

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