SITA: the invisible giant of aeronautics

You’ve probably never heard of SITA, a company that employs around 4,700 people in more than 135 countries, including 300 in Montreal. But if you’ve ever flown, she’s almost certainly heard of you.

Posted Sep 3, 2019

Established in Geneva, SITA is celebrating its 70e anniversary. Last March, it announced its intention to make Montreal, where it already employed 290 people, its center of excellence in artificial intelligence.

The company is practically a staple in the field of aeronautics. Its products are everywhere, even if its name is almost invisible. In the “best” scenario for SITA, a passenger comes into contact with it, directly or indirectly:

– by purchasing a plane ticket from an airline that uses its reservation system;

– by checking in online the day before their flight;

– by using a check-in terminal at the entrance to the airport to print their baggage tags;

– by leaving your suitcase at a self-service drop-off point;

– by consulting the notice boards at the airport to find out if their flight is on time;

– when the airline employee uses a shared terminal at the boarding gate;

– when he buys a right of access to the device’s WiFi network, then when he uses this network;

– when information about him reaches the government authorities of his country of destination before his arrival;

– to find his suitcase if she hasn’t followed him to his destination.

In the meantime, the pilots of his aircraft may also have used SITA software and equipment to establish their flight plan before departure, modify it if necessary en route or receive important information on their ACARS terminal by radio waves during the flight.

Software useful for pilots, which is part of the SITAONAIR subsidiary, is also one of the specialties of the Montreal office of SITA.

“Half of SITAONAIR is in Montreal,” sums up Stéphane Villeneuve, Vice-President of Commercial Affairs for America at SITAONAIR.

Tons of data

In a world where data is described as the most valuable resource, SITA sits on a mountain of data from the planes themselves, baggage handling systems, passenger movements at airports, and more.

A modern airplane can generate 30 to 35 GB of data for a single flight.

Stephane Villeneuve

This is why the company has started to boost its efforts in artificial intelligence, particularly in Montreal. In particular, there are efforts to be made to optimize circulation inside airports and the time that an aircraft spends on the ground before taking to the air again, since air traffic is set to double over the next 20 years, but the number of airports is growing much more slowly.

Prediction tools developed by SITA have enabled Singapore Airport to shorten its visibility window for arrivals from 45 minutes to 5 hours. By having a better idea of ​​which flights will arrive late or early, it can reduce delays on the ground, says Jean-Paul Isson, head of data science and artificial intelligence for SITA.

monitoring center

It is also in Montreal that SITA has set up one of its two surveillance centres. Alternating with that of Singapore, with which the time difference is precisely 12 hours, a few dozen employees ensure the integrity of the company’s multiple systems at all times.

A little less than a hundred Montreal employees are assigned to this center, inaugurated in 2010. They remotely manage no less than 260 airports. The task can be mundane, such as alerting a technician on site that a check-in kiosk is out of paper, or more significant, when it involves, for example, baggage handling systems.

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Gustavo Romero, director of operations of the SITA monitoring center

“Security rules require that we know exactly where each piece of luggage is at all times, to prevent it from remaining on board if a passenger does not board the plane”, specifies Gustavo Romero, director of operations of the center of surveillance.

The company founded by air carriers operates somewhat like a cooperative. To be a customer, you have to be a member. The more revenue a client generates, the greater their share of the business. It currently has about 400 members. Half of its customers are carriers, a quarter are airports.

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SITA: the invisible giant of aeronautics

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