Analysis
The emergence of the Internet of Things could lead to the transformation of the commercial aviation industry

Embracing the Internet of Things

With the Internet of Things tipped to become a technological game changer, James Pozzi looks at how commercial aviation could stand to benefit from its emergence.

Of all the technology platforms tipped to revolutionise specific industries in the past few years, the Internet of Things (IoT) is considered to be one of the most promising. Defined as a scenario in which data from individuals or pieces of equipment can be transferred over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction, IoT has developed from futuristic oddity to real-life technology owing to the rise in connected devices.


Naturally, this has come with a lot of hype. Last August, this was confirmed when technology analysts Gartner placed IoT ahead of big data at the top of its annual Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies. The report, which evaluates the maturity of more than 2,000 technologies, stated it would take between five to 10 years for IoT to reach its “plateau of productivity”.


The concept is that IoT helps to transform large swathes of data and apply it in real time to drive better decision making, while also enhancing the power of prediction.  An OEM could obtain engine data from its built-in sensors and start directly recording cycles and flight hours. Tipped to transform industries ranging from manufacturing to utilities, IoT is also predicted to have a big impact on the commercial aviation sector.


In such a data- heavy industry, the IoT has been forecast to transform everything from aircraft manufacturing and assembly to maintenance and other areas of flight safety, such as tracking the whereabouts of aircraft. As aircraft engines are now more commonly equipped with sensors, performance data, such as fuel burn, can be used in real time, rather than wait for a flight to be over before sending it across.


GE Aviation is one company embracing the IoT across its production and maintenance activities. The OEM is employing IoT platforms to manage and repair aircraft engines at the early stage, using data to detect minor faults before they develop into major ones.


Airports are also investing in IoT. London City Airport was an early adopter in 2013 when, it commenced with plans to improve the passenger experience by using data transfer between machines to reduce lost luggage, flight delays and even cut down queues at the security line. This is due to using facial recognition software, which helps the airport monitor where passengers are and predict and prevent queues.


Ian Boulton, senior director of product management for service lifecycle management at PTC, says: “IoT in aviation is progressing and expanding in scope all the time – it started with engines and it has since become more prevalent in the avionics systems.”


Boulton believes the delivery of new aircraft has played a role in the growth of IoT. “In the latest generation of aircraft, such as the 787 and A350, the avionics use commercial IP addressing which allows them to be treated as addressable ports from a configuration management perspective,” he explains. “What these smart aircraft are able to do when they are landing is transmit information to the maintenance teams about current flying configuration, as well as any faults that have occurred during the flight.”


Sanjay Jagdale, vice-president for service lifecycle management at PTC, adds that the sensors in aircraft, of which there are an increasing amount, are working with software to use available data and helping operators predict maintenance events and spend more accurately.


“Not only is there a benefit for tracking and flying, but also for doing forecasting based on flying hours and different tail numbers,” he says. “This enables aviation firms to be much more proactive about when and where specific parts and sub-assemblies are needed so they can minimise the aircraft down time owing to not having the right parts at the right location.”


Manuel Terranova, CEO and president of Peaxy, a California-based data management start up, says that attitudes in the sector need to evolve to harness IoT’s potential. “The aviation industry, more than any we are working with, really understands the issue of data longevity, but one of the biggest challenges it still has is a resistance to change,” he says.“There’s a certain level of courage required in order to address this problem and acknowledge the way data has been handled for the last 25 years is not going to lead to a winning formula for the next 25 years.”

With data playing such a pivotal role in commercial aviation, the industry successfully using IoT could become its next big revolution.


Issue 136 of ATE&M will contain an in-depth feature on IoT applications in the commercial aviation sector.

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