The recent FlightGlobal Aerospace Big Data Conference in Miami appeared to advance the discussion on more realistic grounds than had sometimes been common before, according to Brett Levanto, vice president of operations at the Aeronautical Repair Station Association.
“The data ownership discussion was the most interesting, because it got more realistic this year than last year,” Levanto says. The ARSA exec says that initially there was a lot of “hot air and lip service” about how aviation shares everything. “It made me worry that we were going to break our arms by patting ourselves so vigorously on the back.”
But the terms of discussion changed, not during the conference’s data-sharing panel but during a discussion of optimizing the maintenance model. “A panelist truthfully offered that, while data access does serve a lot of valuable purposes, operators are businesses that won’t want to, first, just part with a resource they produce that has value to others or, second, do anything that serves competitors, particularly non-partner competitors, without getting some kind of return on that distribution,” Levanto says. That sort of candor does not mean anyone is against using safety-critical data to make the whole system better, but it puts the entire discussion on a realistic basis.
Other industries, such as automotive, face similar issues. “The presenter from Ford gave an interesting talk on analytics in developing EVs [electric vehicles], making it clear that the data belongs to the car owner,” Levanto says. “I was able to look around the room and see the looks on faces.”
Apart from listening and looking, Levanto’s role as ARSA representative in the conference was to try to connect all the “big data big thinkers” with actual shop floors and flight lines. He also highlighted that the MRO industry includes a disproportionately large number of small firms that perform very specific work to keep the whole system moving. “An airline operations or maintenance center can trumpet the power of its analytics all it wants, but the system cannot grow without accommodating the human factors involved, both in producing and acting on data, and understanding the network of business involved in the work,” he summarizes. “I raised the point that it’s important to understand, both for individual technicians and supply and maintenance networks, that there must be a range of data-based skills from fully expert to simply data-literate.”
Levanto says there was good airline and OEM participation in the conference, along with a few service providers and investors. But, perhaps inevitably, the shop floor was not much represented. “When I asked during my talk how many people were certificated mechanics, three hands went up. When I asked how many had worked as a technician of any kind, there were only a few more.”