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September 14, 2020

Tech Must Work Across Borders to Help Aviation: Virgin Atlantic CIO

"Seamless" sharing information between Governments, airlines and airports key as skies re-open

By Matthew Gooding

Virgin Atlantic CIO Ash Jokhoo says technology that works across borders and between competing organisations will play a central role in helping the aviation industry get back on its feet after it was decimated by Covid-19.

Ash Jokhoo said new systems will be crucial to assuring passenger safety and restoring confidence in international travel.

The airline, like many of its competitors, has endured a difficult year, and last week announced an additional 1,150 job cuts, taking the total number of people it has laid off during the pandemic to 4,300. Around 600 cabin crew have been placed on extended furlough and face an uncertain future. Virgin has agreed a £1.2 billion recapitalisation deal to help it through the crisis, but will run a skeleton service to the US for the rest of the year due to travel restrictions.

Ash Jokhoo, CDIO, Virgin Atlantic

Given that Transatlantic flights account for 70% of its business, more tough times presumably lie ahead, and Jokhoo said the industry will need to change significantly to adjust to the post-Coronavirus landscape.

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Speaking at The New Digital Age, an event looking at the role of technology in the post-Covid-19 world organised by Start-up Nation Central, he said: “In aviation we talk about seams, the idea when you travel around the world you expect seamless connections as you switch between flights.

“I think we’re going to have to provide that same seamless technology view of the post-Covid world in terms of track and trace, understanding the quarantine rules and the levels of assurance there are in different areas, and providing that information to customers in a way that they can consume that is simple.

“That will have to be across multiple Governments, airports and companies. Technology is going to play a key role in how we plug and play and access this information.”

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He added that Virgin Atlantic has already been investing in technology to help make its planes safe, and highlighted the role decisioning systems will have to play in allowing the business to react fast as the pandemic evolves.

“The role of decisioning and how you can leverage some of the insight you’re gaining in this rapidly changing world is important,” he said

“That’s ensuring decisioning technologies are embedded into your end-to-end processes so you can make commercial and business decisions at the right time, but also so that your customers are able to make decisions based on their preferences to get even more benefit from the services you’re providing.

“We’re seeing heightened focus on understanding our processes around safety and security, particularly around the health element. We need to continue to invest and use technologies that will offer transparency of data, but also think about how that integrates in a safe way, so that customers can see how their data is being used and they don’t feel like businesses like ours are taking advantage.”

He added: “The hygiene steps we’re taking and technology we’re using to clean our planes and make sure we have the cleanest planes in the market is absolutely the focus. Knowledge management systems are also really important, having strong collaboration and sharing information is really important to resilience.

“We’ve made changes that allow us to re-emerge stronger and leap forward when the good times come back.”

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