Opinion: Impact Of Smarter Aircraft On Maintenance, Reliable Travel

Transforming Flight

Many consider the Golden Age of aviation to be the 1920s and ’30s when aircraft graduated from wood and fabric to metal bodies, while others associate this age with the 1960s and the rise of jet airliners.

Regardless, everyone can agree that the Golden Age of aviation was a time of glamour, growth and innovation. Although I may experience a hint of nostalgia thinking about what it must have been like to fly during these times, I find myself more inspired about what is ahead. There is no doubt the 1920s, ’30s and even the ’60s were pivotal moments in aviation, but I think the true Golden Age of aviation is today.

Thanks to extraordinarily rapid advances in technology, we are able to provide a flight experience unlike anything passengers have known before. This Golden Age is steeped in data, connectivity and technology advancements that are going to transform the way people fly in the next decade—and beyond.

Let’s start in the cabin, where connectivity and content are must-haves. In the next 10 years, inflight connectivity will continue to evolve, becoming better, faster and more common globally. Delayed or interrupted connections will soon be woes of the past. 

More passengers worldwide will have access to better flight experiences because of connectivity. Imagine catching up on a Netflix series without buffering, or posting a picture to Instagram of a beautiful sunset in the clouds. Passengers will be able to measure a flight not in hours but by the number of episodes they can watch.

Even more, those regions and markets that have historically lacked access to connectivity will become greater consumers of this technology. Developing countries such as India, where only a fraction of aircraft are Wi-Fi-enabled today, will be leading the way in terms of growth and usage.

As data usage continues to grow and we connect more aircraft, there will also be a groundswell of content. You may be thinking, “connectivity on an aircraft isn’t new, so why the importance of content in the next decade?” Well, reliable connectivity on an aircraft will be new, and content cannot be distributed without consistent, high-speed, global coverage. What does this mean for passengers? They will likely see partnerships forming among their favorite airlines and new or existing content providers such as Hulu, YouTube or Netflix over the next decade for the best inflight entertainment.

Beyond the cabin, one of the most exciting changes will be the rise in predictive maintenance technology.

Imagine tracking the health of your engine from takeoff to landing. You could see a problem before it causes a delay, and handle it while on the ground, or even resolve it in the air. It would be like attaching a FitBit to your engine, auxiliary power unit or any number of mechanical components.

The result of this is smarter, predictive maintenance schedules for airlines and operators. That means the days of unexpected aircraft groundings due to maintenance are virtually gone; in 10 years passengers should never have an aircraft held up due to maintenance issues. Flights will be on time and safer, so passengers will never miss a birthday, a meeting or a goodnight story with their children.

In fact, let’s go one step further. Delays in general should drop to categorical lows in the next 10-15 years because of the rise of software on airplanes. Software and apps, which are increasing the speed at which new technology enters the cockpit, will give pilots a fresh perspective on how to best finesse an increasingly congested airspace. This means passengers are moving from gate to gate at a well-timed pace and not scrambling to catch connections, which means they are arriving at their destination on time and less frazzled.

The Golden Age of flight transcends the mere glitz and the glamour of commercial airliners. It encompasses transforming the way people fly, creating an exceptional travel experience—making it safer, more efficient and predictable. To those tempted to longingly look back, know that the Golden Age of flight is now. We are making the impossible possible, and there’s nothing more exciting than that. 

Carl Esposito is Honeywell’s vice president of strategy, marketing and product management.

The views expressed are not necessarily shared by Aviation Week.

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