Colombia-based LCC Viva Air, through its innovation lab, is working with universities to harness data and develop new ways to increase revenue, improve the passenger experience and drive operational efficiency.

The airline wants to become the world’s first “open data” carrier by sharing its information and analyses, Viva Air Labs head of innovation Clyde Hutchinson said at the Future Travel Experience conference in Istanbul.

Established in 2018 as Latin America’s first airline innovation lab, Viva Air Labs now cooperates with 16 universities.

“The airline industry has not typically been good with collecting and using data. We find that using and analyzing data is something that students are interested in—deciding what kinds of data are important and how to use it,” Hutchinson said.

Improving operational efficiency is one of the lab’s focus areas.

“We use the data to project weather scenarios. In Colombia, we have the second highest density of lightning strikes worldwide,” Hutchinson said.

South American airline traffic is growing at about 7% annually and about a third of Viva Air passengers have never flown before, he said, so simplifying and personalizing the passenger experience is a priority.

One project the lab is working on is to develop the WhatsApp messaging system as a payment system.

“Over 80% of the people in Colombia use WhatsApp; 15% of the passengers still pay in cash. We at Viva Air see WhatsApp as a payment solution,” Hutchinson said.

Beyond increased digitalization, Viva Air hopes the lab’s work will attract more young people to the aviation industry.

“The next generation of young people don’t want to work in the airline industry anymore, as they realize there are too many problems and don't see it as attractive,” Hutchinson said.

Viva Air operates 10 Airbus A320s and has 15 A320ceos and 35 A320neos on order.

“With the addition of a further 50 new aircraft to our fleet, this will allow us to fly to a host of new destinations and do so more often,” Hutchinson said, adding the aircraft will have a “potentially enormous impact on the business environment—empowering startups and small business owners in the region to scale their companies right across Latin America.”

Kurt Hofmann, hofmann.aviation@netway.at