Four years ago, Airbus shelved its 17-member MRO Network, saying the idea of collaborating with a few select maintenance providers had outlived its usefulness. At this year’s Paris Air Show, the OEM unveiled a new collaboration with a similar name: the Airbus MRO Alliance.
What has made a tired idea relevant again? Data.
Like the old network, the new collaboration will see MRO providers reap the benefits of Airbus’s deep engineering knowledge on everything from maintenance programs to upgrades. This time, however, the network’s hub will provide more than just institutional knowledge: It will be a constantly expanding databank fed by Airbus aircraft that translates data points into proactive actionable information that alliance partners—and their customers—can use.
“The MRO Network was a project of the 20th century,” says Philippe Mhun, Airbus senior vice president for customer services. “The MRO Alliance is a project for the 21st century. Take it as a fresh start at how Airbus will be working with MROs in the future.”
While the alliance will share the breadth of Airbus’s aftermarket offerings—including its engineering data and Satair Group parts and logistics—the foundation will be digital. Airbus used the air show backdrop to unveil Skywise, a data platform that is designed to connect operators, MRO providers and the OEM, and to support advanced analytics. Data sets will include everything from onboard sensor information to pilot reports as well as Airbus developmental data.
Airbus has shifted its digital offerings such as Airbus Real-Time Health Monitoring (Airthm) onto the new platform and is adding services and collaborators. U.S.-based analytics software specialist Palantir is working with Airbus on Skywise, and the OEM struck a deal with Rockwell Collins to supply wireless infrastructure on its single-aisle aircraft for exchanging operations and maintenance data.
In addition to suppliers, several airlines have been running proof-of-concept trials to help Airbus shape its offerings.
EasyJet’s operation has been serving as a real-world laboratory for two years, helping Airbus develop algorithms for single-aisle predictive maintenance. By using the Airthm platform developed for the Airbus A350 and expanding to other in-production widebodies, EasyJet for its narrowbodies merged previously isolated aircraft-sensor data with internal information such as component removals. The airline then identified the top 100 events that “caused technical interruptions,” explains Gary Smith, head of engineering. Collaborating with Airbus, EasyJet examined each fault and its symptoms, developing a “signature” that can be applied to real-time data coming off the aircraft.
For example, EasyJet found that escalating oil temperatures indicated a pending integrated drive generator (IDG) fault. By setting up an alert based on the parameters, the airline can intervene before an IDG failure leads to an in-service interruption. “We can turn unscheduled work into scheduled work,” Smith says.
EasyJet has set up three fault signatures since last October, targeting high-pressure valves, radio altimeters and IDGs. So far, alerts have led to the removal of 14 components. Analysis has determined that half of the 100 faults targeted could have been predicted. Airbus and EasyJet are working on algorithms.
“This is just a start,” Smith says. “As the datasets get larger and Fomax [the aircraft operations connectivity service Rockwell Collins is supporting] comes online, there will be a massive amount of data. We think there are a lot of opportunities to improve our engineering operation.”
The work by EasyJet and Airbus will pave the way for other single-aisle operators to leverage Airthm, which Airbus says is being rebranded as part of the revamped aftermarket-services push. “We have a set of algorithms we are able to run today” for single-aisle aircraft, Mhun notes. EasyJet is the lone announced public customer for single-aisle aircraft, while several, including Qatar Airways on the A350 and half of the A380 operators, uses the real-time monitoring services on those Airbus long-range models.
Other operators are running proof-of-concept trials using Skywise-powered apps. Delta Air Lines has paired Airbus’s Prognostics and Risks Management (PRM) application with Skywise to boost component analytics. Airbus projects that connecting PRM with the new platform’s modeling power can boost the application’s effectiveness by as much as 15%.
Emirates, another Airthm user, is sharing data on Skywise as part of its predictive-maintenance strategy. Airbus says Airthm has helped improve the airline’s operational reliability by about 1%.
Japanese low-cost-carrier Peach is using Skywise to crunch unscheduled component removal data and refine maintenance schedules to determine optimal replacement intervals.
Lufthansa Technik is betting on its Aviatar platform, which includes predictive-maintenance applications, to serve its massive customer base. Air France Industries KLM Engineering & Maintenance has its Prognos predictive MRO offering for both airframes and engines.
“We want to approve the availability of the aircraft, reduce costs and provide the airline with the best customer experience,” Mhun says, sounding as much like an MRO provider as an aircraft OEM executive. “Our intent is very simple.”