Airlines can unlock the power of IoT, but only with reliable connectivity
The projected size of the global aircraft fleet is expected to increase by almost 50 percent over the next few years — to more than 34,000 planes by 2025 – and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimates passenger numbers will reach 7.3 billion by 2034.
To meet this unceasing demand, airplane manufacturers must find innovative ways of managing and monitoring their ever expanding and changing fleets. This is where the Internet of Things (IoT) comes into play. It has been predicted that the number of connected “things” could reach 50.1bn in three years’ time and the opportunities it provides airlines are endless.
IoT can help airlines become more efficient; allowing them to monitor their fleet and save costs by making timely repairs. It can also help improve the customer experience. The use of IoT within the aviation industry is still in its infancy but business leaders are increasingly realising the potential it brings - 29 per cent of airlines have already embarked on major IoT programmes, while another 38 per cent are planning research and pilot projects over the next three years, according to the Airline IT Trends Survey 2016.
Despite being in its infancy, IoT is already having a significant impact. As a result of IoT innovations, airlines are able to take their HMV (heavy maintenance visit) time down considerably. This represents a significant reduction in man power and days in bay, as well as increased revenue.
Currently, one of the most popular IoT initiatives in use is the monitoring of fleet engine health, and this is one area we are working in at Aeris. IoT enables airlines and airplane manufacturers to monitor planes in near real-time for critical events when the aircraft is in-flight, and it does this by sending data via satellite. Throughout the flight sensors on the plane also gather non-critical information. Once the aircraft has landed, the complete data, including both the critical and non-critical information, is uploaded via Wi-Fi for detailed analysis.
The data, gathered over numerous flights, can be analysed to determine long-time patterns and further interrogate issues identified, enabling manufacturers and airlines to gain greater knowledge of the health and performance of their fleet.
With so much data being generated by the aircraft, a robust and reliable network infrastructure is key to make the most of the potential offered by IoT. Significant advances in technology have made cellular network connectivity the ideal solution, with advantages including automated aircraft monitoring with true global coverage, 24/7 analysis, and the ability to perform complex data analysis.
IoT enables near real-time monitoring of critical events and detailed analysis upon landing. Problems can therefore be resolved before they get worse and spread. This increases safety and performance, as well as the fleet’s life span. When planes spend more time in the sky rather than waiting for repairs on the ground, flight delays are shortened. This leads to happier customers, a trustworthy brand image, and cost savings.
With cellular connectivity, this monitoring is truly global. Cellular is available everywhere, even in hard-to-reach areas, enabling companies to receive detailed analysis no matter where in the world the plane lands. When global connectivity and near real-time monitoring of critical events is coupled with detailed analysis upon landing, it can help to create well-maintained, efficient engine maintenance operations, which can reduce accidents and failures.
We are currently working with airlines and airline manufacturers to make this all possible. With weak, or unreliable, connectivity this 24/7 global fleet monitoring would not be possible. But we are the only service provider that offers both Global System for Mobile communication (GSM) and Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) connectivity for 2G, 3G, and 4G Long-Term Evolution (LTE). We are also carrier-agnostic — our company has agreements with several hundred carriers worldwide in addition to our own network. This means if our network does not reach a spot and another carrier does, we provide the strongest signal from the nearest tower, with no interruption in service. Moreover, we have a full stack of scalable IoT/Machine-to-Machine (M2M) technology solutions to support the entire lifecycle of the IoT deployment, from device activation through data management.
But this is only one example. As IoT continues to be adopted at a higher rate we will see more and more examples of how it can be used to improve operational efficiencies and personalise customer experience. As we go forward, there is likely to be more focus on monitoring areas of the aircraft beyond the engines. Engine monitoring has huge benefits but as reliability continues to increase, ultimately, improvements to downtime will plateau. Further gains are likely to come from expanding the use of IoT throughout the aircraft and leveraging predictive analytics to reduce other causes of unscheduled maintenance.
While most of the IoT innovation to date has been focused on manufacturing and maintenance, much of the next generation will undoubtedly be focused on passenger experience; providing a seamless end-to-end experience. Experiences such as “hands free” check-in, automated baggage tracking and personalised alerts regarding boarding status can all be made possible by IoT technology.
Moreover, if we are to see the aviation industry full utilise the power of IoT, industry cooperation is as important, if not more so, than any specific aspect of IoT technology. The aviation industry is a vast and complex patchwork of overlapping and often competing systems. But as more standards for interoperability emerge and are adopted, we will begin to see an incredible escalation of IoT innovation and, ultimately, value to both the industry and the consumer.