Changes are finally taking off in the aviation industry. Digitization and digital transformation, the hallmarks of other industrial transformations over the past decade, are slowly spreading its wings. At the heart of this change is the connected aircraft. The incredible amount of data generated by modern airplanes are changing the way an airline or MRO operates, from customer care to operations to maintenance, opening up tremendous opportunities for them to be smarter and more efficient.
The trend in digitization and data analytics is evident in the industry. The Oliver Wyman MRO Survey 2017  identified the collection and reporting of data for advanced analytics, big data, and predictive maintenance; and new information technology systems as two of the top 4 key emerging technologies that is vital for next generation MROs.
What this means is that tomorrow's MROs and maintenance technicians need to be tech-savvy diagnosticians — something that was not even imaginable a few decades ago. Fortunately, most aviation businesses recognize that they are operating behind the technology curve. More than half of the survey respondents identified needs for a major upgrade in their systems for engineering, supply chain, and engine maintenance, technical support, and planning.
More than ever, the question of the right IT solution is pertinent now. Time is right for the airlines, OEMs and MROs to assess their existing IT solutions and evaluate whether they have the right amount of flexibility, scalability, and robustness in place to exploit the wealth of data so generated, by efficiently recording and processing the maintenance and operational data from their airframe maintenance floors and component shop findings.
Most of today's IT solutions collect large amounts of data, albeit in most cases not usable—often dirty, disconnected, and/or fragmented—requiring considerable additional preparation to be turned into useful information. Additionally, few companies seem to have the time, available resources, training, algorithms, and/or system interconnectivity needed to capitalize on the data in a meaningful and fully integrated way. Even where smart systems are producing quality output, they often still have to interact with "dumb" systems and often cannot yield the desired operational impact.
For big data and predictive maintenance to be effective, a definitive data strategy and a robust IT solution for data capture and collection need to be implemented. The core of this strategy would be identifying a cost-effective, scalable and modern MRO IT solution that can efficiently consolidate all the various operational and maintenance processes, provide best in class business process support and integrate seamlessly with existing disparate systems, thereby providing a single source of truth.
With the right IT solution in place, data transmitted from these connected aircraft can be collected and processed at secure cloud services or ground-based servers for monitoring and big data analytics. The operations team can then use these data insights to pinpoint faults before they become major problems, and use the information to make informed decisions that can reduce costly unscheduled Aircraft on Ground (AOG).
Tight control of aircraft turn-around times or transit times is the cornerstone of profitability. The ability to get maximum usage out of aircraft assets by getting planes back in the skies in the shortest time possible is crucial to airlines' bottom lines. A major part of the reason is that block time is expensive. The FAA has calculated that average block-hour costs for wide-body, long-haul aircraft run between $9,103 and $14,592. For each hour of delay, costs are compounded by flight schedule complications, crew rest-rule scheduling conflicts, and passenger compensation.
By leveraging real-time data to create a live electronic tech log and allow flight performance data to be integrated with maintenance suppliers, operators can reduce AOG/delay costs, enhance safety, and innovate service delivery through third-party management of critical components. By using advanced algorithms, maintenance requirements can be predicted before the aircraft arrives, which could result in billions of dollars' worth cost savings annually by avoiding unplanned maintenance.
The right IT system should support and simplify the decision making processes and empower the users to understand the situation quickly and act efficiently. It is also pertinent that the investments in these IT systems are taken considering not just today's needs but also future growth plans. Wrong choices in IT systems costs organizations millions of dollars and takes an eternity to implement and generate an ROI.
The scale and potential of efficiency that Digitization and Big Data Analytics can offer aviation businesses are only just being understood. Forward-looking leadership, clear and concise vision, practical innovation and leaner processes -the four main driving forces behind any effective technology implementation – is more the same for any organization that is looking to leverage Big Data and similar such technological innovations.Whatever be your data strategy or growth plan, there is a lot of onus on the IT system which binds these principles together with execution. This becomes especially prominent in the data analysis and predictive maintenance scenarios, where the IT systems are looked upon as a tool to streamline processes and a glue that binds the various operational systems into one cohesive unit.
About the author
Vinod K Vijayan, is a seasoned Aviation/Aircraft Maintenance and Engineering Industry expert with 13+ years' experience in setting and managing multiple cross-functional aviation projects across various airline clients around the world. He is experienced in Business Process Analysis , Mapping and Re-engineering, IT Implementation Support, Solution Designing and Blueprinting, Project upgrades and Integrations, Master Data Management, Best Practices Implementation, Process Standardization in the aviation & defense domain.