Airbus' new initiatives and technologies unveiled at the 2017 Paris Air Show are designed to help Airbus operators go from a reactive to predictive aircraft maintenance operational style. Among these include a new standard fit technology for A320s from Rockwell Collins, a new data analytics platform and agreements with suppliers and maintenance providers designed to enhance commercial airline flight operational efficiency.
The biggest example of the move by Airbus to enable a new era of predictive maintenance for its operators came with the announcement that it has selected Rockwell Collins for the flight operations and maintenance exchanger (FOMAX) program on the Airbus A320 family of aircraft. Beginning in 2018, all new production A320s will feature Rockwell Collins SSR-7000 secure server router and what Rockwell Collins describes as a “compact connectivity unit” that collects aircraft maintenance and performance data and automatically sends it to ground-based operations.
Previously, such technologies would transmit that data to airlines’ ground-based operations and maintenance teams via the legacy low-bandwidth Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) network. Rockwell Collins says the router provides a Wi-Fi network for crew connectivity on the aircraft and also as the cellular and terminal Wi-Fi equipment, and is capable of interfacing with all major satellite communications equipment.
Currently, A320 operators are only able to capture 400 health parameters or less than 2% of the available data transmitted by their aircraft health status computers. However, FOMAX-enabled A320s will capture more than 24,000 health parameters or 100% of the available data, according to Airbus.
Kent Statler, executive vice president (EVP) and COO of commercial systems for Rockwell Collins, told Avionics that the first new production FOMAX-equipped A320s will begin delivery in 2018. However, in-service A320s will be targeted for retrofitting with the technology as well, he said.
“It’s part of the agreement we have with Airbus,” said Statler. “We have plans in place to eventually take FOMAX into the aftermarket as a retrofit option as well.”
During a press conference announcing the new Rockwell Collins predictive maintenance initiative, Phillippe Mhun, head of customer services for Airbus, said the French OEM expects its total number of in-service commercial aircraft to increase from 9,000 to 12,000 by 2020. The addition of the new router to the A320s followed a similar announcement earlier in the week by Airbus, also with Rockwell Collins, noting that Asiana Airlines would be the launch customer for a new capability that can convert ACARS MIAM messages to any protocol.
“We decided to partner with Rockwell Collins and in the future all of our aircraft will be equipped with a communications router being able to transmit all the data, through the versatile way of transmitting. Will it be 4G, will it be satellite? This is what we’re going to be able to offer to the market,” said Mhun.
Airbus has also gone beyond the onboard equipage side of predictive maintenance to launch a new aviation data platform, Skywise, in collaboration with Palantir Technologies. The vision for Skywise is to become a singular access point to data analytics that combine multiple sources into one secure cloud-based platform, including work orders, spares consumption, components data, aircraft/fleet configuration, onboard sensor data and flight schedules. Instead of simply providing the capability to offload aircraft data, Airbus sees Skywise as a platform airlines can use to gain actual operational insights about that data.
Gary Smith, head of engineering for EasyJet, which operates a fleet of more than 270 Airbus aircraft, said his airline is already seeing efficiency improvements from trying out some of the new Airbus predictive maintenance technology.
Smith said Easyjet has identified its top 100 Airbus service issues or faults that cause technical interruption with its in-service aircraft. Since October 2016, the low-cost U.K. carrier has identified 50 of those 100 faults that it believes can actually be predicted, and the components and systems that can be replaced before they cause an in-service interruption.
“We’re working heavily with Airbus to model those algorithms and predict those faults, this is just the start as the data sets get larger and we roll this out to more aircraft with the advent of the FOMAX model," said Smith.