The aircraft aftermarket is on the verge of a renaissance—in which computing power, analytics, partnership prowess and innovative spirits are converging to translate data into more powerful predictive tools.
Cloud storage is abundant, sensor prices keep decreasing and powerful data analytics platforms like IBM’s Watson and’s Predix are ramping up. And now, more affordable ways to stream data off the aircraft—more quickly—are coming into play.
“There’s been a move to wirelessly enable aircraft, which eliminates the manual download” of aircraft data, says Willie Cecil, Teledyne Control’s director of business development, wireless and data automation solutions. “About half of the [civil aviation in-service] aircraft can do this,” he adds.
Downloading 1 MB of post-flight data via wireless cellular costs a fraction of a cent, compared to about $100 to transmit 1 MB of data using the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting Systems (ACARS), says Cecil. The next step is “sending data over broadband, which costs more than cellular but is much, much less than traditional ACARS links,” he says.
The factors creating this renaissance are driving big data partnerships that aim to improve predictive maintenance. For instance, in November, Teledyne Controls andannounced a strategic partnership to ease the flow of data and enrich it via Predix, GE’s cloud-based analytics platform. GE Aviation also signed an agreement that month with Capgemini to launch Configuration Data Exchange, which will enable airlines, MROs, lessors, parts distributors and OEMs to electronically send information among them—using different data formats. The exchange is designed to serve as a data translator so each party can load the data into its own IT system, regardless of platform and format. Jim Daily, vice president and chief digital officer for GE Aviation, hoped to announce a pilot customer by the end of 2016.
is similarly leading a collaboration with and Microsoft to collect, aggregate and analyze data from various sources to provide better predictive tools and increase operational availability.
Pratt & Whitney, meanwhile, has advanced its engine data analytics by extending its relationship with IBM. Pratt plans to move its business, engineering and manufacturing enterprise systems to be fully managed in the IBM cloud, increasing its data storage and computing capabilities.
But it is not just the OEMs that are developing such capabilities. In the first quarter of 2017,plans to launch Condition Analytics, which blends digital analytics with its engineering know-how to make component MRO more predictive. The effort saved 1% in fuel burn by identifying that an aircraft’s flight controls were not flush and needed to be rerigged, says Helge Sachs, Technik vice president for corporate innovation and production development.
Lufthansa Technik is aware that the major engine manufacturers are all working on digital analytics platforms to enhance predictive maintenance, but it says Condition Analytics is distinct as a tool that pairs analytics with hands-on airline engineering expertise.
—supplier of avionics, auxiliary power units, engines, brakes and “systems under the floorboard”—is approaching this arena by looking at how to connect systems to improve aircraft “dispatchability,” says Carl Esposito, Honeywell vice president for strategy, marketing and product development. By layering capability and technology, the company is looking at how to use data generated from each system to treat the aircraft holistically.
“Just as the internet has evolved, as higher speeds have come to the internet and more data information has become available to aggregate, you’re seeing the same thing in the airplane. Today we operate in almost a dial-up-modem-speed communication infrastructure to get data on and off the aircraft,” he says. But he adds that “with new advances, such as the JetWave high-speed connectivity system we just certified, it opens up an avenue for high-speed passenger connectivity” and as a means to connect systems to support improved aircraft performance.
“Just like we’ve seen in the consumer world, once you have higher bandwidth and speeds, you can have the ability to offer innovative and differentiated services that didn’t exist in the dial-up world,” Esposito says, citing Netflix as an example of a company that grew because of higher-speed connectivity.
Today the amount of data that is captured and collected is still very small, so the steps being taken to capture more—especially automatically instead of manually—are very important. This will facilitate amassing data, enabling big data processes to use this larger pool of aircraft information for new and better analytics to support MRO.
The advent of this renaissance is fortuitous, given the increased amounts of data that the latest models of aircraft and engines will generate. Now is the time to figure out how to use it effectively to improve aircraft operations.