The predictive power of health-monitoring and crunching the “big data” that next-generation aircraft will produce has the potential to radically transform the way maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) is done.
So said the chief of Embraer Commercial Aviation in the opening day keynote address of Aviation Week’s MRO Americas exhibition and conference in Miami Beach, Florida, April 14.
Luis Carlos Affonso, a senior vice president of the Brazilian aerospace company and chief operating officer of the unit that builds regional jets, even foresees a day in which airlines and MROs will be able to order most parts only when a need arises, because health-monitoring and data will allow parts users to predict exactly what they will need before anything fails.
“Today, we are not making full use of this data,” he said of the gigabytes of data that the latest aircraft capture. “Maybe in the future, you won’t even keep parts.”
Affonso foresees the possibility of “leaning” out maintenance to the point that parts are ordered only shortly before they are needed for a specific aircraft headed to the maintenance hangar.
He also said the decades-long trend toward airlines outsourcing maintenance and repair work will continue, and that is certainly good news for independent MROs and the OEMs that increasingly compete with them for the business. It is a good thing, because intervals between maintenance will keep growing, too.
Affonso said the first–generation EMB-145 averaged 4,000 flight hours between maintenance, while Embraer’s current-generation aircraft average 7,500 hr. And he says the next-generation E2s will go 8,500 hr, between stops in the hangar.
“More and more, airlines want to know the life-cycle costs of their airplanes,” Affonso said. “Being able to predict and control maintenance costs . . . are key.” Airlines typically spend about 15% of their operating costs on maintenance, he said. Technology advances could cut 15-20% of that on a per-aircraft basis, though, he said.
Others at the opening of the Aviation Week MRO conference agreed that “big data” and lower per-airplane maintenance costs could have a huge impact on MRO. But because of the long-term growth of the airline industry and the continuing trend toward outsourcing maintenance, it is easy to become complacent.
As Dave Marcontell of Oliver Wyman’s Cavok warns MROs, “It’s time to disengage the autopilot. If you think you can survive and prosper by doing what you’ve been doing, you’re dead wrong.”