Most discussions of using data analytics for better maintenance focus on newer aircraft. But sometimes a lot can be done to tap data on legacy models to improve maintenance.
For example, WestJet Encore flies 42, soon to be 45, Bombardier Q400 turboprops as a regional feeder for its parent airline. David Hathaway is a Boeing 737 pilot on the main airline who was assigned to help with improving the technology on the smaller aircraft. “Our first objective was to solve the communication problem, when we moved from the 737 to the Dash-8, we did not have the same communications, no satellite,” Hathaway explains. “But as we built out, we realized we could do a lot with a cell network on the ground.”
And navAero was providing Encore Q400s with a Windows OS-based tablet electronic flight bag that connects to aircraft power and aircraft data. Hathaway and his team realized they could do a lot more with aircraft data if they exploited the EFB’s capabilities.
That led to the development of the Integrated Communication and Application System, or ICAS. Developed internally by WestJet, ICAS turns existing aircraft data into useful information for flight crews, back-office users and maintenance managers. It is an application framework that supports unlimited app development to enhance efficiency and safety.
For example, ICAS can monitor hard landings and turbulence and replicate traditional monitoring solutions at a fraction of the costs. “It evolved to include many components,” Hathaway explains. “I call it a Christmas Tree, and the apps go on it. The apps can get new data to the flight deck.”
One example is the use of ICAS to substantially improve maintenance after possible severe turbulence. The Q400s have accelerometers that can measure turbulence, but the pilots had no way to read them. So pilots had to make subjective judgments on how severe was the turbulence they had passed through.
The old process then had pilots entering their subjective evaluations of turbulence in paper logbooks. The plane was grounded, and maintenance would download flight data recorder information and send it to Bombardier for analysis. Bombardier would reviews speeds, mass and G forces and report back to Encore maintenance on any inspections required. If no threshold was broken, the plane would go back into service, but at this point it had been out of service for about four hours. If the plane had encountered severe turbulence, it would only start inspection after four hours of lost time.
With the navAero EFBs and ICAS, the whole process is abbreviated. During turbulence, flight data recorder information is processed on the Microsoft Surface tablet on in the flight deck. Using the same parameters and algorithms as Bombardier would, the tablet informs the pilot of whether the event was severe according to objective metrics. If it was severe, inspection can begin immediately on landing. If not, there is no down time.
Either way, there are four fewer hours of downtime. That is money in the bank for Encore. And the ICAS team is always adding new apps to exploit the capabilities of the navAero system, which includes the EFB, an aircraft interface device, a mount, data busses and software.