Published on : Wednesday, July 28, 2021
Alaska Airlines flight 1380 thundered down the runway of the Seattle-Tacoma Airport and ascended into clear blue skies, bound for San Diego.
The flight pushed back from the gate five minutes ahead of its 6:10 a.m. scheduled departure time. But its journey really began several hours earlier, about a mile away from the airport, on the sixth floor of Alaska Airlines’ new steel and glass headquarters building, known as “The Hub.”
That’s where flight dispatchers working for the airline plan flights, deciding on the precise route each aircraft will fly to reach its destination. Dispatchers are licensed by the FAA and share legal responsibility for an aircraft’s safety along with its pilots. For the past year, some of those dispatchers have had help from an adept new colleague: an artificial intelligence system created by a small Silicon Valley startup that can often make better predictions about variables such as weather and air traffic than even experienced human flight planners.