Solving Flight Disruptions: Why We Funded Pilota

Dorm Room Fund is excited to announce our investment in Pilota, a company building a predictive analytics engine that uses machine learning to forecast flight disruptions. Pilota’s first product allows travel management companies to predict potential flight disruptions and proactively book backup flights for their clients for free. 

Flight disruptions suck for everyone

We’ve all experienced the pain and frustration of having a flight get delayed or canceled. Your travel plans are thrown off, sometimes you’re forced to wait in a crowded terminal for hours, and other times you have to deal with overwhelmed airline agents. Flight disruptions have long been one of the most difficult and complex problems in the air travel industry. It’s not just annoying for travelers; for airlines, disruptions mean crew delays, missed connections, and a cascade effect leading to more late flights. An estimated 8% of airline revenue is lost to disruptions, which amounts to a staggering $60 billion worldwide. 

Oftentimes, we associate flight disruptions with weather that is out of our control, but it turns out that this isn’t entirely true. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, only 5% of delayed flights are caused by extreme weather – 39% are caused by the previous flight arriving late, 30% by the air carrier (delays with crew, baggage, maintenance, fueling, etc.), and 24% attributable to the National Aviation System (preventable conditions with non-extreme weather, airport operations, traffic volume). This means that many flight disruptions are within human control and can be reduced by involved parties. At the same time, this also means that it’s possible to predict flight disruptions ahead of time, which opens the gate for travelers to proactively deal with disruptions. 

Pilota: Proactively manage flight disruptions

As a licensed pilot, Cornell Tech master’s student Omer Winrauke wanted to explore how predictive analytics could improve the end-to-end flight operations process. Through Cornell Tech’s capstone Startup Studio program, Omer teamed up with fellow master’s students Saniya Shah, Cyrus Ghazanfar, and Kulvinder Lotay to research and build technology in the flight disruption management space. They built a robust predictive analytics engine that learns from several data sources, including current and historical flight route data, physical aircraft location information, and weather patterns, to predict potential flight disruptions. Pilota’s first use case for this technology is in the corporate travel market, where businesses lose an average of $1,200 per disruption per employee.

Currently, travel management companies (TMCs) keep travel agents on-call to manually monitor client flights in case they get disrupted. Pilota’s analytics and automatic rebooking software empowers TMCs to resolve disruptions proactively, reducing the need for a large on-call team and giving travellers protection against potential flight disruptions. There are currently over 9,000 travel management companies in the U.S. each making an average of 90,000 bookings per year. TMCs make for an attractive initial market to sell to, but additionally there are valuable uses of Pilota’s analytics for airlines, airports, and online travel agencies (OTAs). We’re beyond excited to support Saniya, Cyrus, Omer, and Kulvinder in their journey to change the way flight disruptions are managed across the industry.

Why Dorm Room Fund Invested

1. Team Execution Velocity: We’ve been blown away by the Pilota team’s approach to their market and their product iteration based on extensive conversations with stakeholders across the travel industry. And their urgency— in the span of just one semester, Saniya, Cyrus, Omer, and Kulvinder identified and built a product that is being used by customers. They have put themselves in the right position to succeed in the travel industry and are hustling to get the support they need: the Pilota team is currently participating in 500 Startups and the aerospace innovation-focused United Technologies Digital Accelerator. They have also pitched at industry events hosted by the International Airline Group and Future Travel Experience and are advised by Josh Hartmann, former CTO of Travelocity.

2. High Potential Technology with Strong Use Cases: We believe in the potential of the core predictive analytics that the Pilota team is developing. Pilota is uniquely able to predict flight disruptions because of proprietary datasets and machine learning technology. Additionally, they built an AI underwriting engine that is critically used to quantify flight disruption risk. We believe this combination of technology is powerful and broadly applicable across both the air travel industry with flight disruptions and the insurance space with underwriting. 

Written by Spencer Yen, Dorm Room Fund Partner (NYC). Follow him on Medium and Twitter.

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