The digitalisation of aerospace holds great potential for utilising the huge quantity of data produced by aircraft to enhance operations and improve customer experience, but are regulators and the aerospace industry collectively ready and willing to drive the adoption of the technologies and processes that are key to unlocking this value?

The answer is yes according to the ‘Honeywell Connected Aircraft Report’ released last week (19 June 2018). The report asserts that we are about to see a great surge in investments in Connected Aircraft, with ‘Predictive and lower-cost maintenance’ cited as the top priority for airlines planning for such investments. With maintenance an all-too regular cause for departure delays in commercial aviation which often come at great cost both financially and in terms of customer satisfaction, and with many other synergies possible through greater connectivity, the benefits for airlines are clear but substantial investments in the coming years will be required for the foreseen impact to be realised.

However despite the need for substantial investments initially, many according to Honeywell will willingly spend ‘up to $1 million per aircraft on connectivity technologies over the next year’. The confidence in such investments is echoed in another recent report ‘Sky High Economics: Evaluating the Economic Benefits of Connected Airline Operations’ by the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), in which it was concluded that there is a huge opportunity for the Aviation Industry to save up to $14.9 Billion Annually as a result.

Both reports state that there is a clear business case for such investment, but what is needed for the aerospace industry to convert these investments into value?

In order to unlock this value that this increased connectivity could offer, airlines will be required to deploy available and forthcoming procedural and technological innovations to appropriately manage the data and information generated from this increased connectivity, whilst also ensuring these innovations are a reliable basis for shifts in operational practice. One key example is that If Aerospace maintenance is to rely upon real-time information from connected aircraft to inform maintenance operations, then the data and communication must be robust to monitor safety critical components.

Within the EU’s 2002 Regulatory Framework for Aviation Safety, regulation No 1592/2002on common rules in the field of civil aviation and establishing a European Aviation Safety Agency’, the European Aviation Safety (EASA) was established with the purpose of supporting regulation in the areas of ‘airworthiness and environmental certification and maintenance of aeronautical products, as well as the training and licensing of aeronautical mechanics and technicians’.

EASA continues to support regulation in this area under its Continuing Airworthiness work stream among others, and as technologies that enable connectivity to inform the maintenance of aircraft become increasingly responsible for the reliability of aircraft and safety of passengers, it will therefore be crucial for the Standardisation of these technologies monitoring the condition of aviation components to enable their required reliability as a new intermediary between aircraft and engineer for continued operational conformance in this area.

The applications for connectivity are clearly broad but within an industry built upon a traditionally high-level of safety and reliability, policy-makers and industry will have to cooperate to ensure connectivity supports the continuation of this legacy, whilst also continuing to elevate the industry’s economic value and customer satisfaction levels through improved reliability, and overall experience for customers.

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