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Aircraft Internet-of-Things, AI and Big Data analytics to revolutionize the operational efficiency and safety of commercial and military Aircrafts

The aviation industry is one of the leading  segment in embracing the digital transformation. For airlines, as for any company operating in the service industry, instant accessibility, interactivity and personalization, become crucial aspects of doing business. Digital technologies are used to enhance customer experience, boost efficiency and generate more revenue. The world of aviation, as a process-oriented industry, relies on gathering, interpreting, analyzing and monetizing data in order to drive the aviation business. Today, huge volumes of data, in the
terabyte levels, are gathered on airline attributes — from passenger preference to baggage tracking to fuel consumption to systems performance.

 

For this purpose, the industry aims to make the best use of such innovations as automation, Data analytics, IoT, AI-enabled processes, mobility and blockchain. In today’s digital age, the aviation industry is seeing strong growth in the adoption of cloud-based applications and the use of Big Data.

 

One example of this trend is Skywise open data platform developed by Airbus. Skywise integrates disparate data sources: allowing static, heterogeneous systems to become extracted, curated and actionable data. The service provides users with one cloud-based platform for aviation data that is accumulated and refined from multiple sources across the industry – including airline operators and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). According to Cedric Lefebvre, Digital Transformation Leader at Airbus, Skywise platform can be used to improve production, for instance, through supplier monitoring, industrial processes monitoring and other portals. One of the many significant challenges that Airbus faces is with suppliers, which brings about the need to optimize the production line. “Skywise is used to change the way suppliers work with Airbus,” Lefebvre states. through sharing of live supply chain data (live planning, quality gates, configuration, etc., there is improved visibility between Airbus and suppliers, which is a big change for the assembly line, for instance the A350, Lefebvre points out.

 

For airlines, as for any company operating in the service industry, instant accessibility, interactivity and personalization, become crucial aspects of doing business. Digital technologies are used to enhance customer experience, boost efficiency and generate more revenue. A rising trend within this context is the introduction of artificial intelligence (AI) initiatives into the aircraft cabin and at the airport, currently being undertaken by an increasing number of airlines around the world. From personalized offers to chatbots recommending upgrades based on customer profile – AI has the potential to increase airline revenue and customer satisfaction, as well as, allow the industry to operate at optimal cost.

 

Air Vistara has invested into the development of “RADA” – a robot created using AI technology and designed to assist travelers at airports. As such, it is aimed at helping the airline offer an improved customer experience and on-ground service. The idea, as Ravinder Pal Singh, Chief Information and Innovation Officer at Air Vistara explains, was to create a basic and cost-effective robot than can engage in basic human interactions and would have the potential of further development that would enable it to perform complex tasks. Aside of simply greeting customers and entertaining travelers with multimedia content, RADA is capable of scanning boarding passes and providing information on the terminal, departure gates, real-time flight status as well as other information.

IoT in Airline sector

One new concept, which can revolutionize operations on the ground and in the air is the Internet of Things (IoT). By 2025, it is predicted that there can be as many as 100 billion connected IoT devices or network of everyday objects as well as sensors that will be infused with intelligence and computing capability. These devices shall comprise of personal devices such as smart watches, digital glasses and fitness monitoring products, food items, home appliances, plant control systems, equipment monitoring and maintenance sensors and industrial robots.

 

The commercial aviation industry is one of the most complex organizations in the world. From ticketing to aircraft maintenance to ATC to airports and catering, all its parts require a different set of sub-structures. In order to function at optimal efficiency, there needs to be a bridge of connectivity between them. For the aviation industry, the Internet of Things (IoT) allows us to connect and gather billions of data points so as to enhance and extend airplane systems management, discover new business insights, advance operations and safety, and improve the entire passenger flight experience, says Aeris. Set to become a standard for enhancing customer experience, IoT-based devices are gradually seeing growth in the aviation industry, with aircraft data management, scanners, electronic tags and many other applications.

 

The projected size of the global aircraft fleet is expected to increase by almost 50 percent over the next few years — to more than 34,000 planes by 2025. In addition, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimates passenger numbers will reach 7.3 billion by 2034. To meet this unceasing demand, airplane manufacturers must find innovative ways of managing and monitoring their ever-expanding and changing fleets. That’s where the Internet of Things comes into play.

 

IoT is tipped to revolutionize the aerospace industry in many ways. It is transforming day-to-day tasks in aviation ranging from assembly and manufacture to maintenance and safety, including tracking an aircraft’s location. IoT functionality enables airlines and airplane manufacturers to monitor planes in near real time for critical events when the aircraft is in-flight, and this information is sent via satellite. Throughout the flight, sensors on the plane also gather non-critical information. Once the aircraft has landed, the complete data, including both the critical and non-critical information, is uploaded via Wi-Fi for detailed analysis. The data, gathered over numerous flights, then can be analyzed to determine long-time patterns and to further investigate issues identified, enabling manufacturers and airlines to gain greater knowledge of the health and performance of their fleet.

 

Integrating IoT in aviation helps to tackle complex situations by adopting new trends like embedded sensors in engines, device monitors, data storage and information technology advances. Its device integration requires the support of hundreds of touchpoints and notifications, alerts, and customized application development. A lot of this data already resides in public, private or hybrid clouds. But it has to be easily accessible by aviation companies for commercial use. Recently, the trend is shifting to aerospace companies having the ability to manage connected devices from a single interface.

 

The greatest benefit to adopting new technology is always a streamlining of operations. This leads, in turn, to cost efficiency, improved customer experience, and increased revenue. For the airline sector, IoT offers multiple opportunities to improve operational efficiency and offer increased personalisation to passengers. Among airlines that have started experimenting with IoT, there are projects to improve passenger experience, baggage handling, tracking pets in transit, equipment monitoring, and generating fuel efficiencies. Real time location data of aircraft that impact a host of actions ranging from Advertising bill boards to flight information dashboards to deciding on optimized routes.

 

Tim Graham, technology innovation and development manager at Virgin Atlantic, suggests numerous possibilities: “On the ground, it could be mounted displays, mobile or wearable devices combined with sensors… to either help passengers navigate their surroundings, identify themselves at check-in, lounge or boarding areas or track objects such as baggage and cargo.”He adds. “In the air, it could be intelligent aircraft cabins that have sensors built in to seats that could monitor passengers’ tiredness, temperature or hydration levels to automatically change the cabin environment or alert crew to take a specific action.”

 

Another project, rolled out in 2014, is the collection of data generated by the aircraft and its systems into a fuel management dashboard that also integrates operational, weather, trajectory correction, navigation, and terrain data. This tool has allowed AirAsia to optimise climb profiles, plan taxi and contingency fuel needs, and minimise the use of auxiliary power units.

 

Just for a couple of examples, using big data IoT analytics, airlines can lower fuel consumption (and costs) by up to two percent per year. IoT applications could improve overall fuel cost (not just the consumption) taking into account energy prices, when/where to refuel, optimal flight and taxi paths as well as when/how much to hedge for the fuel. “Beyond that, IoT applications could look at network optimisation, in particular the irregular operations recovery options as they continue to try to maximise the utilisation of their fleet while keeping a robust schedule,” says GE’s Bartlett.

 

Or, by reviewing this influx of data, collected from hundreds of sensors inside the engine, operators can proactively detect system anomalies or signs of developing faults, with alerts sent should any engine function leave benchmarked levels of operations. This eliminates the present
requirement to overhaul a plane engine every 2,000 hours, whether problems exist or not. For large airplane fleets, this is a massive source of savings in plane maintenance and workforce labor costs. Once systems or ‘things’ are connected, the opportunities are near endless.

 

IoT requirements for Military aircrafts

The modern digital IoT technologies are also important for military aircrafts. Indian Air Force Sukhoi-30 fighter jet  was on a routine training mission, when it lost radar and radio contact with the controlling station near Arunachal Pradesh’s Doulasang area, an area adjoining China. Blackbox or flight data recorder has been recovered by the Search team. IAF has ordered a court of enquiry for the crash. Year before that Sukhoi-30MKI crashed near Nagaon town of Assam during a routine sortie. While the two pilots ejected safely, some locals suffered splinter injuries from the crash. The IAF’s Sukhoi-30 fleet has been plagued by engine troubles and poor serviceability.

 

The international analysts  based in Russia and the United States, have  warned that the loss of an advanced and mechanically certified as safe, Sukhoi 30 fighter aircraft, close to the border with China may be the result of “cyber-interference with the onboard computers” in the cockpit. This may explain why even the pilots may have found it difficult to activate safety ejection mechanisms, once it became obvious that the aircraft was in serious trouble, as such mechanisms too could have been crippled by computer malfunctions induced from an outside source.

 

They point to the apparent loss of five Army vehicles, “due (according to the authorities) to a misfired mortar strike” in the same zone, saying that a single mortar round would not have enough firepower to take out such a large number of vehicles. They add that the possibilities are that the damage may have been caused by a larger projectile guided by electronic systems that may have been interfered with during flight. Given the range and complexity of cyber interference, the source of the attack could have been from thousands of kilometres or from only a few hundred metres away. These analysts warn that although India spends over Rs 200,000 crore on defence through the armed forces and another Rs 100,000 crore on security via police units, hardly Rs 4,700 crore gets spent on cyber capability.

 

Given the right sensors and software, IoT technology could detect an anomaly in a jet engine or its associated hardware, software or systems. This could, in theory, prevent accidents. Using  emerging technology like IoT thousands of sensors can be embedded in each aircraft which transmit real time location data of aircraft, real-time performance and health of their engines and avionics to the maintenance personnel on the ground, who in turn use big data and real time analytics to deal with potential problems and also aid in search and rescue. The Russian Foundation for Advanced Research Projects has come up with an idea of equipping Russian airliners, including MC-21 with what it briefly described as a “nervous system” for monitoring the technical condition of all of the airframe’s components and parts, project chief Dmitry Uspensky told TASS.

 

Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) Enterprise Platform for Air Force Sustainment Center (AFSC)

The Air Force Sustainment Center needs an industrial internet of things platform that would help Robins, Tinker and Hill Air Force Bases handle operational technology and digitally transform maintenance work. The center seeks market information on government and commercial off-the-shelf applications that would help the U.S. Air Force bases monitor, manage and analyze IIoT operational technology, AFSC said in May 2021 in a SAM.gov notice.

 

The Air Force Sustainment Center (AFSC) is tasked with maintenance and repair of Air Force assets. Currently, the monitoring and servicing of OT on the shop floor is performed in a myriad of ways (manual monitoring, manually input repair requests, solution specific Human Machine Interface (HMI) and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA), localized data stores and analytic solutions). These varied procedures make sustaining multiple mission capabilities and applications a challenge and creates pockets of unconnected data sources that diminish the FA8126-IIoT-RFI-0001 overall effectiveness of the AFSC Complexes.

 

Fortunately, manufacturing and digitization improvements in conjunction with Industry 4.0 have the potential to organize, visualize, and
provide prediction data to enable a more agile, efficient, and connected AFSC. Realization of this hinges on the ability to collect, standardize, visualize, and integrate data from numerous shop floor processes, machines, and applications. The Air Force identified the need for an IIoT
Platform as the key enabler for this digital transformation. It will act as the central technology component coordinating and enabling this future state vision

 

Russian planes to be equipped with ‘nervous system’ for monitoring airframe flaws

The Russian Foundation for Advanced Research Projects has come up with an idea of equipping Russian airliners, including MC-21 with what it briefly described as a “nervous system” for monitoring the technical condition of all of the airframe’s components and parts, project chief Dmitry Uspensky told TASS.

 

Using a system of early warning of likely flaws and faults on the MC-21 plane is not only possible but very desirable. From the standpoint of compatibility it is a soluble problem. Such a technology of continuous monitoring of the plane’s condition will be very helpful in creating a system for prompt, online maintenance depending on the aircraft’s actual condition. Our new generation plane will appear on the market in a very different economic situation,” Uspensky said.

 

The composite materials of which the planes are made will incorporate optical fibers sensitive to mechanical impact. The fibers will constitute an integrated network. “Data showing the condition of the given component will be transmitted by a laser beam travelling within the optical fiber to the system’s ‘brain’ – the onboard computer. As a result, information about the technical condition of certain critically important parts, units and elements of the plane will be promptly available to the pilot and ground services,” Uspensky said.
He pointed out such a feature was of key importance to ensuring flight safety.

 

“The relevance and authenticity of information about the plane’s technical condition is crucial to timely adjustment and repairs of potentially faulty components. This will save lives,” he said. “The nervous system the Foundation is working on is unparalleled,” Uspensky pointed out. “Nobody has anything similar to what we are about to create. Currently most planes are equipped with systems of warning the pilot about the dangerous condition of engines. The world’s leading manufacturers of air turbines equip them with automatic systems of gathering information about their current condition and transmitting them to the ground services. But all of such systems monitor the operation of only one unit of the plane, albeit a key one.

 

“The Russian system is meant for enhancing the effectiveness of maintenance of the plane’s airframe: the wings, tail, fuselage, etc., in other words, the basic elements of the plane’s structure crucial to flight safety,” Uspensky added.

 

IoT Technologies

The technologies that enable IoT are not in themselves complicated: the latest version of the internet communications protocol, IPv6, which allows for trillions of nodes (or IP addresses) on the internet and wireless proximity-detecting technologies, such as Bluetooth low energy (BLE) beacons, radio frequency identification tags and near-field communications. As Peters notes, much of the innovation is focused on enabling IoT devices to communicate. Google recently announced Brillo, an underlying operating system for IoT devices, and Weave, a cross-platform common language that will let devices communicate with each other locally and via the cloud.

 

New aircraft models like Dreamliners for instance come pre-designed with IP enabled avionics systems that permit real time data to be transmitted to the cockpit and to operations centers on the ground on flying conditions and discrepancies observed during the flight. Chief information officers’ focus, he suggests, should be on getting the architecture right for IoT. “A key component of the IoT framework will be the middleware platform, which will manage the enormous amount of messages generated at speed. Also, the IoT value will only come alive if smart machine learning algorithms are able to garner insight from the data collected from the sensors and suggest actions in real time. Such architectural components will be crucial to making IoT happen and driving true business value out of the implementations.”

 

Aerospace IoT shall generate Huge Data

Military and commercial airline operators face a significant increase in data as they embrace the Internet of Things for fleets of highly connected aircraft capable of creating half a terabyte of data per flight per day. Loadable software airplane parts, aircraft health maintenance data, performance data from e systems and components, data used to track cargo and baggage, as well as new customer services are all part of the mix.

 

Bombardier’s CSeries jetliner that carries Pratt & Whitney’s Geared Turbo Fan (GTF) engine – an engine that comes with 5000 sensors that generate up to 10 GB of data per second. A single twin engine aircraft with an average of 12 hours flight-time can produce 844 TB of data. By the end of 2014, it was estimated that Facebook accumulates around 600 TB of data per day; but with an order book of over 3500 GTF engines, Pratt could potentially download zeta bytes of data, once all their engines are in the field. Therefore, It could come to pass that data generated by the aerospace industry alone could surpass the magnitude of the consumer internet.

 

The GTF engine uses great swathes of data to build artificial intelligence and predict the demands of the engine in order to adjust thrust levels. As a result, GTF engines are demonstrating a reduction in fuel consumption by 10% to 15%, alongside impressive performance improvements in engine noise and emissions. The new generation of GEnx engines started pumping 5 to 10 TB of data per day. GE expects to gain up to 40 per cent improvement in factory efficiencies by the application of IoT and Big Data Analytics. Rolls Royce collects similar amounts of data from 12,000 engines across the globe into its data centre.

 

Bombardier recently announced that it has signed an agreement with Pratt to use their eFAST Health Monitoring System on the CSeries aircraft. Bombardier can earn more revenue by receiving data on the real-time performance of their engines, so they can adjust the way planes are flown and deal with potential issues before they end up grounding airplanes for larger repairs.

 

While engines are leading the charge and embracing IoT and data generation, avionics systems are also catching up to this trend quickly. The traditional avionics systems transfer data up to a maximum of 12.5 KB/s whereas Boeing 787 Dreamliners and A350s are using Ethernet-based, next-generation aircraft data networks, called AFDX that allows up to 12.5 MB/s.This makes it quicker and easier to transmit the information from avionics systems to the maintenance teams on the ground about current flying conditions, as well as any faults that have occurred during the flight.

 

The prospect of collecting, managing, analyzing and automating responses to this data place demands on both manufacturer and airline IT infrastructures. Rapid innovation development platforms and cloud solutions are required to manage this torrent of data and in identifying and servicing new aviation service revenue opportunities.

 

“The volumetric will grow exponentially as sensors, beacons, wearables all start beaming information, connecting to each other as well as enterprise applications. In addition, IoT environments work in real time. This mesh of big and fast data and real-time cadence will need to be addressed in the architectural framework,” says Emirates’ Chopra.

With so much data being generated by aircraft smart devices, a robust and reliable network infrastructure is required. Significant advances in
technology have made cellular network connectivity the ideal solution.

 

IoT Challenges

Another issue will be the airline sector’s dependence on legacy systems. “Right now, there are a lot of competing technologies and frameworks out there when it comes to the IoT. If you combine this with the legacy technology that many airlines face, there’s a lot of work to be done on interoperability. The starting point is to build IoT gateways and application programme interface layers to ensure that you have a platform that you can build from,” advises Virgin’s Graham.

 

Greater demand for data means more connected aircraft systems, which in turn grows the cybersecurity challenge. “The high need for Internet connectivity for commercial avionics systems allows for a greater window of opportunity for malicious activities. This scare has especially been restrictive for developed economies after aviation industry-based terrorist attacks that have occurred in the past two decades,” a TMR analyst says.

 

Another challenge will be security. “Securing connected machines has a unique set of complexities that are very different from protecting a data centre,” says GE’s Bartlett. “In addition to software platform security, there is a need for protecting critical infrastructure and helping to ensure the reliability of industrial internet operations for airlines and passengers.”

References and Resources also include:

http://blogs.ramco.com/iot-aviation

http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/sukhoi-30-aircraft-iaf-assam-tezpur/1/965118.html

https://www.ge.com/digital/press-releases/how-airlines-are-tapping-internet-things

https://www.thingworx.com/ecosystem/markets/smart-connected-products/aerospace/

https://channels.theinnovationenterprise.com/articles/7319-analytics-and-the-internet-of-things-in-aerospace

http://tass.com/science/960906

About Rajesh Uppal

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