Technology changes will include adding more sensors to new components on new aircraft. But there also is a need to collect, analyze and download all the data now being generated, especially on older aircraft.
Aerospace companies have been working in this area as well. For example,Aerospace Systems’ (UTAS) Aircraft Interface Device, or AID, can gather and exploit sensor and other data to improve maintenance. The UTAS AID is certified on most large commercial aircraft, including 717s, MD-11s, , , and and and , with to be added in early 2017. Airlines with a mixed fleet can thus use one type of electronic flight bag (EFB). The device is already on about 300 aircraft, and several hundred are on order.
Originally designed to feed EFBs, the UTAS system also has a Wi-Fi antenna and can serve as a hub for the aircraft’s predictive health monitoring data, says Mauro Atalla, vice president for engineering and technology in UTAS’ Sensors & Integrated Systems.
“We are collaborating with customers and collecting data that will assist airlines with decreasing delays, cancellations and unscheduled maintenance occurrences through predictive analytics,” he says.
An early application of the UTAS AID, the OpsInsight Electronic Flight Folder, gives pilots avionics data, flight performance tracking and weather data updated in real time.
The AID also can use Wi-Fi on the 2.4- gigahertz (GHz) band or its Ethernet port to collect data from line-replaceable units (LRU). With 4 GB of RAM, it can then store the data or run diagnostics on the condition of LRUs. Communication buses connect the AID to flight computers in a read-only mode to monitor flight measurements. And the AID can transmit data to either pilots’ or maintenance technicians’ tablets, or diagnostic data or results can be downloaded to the ground as well, via a variety of communication methods both inflight and on the ground.
Atalla says the AID augments central maintenance computers on newer aircraft and also works on older ones. “It’s not easy to get data off legacy aircraft. The AID can download using cellular, Wi-Fi and aircraft satellite networks,” he says. Small and light, the AID requires no active cooling and can be mounted in a variety of ways.
UTAS is developing new hardware and software for intra-aircraft wireless communication among sensors, actuators and processing nodes. One aim is to make it possible to collect more data for prognostics.
“We would like to have more sensors in older aircraft, and wireless would allow us to do that without ripping out interiors,” Atalla notes. “The business case for adding sensors is better if it costs less.”
Atalla says UTAS is developing all-wireless systems for both the current 2.4-GHz band and a recently approved 4.2-GHz band dedicated to avionics. Flight testing will occur in 2017 for the 2.4-GHz system, while regulations for the 4.2-GHz system are being developed and are expected to be finalized in 2019.
The 2.4-GHz band is open to different uses, so interference is a concern, but the new 4.2-GHZ band will be dedicated and thus more reliable for sensor-monitoring and other purposes. Wiring for safety or amenity devices such as to control lighting and ventilation in seats, might be replaced by wireless links once these can be made dependable.
Atalla says the new tools will be available for both line-fit and retrofit. To minimize power requirements, the UTAS system will require power only when transmitting data. And the energy-storage component of each node will be augmented where possible by energy harvesting from vibrations or temperature gradients. That could extend the life of each node up to 10 years, considerably economizing on life-cycle costs.