Etihad will use AI to reduce food waste on flights

Uneaten meals will be tracked using AI and image recognition when flights land at airports

Etihad is turning to technology to reduce food waste on flights. 
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Etihad Airways is to use machine learning to help tackle the problem of food wase on its flights.

The national airline of the UAE started a project that makes use of computer vision and machine learning to cut down on the volume of food wasted on flights. The project is in partnership with Lumitics, a Singapore food technology start-up.

Using AI and image recognition, unconsumed meals from flights will be tracked when Etihad jets land at airports. Courtesy Etihad

Economy-class meals served on Etihad flights will be tracked to record food consumption patterns and waste levels across the airline's network. This will be done using Lumitics' Insight Lite product, which will monitor the number of uneaten meals on a plane when it reaches an airport.

The programme uses artificial intelligence and image recognition to identify the types and quantity of unconsumed food, without the need for human interaction.

This data will be used by Etihad in plans to reduce food waste, improve meal planning on a granular level and lower operating costs. So, for instance, if X amount of chicken dishes are always left uneaten on flights from Chicago, they will reduce that meal on that service.

1.14 million tonnes wasted every year

About 20 per cent of all food produced by in-flight catering teams is wasted every year. Unsplash

In 2017, the International Air Transport Association found that 1.14 million tonnes of food was wasted from in-flight catering and about 20 per cent of all food produced by in-flight catering teams is wasted every year.

The problem is something airlines are aware of and Etihad began its partnership with Lumitics this year, before aviation was widely affected by the coronavirus pandemic. With many routes now restarting, Etihad is keen to move forward with the project.

“As the airline scales up the flight operations again, it is exciting to restart the project and continue the work that had begun," said Mohammad Al Bulooki, chief operating officer at Etihad Aviation Group.

Rayner Loi, co-founder of Lumitics, said "tackling food waste is one of the largest cost-saving opportunities for any business producing and serving food".

"Not only does it make business sense, it is also good for the environment. We are excited to be working with Etihad Airways to help achieve its goals in reducing food waste," he said.

Sustainable flying

Etihad Airways Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner

Etihad's food waste programme is one of several sustainability focused initiatives the airline is undertaking.

Last year, the Abu Dhabi airline operated a single-use-plastic-free flight from the UAE to Australia and introduced its Etihad Greenliner programme to help improve operating efficiency and sustainable practice in aviation.

Most recently, Etihad partnered with Boeing and Nasa to use its newest Dreamliner as a test bed for technologies that can help reduce fuel consumption, noise pollution and carbon dioxide emissions.