British software start-up helps pilots fly more efficiently

UK software developer Signol saved Virgin Atlantic Airways some 1,000 tonnes of fuel over a six-month period using a proprietary app designed to ‘incentivize’ airline captains to fly more efficiently, according to the report. London-based startup. The behavioral economics and data science app, adopted by Virgin Atlantic last December, gives pilots individual feedback on their operational trends to encourage them to reduce fuel consumption while meeting fuel management standards and flight safety.

A three-year agreement between Virgin Atlantic and Signol follows the success of an initial pilot study in which pilots reduced CO2 emissions by 24,000 tonnes over an eight-month period, saving 6, $1 million.

Today, about 200 pilots, or about two-thirds of Virgin Atlantic’s captains, voluntarily participate in the program, said Signol chief commercial officer Gavin Laidlaw. AIN. Signol has been in business for five years and has already built up a significant customer base in the shipping industry. He expects what Laidlaw has described as a major European holiday package operator to be “commissioned” by the end of the year.

Laidlaw explained that the company’s offering not only includes the app but, perhaps equally important, outbound email communication with users to help them identify areas where they can improve. .

“So we’re like a post-flight debriefing and reflection tool, which means when [the pilots] go up the next time, they’re more likely to perform a fuel-saving maneuver… We’re basically priming them,” he said.

Using data collected from the aircraft’s flight data recorder, the application addresses several operational behaviors, perhaps the most fuel-intensive involving landing and take-off. For example, Laidlaw noted that pilots often use thrust reversers more often than necessary at airports with long runways. Single-engine taxiing also saves a significant amount of fuel, but pilots simply don’t always adhere to the practice. Although in-flight savings may seem less significant due to the precision with which pilots typically follow their planned routes, simply using the most fuel-efficient flap settings on approach can make a big difference, a- he explained.

Prior to takeoff, the amount of discretionary fuel a captain chooses to carry often varies depending on their comfort level and risk tolerance. Of course, consuming less fuel translates to less weight and, therefore, better fuel economy. The app will show, for example, how much waste fuel – after reserves for potential diversions – a user has taken on board for each flight; he can then calculate the savings he could have made by charging less.

“The idea is that if you charge it, you use it,” Laidlaw said. “And a lot of the data we have says that if it’s loaded, it’s only used 2% of the time. And when it is used, only 20% of it is used. So there’s a huge amount of waste because for every liter of fuel you carry on a plane, you burn a liter to support the extra weight.

Using the app, pilots can view their performance data from each individual flight and access their historical records. The app then calculates and illustrates the environmental benefits of a particular pilot’s flight behavior. “So as the flights are loaded into the data, they can see how they’re doing and they can also see how much carbon they’re saving in a meaningful way…like you saved 10,000 trees, that kind of thing. thing,” Laidlaw explained.

Still, Laidlaw conceded that safety must take priority over any cost consideration, regardless of the extent to which the resulting fuel savings translate into wider environmental benefits.

“We recognize that fuel decisions are safety decisions and so we have placed a strong emphasis on pilot decision-making autonomy,” Laidlaw said. “And we respect that. We will therefore never ask them to do anything dangerous, but we are obviously looking to see how we can improve their performance by performing behaviors more frequently.

During this time, Signol took care to understand the psychology and personality traits of people who would use the service.

“One of the main things that’s nice about Signol is that we don’t tell you what to do,” he added. “Captains value their independence and freedom of action and telling them what to do is felt. So nudging them is a much more gentle and friendly way of doing it.

Of course, the more pilots that participate, the larger the sample of data processed and the more obvious the benefits become for the airline. Not only does the app create custom profiles and targets for individual drivers, it displays fleet-level behavioral analytics for management. Laidlaw, however, pointed out that the associated reports do not identify individuals in the interests of privacy, a particularly sensitive topic among pilot unions in North America.

Although European airlines may have shown the most immediate interest in the offer, Signol has entered into advanced talks with carriers around the world, including a few major airlines in the United States and one in Canada. Laidlaw did not elaborate on the precise pricing structure he negotiated with Virgin Atlantic, but he explained that it guarantees the customer gleans at least 90% of the savings from using the product.

“I think it’s fair to say it’s probably the best [return on investment] of any project they do,” Laidlaw said. “We charge a service fee, either per pilot or per airframe, and that would be between five and ten percent of what we saved them in fuel.”