Layering big data analytics and machine learning on top of the megabytes of data that each flight hour generates is where the real value—optimized maintenance and productivity—exists, but to get there companies first need to be able to exchange data that exists in paper, PDF and digital records across a plethora of different maintenance and engineering systems.
For years, airlines, MROs and OEMs have talked about exchanging data but have hit roadblocks in determining what information to share and how. A new Aviation Week airline MRO information technology (IT) survey done in conjunction with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) finds that airlines think the biggest hurdle to exploiting data analytics to improve maintenance is due to inadequate data standards.
GE Aviation is tackling the first step—the digital exchange of information from various sources, including paper—by launching the Configuration Data Exchange in partnership with Capgemini, announced at GE’s Mind + Machines event in San Francisco in November.
This exchange should allow airlines, MROs, lessors, parts distributors and OEMs to exchange information no matter what IT system is used. It could be data on parts, overhauls, inspections or quality control, for instance, says Peter White, Capgemini’s service life cycle management lead for North America.
Jim Daily, vice president and chief digital officer for GE Aviation, says airlines spend $4 billion each year on manually managing data, which could be reduced through the Configuration Data Exchange. The exchange, which could leverage GE’s cloud-based Predix system, would be OEM and equipment agnostic, so it should have nose-to-tail capability.
Airlines often send work packages to MROs in PDF format. The MROs complete the tasks and then record in their system the nonroutine maintenance items they discover. “Best case, they may have an Excel export, which then has to get loaded into the airline’s system,” says Michael Denis, principal, Capgemini’s aviation and aerospace practice. “Tomorrow, what this basically will be able to do is take the electronic work package, send it electronically—with the raw data [in XML format, ATA Spec 2200 or ASD S1000D]—and push that to the MRO. They can load it into the MRO’s IT system, and execute it in their third-party system. And then because there is a data translator in the middle, it will translate and populate into the operator’s IT system,” says Denis. This will provide constant traceability.
The process will create efficiencies, but the parties acknowledge that it also is an enabling capability, because the real value is layering machine learning or advanced analytics on top—but first you need to know the configuration of the assets. Daily hopes to announce pilot customers this year.
Could the airline aftermarket get to a point where data exchange could be as easy as using a debit card at an ATM—no matter where you are?