Viewpoint: MRO Technology Powering Commercial Aviation Recovery

Rob Mather, Vice President, Aerospace and Defense Industries, IFS

The aviation industry has faced enormous economic challenges – from travel restrictions and quarantine rules to full shutdowns, airlines and MROs are still catching up to the near total shutdown of travel international in March 2020.

Airlines immediately sought to maximize their organizational efficiency by doing more with less. This ranges from maintaining operational activity with reduced teams of personnel to extending the lifespan or maximizing the availability of existing assets.

Aircraft stuck on the ground

Work restrictions and social distancing requirements have also forced companies to work differently than they have in the past. Interestingly, in some cases these changes have shown organizations previously opposed to change that rapid change is indeed possible, and many leading organizations have seen the benefits that changing the way they work can bring.

Key examples include the FAA using remote collaboration on the 737 MAX evaluation or the arrival of ‘airliners’ as predominantly passenger airlines convert their planes to carry additional cargo, unlocking more cargo. new sources of income.

Most airlines have had to make do with reduced staff and drastically reduced fleets. According to Aviation Week Network Fleet and MRO Forecast data, over 7,500 aircraft were in long-term storage in May 2021 and over 6,000 were still in storage as of mid-September, with parked or parked / reserve aircraft accounting for 11% of the current park. fleet in service. Managing so many parked and warehoused aircraft comes with its own challenges, but the most strategic aviation organizations actually see an opportunity.

Digital projects fill the void

For many airlines with the tightest margins, IT projects can be seen as risks to continued operations. It is not possible to free up the resources necessary for the execution of projects, and potential business disruptions have often resulted in the postponement of much-needed IT investments.

But now these previously tight systems contain some unexpected slack. With lower load factors, fewer aircraft in service, and, depending on levels of government support, potentially less pressurized personnel than typical, there has been a somewhat surprising trend to invest in digital transformation initiatives, even from the generally ultra-light independents. MRO sector. In fact, recent statistics from SITA show that 31% of organizations expect IT spending to increase in 2021, despite pandemic-related disruptions.

But this increase in spending doesn’t necessarily require large-scale digital redesigns. IFS has found that some airlines and MRO organizations are looking for technology tools that tackle key recovery plans, such as unlocking predictive maintenance effectiveness, remote collaboration, and resolving safety issues.

Get ahead of the recovery curve

As vaccination rates increase globally and infection rates in many countries decline, we envision a gradual re-emergence of commercial air travel. Numerous predictions have shown narrow-body fleets to return to 2019 levels in 2023, followed by jumbo jets in 2024. However, faster-than-expected vaccine deployment in some regions and rebounds in domestic air travel occurring more rapidly in markets such as the United States means that there is a clear possibility of significantly beating those predictions. For the most forward-thinking airlines it is now a race to see who will emerge first and as such many airlines are looking for new competitive advantages to exploit as they seek to be the first. to get out of the door.

At IFS, we see airlines and MROs investing in certain areas of operational interest to gain a competitive advantage in a context of economic recovery and pressures.

AI and IoT accelerate predictive maintenance

One of the industry’s maturing 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 operational data, logs and more into a data lake infrastructure, with the ability to turn all of this information into proactive maintenance tasks .

This data insight, along with ML models, can then 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 aviation industry, often averse to risk, can move towards the use of predictive maintenance models not only to increase performance and reduce costs, but also to better manage risks and improve performance. security.

For example, starting in 2020, Rolls-Royce uses the AI ​​forecasting supported by IFS to help airline customers automatically update expected maintenance times for each life-limited component. inside their engines. It is a key part of the Rolls-Royce Blue Data Thread strategy, a digital information thread connecting every Rolls-Royce powered aircraft, every airline operation, every maintenance shop and every factory.

Remote assistance provides advice

The proliferation of smart devices and maintenance software applications now available on mobile has accelerated merged reality, where the real and virtual world are mixed, and the objects of both can interact. With remote working and social distancing becoming commonplace, remote assisting technology has been embraced by more and more airlines and MROs who see the benefits and embrace the solution.

Remote Assistance allows team members to work together over long distances, sharing information in a common view to diagnose and resolve issues together. Remote support tools are also capable of creating a verifiable archive of records which can then be searched and reviewed, which is a valuable point for inspection, quality assurance, training and compliance activities.

Data-driven fault management

Another key area for innovation is fault management. Master minimum equipment lists are often hosted in individual paper or PDF documents and must be viewed manually. The information should be combed through to see if each individual fault can be deferred. Collaborative defect management provides fast, efficient and supported decision-making for technicians, which improves efficiency and visibility, as well as real-time deferral compliance management.

It is up to M&E systems to enable intelligent decision support for defect management by providing a single accessible framework for technicians to take reported defects and use a flexible collaborative workflow to assess whether the defect can be deferred. But the postponement does not end when it is approved. To ensure compliance in the future, smart tools must also automatically generate and schedule follow-up tasks and recurring inspections until the defect is finally corrected.

The result of proactive and improved fault management is less downtime and fewer flight delays, and fewer delays mean more profits for airlines.

The flight path to a safe and efficient recovery of the aviation industry will require agility, flexibility and visibility for airlines and their MRO partners. Now is the time for companies to prioritize their IT investments to unlock competitive advantages while ensuring they can maximize aircraft availability and continue to support a safe return of passenger travel over the coming months. Computer systems will play a key role in making the parking industry soar.

As Vice President of Aerospace and Defense Industries, Rob Mather is responsible for leading the charge of IFS’s global A&D industry marketing strategy, while supporting product development, sales and the growth of the partner ecosystem.

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