[Avionics Today 8-5-2014] On Oct. 28, Virgin Atlantic will become the first European carrier to operate the Boeing 787-9, an aircraft that CEO Craig Kreeger says will make up 40 percent of its commercial fleet by 2018. Beyond the aircraft's highly publicized fuel efficiency, Virgin will also look to use the e-Enabling infrastructure in order to deploy an effective maintenance strategy for one of the most technologically advanced airliners on the market today.
A computer rendering of Virgin's Boeing 787-9. Photo, courtesy of Virgin Atlantic.
Nearly 146,000 parameters of flight data can be collected from the 787. While in-flight, the e-Enabling infrastructure sends aircraft health data automatically via the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS). This in-flight data gives the live condition of the 787's avionics systems to Virgin's Integrated Operational Control Center (IOCC) throughout all phases of flight.
"The IOCC can use this data to plan the maintenance actions required for the aircraft before it lands, making sure the manpower tools and materials are available as soon as the aircraft arrives at the gate. As soon as the aircraft lands it will connect directly to the airline’s back office systems via a cellular data system and provide details of the operation of over 1,000 parameters," according to an engineer for Virgin Atlantic who wished to remain unnamed.
Virgin Atlantic has used this same process with its legacy fleets, but with the increased data available on the 787, their hope is to be able to monitor "the trend of component health with the goal of removing a components before failure" which would increase the operational reliability for the aircraft, our source said.
Using a more effective aircraft maintenance strategy can also help with Virgin Atlantic's plan to return to profitability. The 787-9 is 21 percent more efficient per flight than equivalent sized aircraft in Virgin's fleet. That, combined with the more efficient maintenance schedule, should help the airline to reverse its recent consecutive annual losses in revenue, including 2013's reported a loss of $86 million.
Virgin's 787-9s — like all of the other aircraft in its current fleet — will also enter service compliant with the European Link 2000+ mandate, which requires aircraft flying in European airspace to equipped for Controller Pilot Data Link Communications (CPDLC) using VHF Digital Link (VDL) Mode 2.
"The 787 will be delivered with a higher standard FANS [Future Air Navigation System] enabling high speed data link," the source said.
However, one area where Virgin will not take advantage of the 787-9 is with the use of Electronic Flight Bags (EFBs). While the airline is currently considering starting the process of obtaining approval for EFB operations, Virgin 787-9 flight crews will still be using paper-based aircraft operating manuals and navigational charts for commercial passenger flights. The 787 comes with a standard EFB system in the cockpit.
When it comes to IFE though, Virgin will continue the innovative passenger cabin environment that it has always been well known for. The Dreamliner fleet will be quipped with the JAM IFE system, which features a 12.1 inch touchscreen monitor and handset. JAM also features a technology hub allowing passengers to connect their smart phones and tablets to the system to either watch or listen to their own content on the touchscreen monitor.