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Boeing and Microsoft: Taking the next step together in digital aviation

Boeing, the company that provided seaplanes for the U.S. Navy in World War I, delivered the first commercial jet airliner in 1958 and unveiled the state-of-the-art 787 Dreamliner earlier this decade, looks forward to the next 100 years of aviation positioned at the forefront of digital aviation, including a new collaboration announced Monday with Microsoft.

“Boeing is working together with Microsoft, a leader in the technology space, to bring innovative operational efficiency solutions to global aviation customers,” explains Andrew Gendreau, the director of advanced information solutions in Boeing’s Digital Aviation division. “Boeing brings in their deep subject matter expertise, complimented by Microsoft’s deep technical expertise, and together we’ll be bringing new, innovative customer solutions to market.”

“Who should care about this announcement?” jokes Nathaniel Crook, Microsoft’s director of enterprise sales in the Pacific Northwest. “Anyone who has sat on a runway during a maintenance delay for longer than five minutes.”

Working together, Boeing and Microsoft will begin by transitioning Boeing’s extensive portfolio of digital solutions to Microsoft Azure. This will enable airlines to solve business challenges by becoming more adaptive, innovative and intelligence-driven.

The digital airline will enable further integration between humans and machines, leveraging artificial intelligence to streamline business operations while enabling airline operators to be more efficient, competitive and attractive to consumers.

Powered by Microsoft Azure and services like Cortana Intelligence and Azure IoT Suite, the collaboration aims to improve commercial aviation by enhancing factors like predictive aircraft maintenance, fuel optimization, airline systems and the overall cabin passenger experience.

Discussing the announcement, Greg Jones, Microsoft’s global industry director for travel, says the resulting advanced analytics will assist a new generation of pilots, mechanics, dispatchers and even flight attendants.

“In the aviation sector, there is a lot of transformation occurring with the explosion of data,” Jones says. “Carriers want better access to information, so they can eliminate operating inefficiencies. This news of Boeing and Microsoft working together to drive that digital transformation in the airline sector, enables us to deliver all these Boeing services on the Microsoft Cloud to our mutual airline customer.”

In the cockpit and beyond, the pairing further cements the commitment of both companies toward the rapidly growing digital aviation ecosystem.

“There is great potential between the connected traveler, the connected airplane and the connected operation, and their interplay,” Gendreau says of the initiative. “Globally, airlines spend about $700 billion on operating costs, and there’s about $700 billion in revenue. So airlines are a very competitive business with profitable but narrow margins; leveraging data and analytics not only improves performance and experience, but will give airlines a chance to sustain profitable growth.”

In many ways, this is a natural fit. “When you think of aviation, Boeing is the leader in the space, a company built on the principles of thinking big, taking on challenges and impacting the world,” Gendreau says of his company.

“On a daily basis, our digital airline solutions impact over 300 airlines globally with data, expertise, efficiency and skills. Microsoft is similar in their industry, with their innovation areas, including cloud, analytics and mobility. Our philosophies are also complimentary: Get close to customers, understand their business and problems, then work with them to drive optimal outcomes.”

“This team will truly bring the potential of the connected aircraft to life,” agrees Jones. “Not only from the sensors and telemetry information, but also delivering areas of productivity for the crew, providing more ground-to-air communications, and working to deliver the connected airline vision that is provided by Boeing and powered by Microsoft.”