Published in Avionics’ Global Connected Aircraft Link, June 5, 2017
Republished by permission of Avionics

As Delivered

The commercial aviation industry is in a multiphase information management transition from the digital pilot to digital aircraft to digital airline to digital aviation. Ultimately, this transition will reshape the way we move and use information across the entire breadth of the aviation ecosystem. But we hear about instances of turbulence along the flight path from digital aircraft to digital airline, and now is the time to address the underlying issues before questionable decisions become operational failures.

The digital pilot phase began in the early 1990s with electronic library systems and was realized in 1999 with the first true electronic flight bag. Today, we are beginning the smart aircraft phase as demonstrated by the connectivity, systems integration and Big Data potential of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the Airbus A350. Both aircraft are the vanguard of a new generation of technological marvels that will enable the evolution—if not the revolution—of the entire industry.

At present, however, this is unrealized potential, as the Big Data-delivering features of these new aircraft have not consistently delivered monetized benefits. To effectively operationalize smart aircraft data into tangible benefits will require new ecosystem infrastructures that leverage wider data pipes, integrate with both new and legacy end-to-end global communications systems, mitigate interoperability risks, and wrap everything in a shield of cybersecurity.

But here’s the crux of the issue for our industry and where turbulence may be forming along the flight path from digital aircraft to digital airline. Critical aviation-specific transition challenges must be addressed and resolved before we can leverage the capabilities of smart aircraft and operationalize the data across the aviation ecosystem.

At a high level, these transition challenges are:

  • Harmonization—Airlines must be harmonized with both existing and emerging connectivity and device standards and with information and operations across fleets.
  • Change Tolerance—Airlines must determine their IT infrastructure’s tolerance for change.
  • Data Flow—Airlines must be able to accommodate newer/higher data flows between their aircraft and back offices.
  • Data Integrity—Airlines must be able to guarantee the integrity of data regarding passengers and personnel, competitive programs, and the Big Data coming off each flight—no matter the location—throughout the world.

To effectively address and efficiently resolve these challenges requires end-to-end aviation information management experience and expertise. Only then will we be in a position to deliver a new and improved ecosystem that’s really a system-of-systems, and that, like nodes on a network, enable a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

The need for innovative IT solutions that keep people moving and operations flowing has never been greater

Consider, for example, that the systems below are components of a system-of-systems—our end-to-end aviation ecosystem—that must integrate flawlessly in order to effectively operationalize smart aircraft and operations Big Data and deliver tangible benefits:

  • Passenger Operations SystemsComposed of sales and distribution, marketing, and passenger loyalty systems that empower crews to enhance the passenger experience while increasing ancillary revenues.
  • Flight Operations SystemsComposed of gate operations, in-flight operations, and cabin operations systems that carry out their operations in a predictable, consistent manner while effectively handling the fact that there is no predictable day.
  • Airline Operations SystemsComposed of crew management, fleet operations, and maintenance operations that maintain, manage and optimize deployment of airline assets and people.
  • Aviation Operations SystemsComposed of flow management and optimization, collaborative decision making, and disruption recovery systems that enable the airspace to efficiently handle ever increasing traffic densities.

Avoiding Turbulence body image 2

The goal for operations: Maximize scheduling, ease congestion and reduce costs

Clearly, there are countless moving parts in each airline, which must in turn operate within the commercial aviation ecosystem. A change in any one part will affect the balance of the ecosystem as a whole. If we are not careful, our system-of-systems will become unbalanced with consequences that none of us wants to think about.

The $750B question, then, is this: Who should the aviation industry trust to build and smoothly integrate these new infrastructures that must efficiently and effectively leverage the Big Data generated by smart aircraft and a new, more complex aviation ecosystem?

Information Technology skills are not enough in an industry as complex as commercial aviation with millions of people relying on the system to be safe and consistent around-the-clock and worldwide. New information technologies must be brought forward and integrated in a way that enhances current operations—not disrupts them. This requires intimate knowledge of and experience with the aviation ecosystem. Simply using the cloud is not a solution. It’s a technology. We must be very thoughtful in our transition from digital aircraft to digital airline. This is a journey of end-to-end aviation IT solutions.

Recognizing this is the key to our industry avoiding turbulence and delivering on the promise of smart aircraft, Big Data, and a new aviation ecosystem.

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Posted by Rockwell Collins