The commercial aviation sector is starting to stretch its wings once again as international travel resumes. This renaissance has highlighted a number of critical points that need to be addressed, such as the reintroduction of stored aircraft and the conversion of airliners to cargo configurations and vice versa, all while balancing remote work and financial overhead to ensure a long-term period of renewed growth and profitability. . Technology is providing the answers. As OEMs, airlines and MROs focus on integrating new technologies into their value chains and embracing digital transformation, we see three key areas where new advancements can be most valuable and easy to integrate to help gain competitive advantage in a sector where there is a very fine line. between profit and loss. Rob Mather, Vice President of Aerospace and Defense Industries, IFS, explains.
Since 2020, the aviation industry has faced unprecedented change, instability and shocks that have rippled across the sector, from flight restrictions and a series of quarantine regulations to complete statewide business shutdowns of which OEMs, airlines, and MROs are still bouncing back.
Canceled flights, suspended planes and aeronautical uncertainty
The initial pressures of the pandemic caused work on the site to change dramatically. New restrictions, staff shortages due to isolation, and strict social distancing restrictions have been challenges for businesses. In some cases, this has opened up new opportunities for companies that have unlocked potential; examples are the cargo boom and corresponding increase in forecasters, the conversion of airliners to cargo configuration, and the FAA using remote work channels in the evolution of the 737-MAX.
There has also been a mixed reaction on downsizing fleets. Cirium reported that large commercial aircraft saw a 15% decline in retirements as replacement orders became uneconomic; this was because OEMs were affected by shortages of workers and supplies. For example, the EU Parliament found that European manufacturing demand fell by 43% in 2020, mainly due to Airbus order deferrals. Other airlines accelerated the retirement of expensive planes with data from Oliver Wyman showing that 5,000 planes that were in service at the beginning of 2020 were no longer flying at the beginning of 2021.
However, the recovery has begun as passengers once again take to the skies with 47% more passengers expected to fly in 2022 than in 2021, aided by higher numbers of vaccinations and lower COVID infection rates. . This recovery is only projected to strengthen over the rest of this decade, as the number of world fleets will rise to 36,500 by 2031.
This recovery is not without its unforeseen challenges. Airport infrastructure has significantly hampered travel experiences for both airlines and frustrated passengers. Staff shortages created by pandemic-induced layoffs have not returned to the same levels and the results have led to flight cancellations and extreme delays at airports around the world.
Technology is on the way to generate transformation
But the opportunity still exists for airlines that invest in future-proof operations through digital transformation to be the first off the tarmac; Currently, only 10% of major airlines have invested in technology initiatives like predictive maintenance, which would give them a huge competitive advantage. advantage for years to come and minimize delays caused by aircraft problems.
Airlines traditionally operate on razor-thin margins, meaning that an airline’s value chain is as narrow as possible, and as such the adoption of a large IT infrastructure project has traditionally been seen as an operational risk and potential financial. The industry as a whole typically has no leeway that can be used to invest resources, and any threat of normal service interruption caused by an IT project can be very costly. But the pandemic changed all that.
The technologies that allow aviation to taxi for takeoff
However, this increase in IT spending does not have to be devoted to large-scale or company-wide reviews. IFS found that both MROs and airlines are benefiting from tools that can open up transformative new areas of potential, such as investing in predictive maintenance and the efficiencies it offers.
There are several operational areas that will allow for creating or maintaining competitive advantage in this new aviation reality of post-pandemic recovery and the continuing threat of potential disruption. In particular, there are three key maintenance-focused technologies that can create this advantage throughout the life cycle of an aircraft.
1. Predictive maintenance redefines efficiency with AI and IoT
One of the maturing industry technology applications is the use of the Internet of Things (IoT) and Machine Learning (ML) for predictive maintenance. Maintenance software applications now enable the aggregation of real-time sensor data, business and operations data, logs, and more into a data lake infrastructure, with the ability to transform all this information into proactive maintenance tasks.
These data insights, coupled with machine learning models, can be used to produce advanced statistics and KPIs to provide a holistic view of the asset or component in question, combining historical and forecast values. Thanks to these digital developments, the often risk-averse aviation industry can move to using predictive maintenance models not only to increase performance and reduce costs, but also to better manage risk and improve safety.
For example, starting in 2020, Rolls-Royce is using AI forecasts, which are supported by IFS, to help airline customers automatically update expected maintenance schedules for each life-limited component within their aircraft. engines, a key part of Rolls-Royce Blue Data. Thread strategy, a thread of digital information that connects all Rolls-Royce-powered aircraft, all airline operations, all maintenance shops and all factories.
two. Digital help is born from remote assistance
Passengers will be greeted by more mobile, contactless and socially distanced technology to help them navigate through airports. Similarly, airlines have implemented technology to protect their employees and provide new operational efficiencies.
The proliferation of smart devices and maintenance software applications now available on mobile devices has accelerated merged reality, where the real and virtual worlds blend and objects from both can interact. With remote work and social distancing becoming commonplace, remote assistance technology is ready and available and has been adopted by more and more airlines and MROs who are quick to see the benefits and adopt the solution.
Remote support allows team members to work together over long distances, sharing information in a common view and diagnosing and fixing problems together. Remote assistance tools can also create an auditable archive of recordings that can then be searched and reviewed, another valuable point for inspection, quality control, training and compliance activities. We see remote assistance becoming more of an option: As early as March 2020, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced a policy to allow video links and other remote technology to help conduct inspections and validate regulatory compliance during this period of uncertainty.
3. Defect management review will start through intelligent decision support
The latest statistics from the US Bureau of Transportation show that from January to May 2022, 23.57% of all US domestic flights were delayed, compared to 14.2% in the same period of 2021. The most common cause of delays in 2022 is airline delays, defined as the cause of the cancellation or delay being due to circumstances within the control of the airline (for example, maintenance or crew, aircraft cleaning, baggage loading, fueling, etc.). On the maintenance side, investing in technologies that encourage efficient decision-making by technicians and real-time deferral compliance management can reduce or eliminate maintenance delays that are under the control of the airline. .
Master Minimum Equipment Lists are often found on paper or in individual PDF documents and must be manually searched. The information must be analyzed to verify if each individual fault can be deferred. Collaborative defect management offers fast, efficient and supported decision making for technicians, leading to greater efficiency and visibility, as well as real-time deferred compliance management.
It is up to maintenance and engineering (M&E) systems to enable intelligent decision support for defect management, by providing a single accessible framework for technicians to take the faults out and use a flexible, collaborative workflow to assess whether fault can be deferred. But the postponement does not end when it is approved. To ensure future compliance, smart tools should also automatically generate and schedule recurring follow-up tasks and inspections until the defect is eventually fixed.
The result of improved, proactive defect management is fewer aircraft on the ground and fewer flight delays, and fewer delays mean more profit for airlines. This projected boost to an airline’s revenue stream can be seen in recent Frost&Sullivan research, which shows that digital transformation of this nature could deliver up to $10 incremental value per passenger.
Avoid clipped wings through a pragmatic investment in IT
Digital investment has already become a key driver of investment in aviation. In a recent IFS survey, 56% of participants had invested in digital transformation.
At the heart of this is the need for investment in IT to enable the establishment of competitive advantage, while also enabling maximum aircraft uptime. The three areas I’ve highlighted here can be quickly implemented into existing operations and will play an imperative role in aircraft’s journey to a brighter, more profitable aviation future.