Three MRO Trends Set to Revolutionize Civil Aviation in 2017


Big changes lie ahead in 2017. A surge in fleet modernization means new aircraft are now equipped with innovative technologies that can record and deliver important clusters of information that will lead to major changes in how modern aircraft are maintained and repaired. Here, Kevin Deal, vice president Aerospace & Defense at IFS, lists three key trends he predicts will revolutionize MRO.

1. Shortage of Maintenance Technicians Threatens Growth in Asia-Pacific 

The rapid expansion in global air passenger numbers currently taking place has the potential to be hindered due to a lack of MRO capacity, indigenous training capabilities and a skilled workforce. Airbus forecasts a need for more than 33,000 new aircraft globally by 2035, but these aircraft will all have to be properly maintained by trained engineers. Airline and MRO operators in the region need a solution to take advantage of the booming industry.

In particular, there are currently not enough fully qualified maintenance personnel in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region to meet the needs of this growing market. According to one Boeing report, the region will need 238,000 new maintenance technicians by 2034 in order to meet industry demand as current personnel retire. Meeting the requirements of the next generation of maintenance workers will take innovative solutions.

It currently takes up to 8 years for a maintenance worker to pass stringent training tests and become fully licensed. This is time that the aviation industry cannot afford. Airlines and MRO operators in the APAC region have overcome this by flying in technicians from all corners of the world, but this is proving to be a significant financial challenge.

Augmented reality is one solution emerging to help bridge this gap. A cost- and time-friendly solution, the technology provides expertise on demand from any location, no matter how remote. Companies such as IFS partner XMReality have developed a telepresence and data transmission solution that connects onsite operators with a technical expert anywhere in the world in real-time, giving maintenance workers in remote locations access to a virtual pair of eyes and hands to guide them through complex tasks.

There is already a huge market for the technology in the defense sector, and I expect we will see increased adoption in civil aviation in 2017, especially in the APAC as the technology matures to help plug this resource shortage gap.

2. IoT-enabled Devices Driving Adoption of Aircraft Health Monitoring Systems

A Gartner report predicts there will be more than 20 billion connected products in use by 2020, driven in part by the use of IoT sensors in modern aircraft fleets. For example, the Pratt & Whitney PW1000G engine has around 5,000 sensors able to generate up to 10GB of data a second. A single twin-engine aircraft with an average flight time of 12 hours could produce up to 844TB of data, which can be used to detect faults as soon as they appear.

IoT will continue to drive the use of Aircraft Health Monitoring Systems (AHMS) in 2017. AHMS bring vast improvements in the use and analysis of big data to enhance availability, reliability and safety of aircraft, which drives the take up of condition-based maintenance (CBM) projects to streamline MRO. The AHMS market is set to be worth $4.7 billion globally by 2021, and this will only increase as new aircraft with IoT-enabled sensors are delivered.

AHMS can consider factors such as speed, torque, vibrations and pressure data. MRO systems can then process this and provide actionable information to make better informed and more focused maintenance decisions. The data could assist in reducing cancellations, improving operational and flight safety, reducing fuel consumption, helping identify rogue serial numbers and enhancing both passenger and crew experience.

During the 1980s, the number of detectable faults on a Boeing 767 was 9,000. Now, intelligent sensors on a Boeing 787 can detect 45,000 faults, five times as many as the rate 30 years ago. AHMS has the added benefit of being able to analyze data from one aircraft to detect the same potential fault on an entire fleet.

The streamlining of maintenance operations and the almost instant reactions to faults that AHMS bring could drastically reduce the chance of aircraft on ground (AOG) for airlines, the cost of which ranges between $10,000 and $150,000 for just a couple of hours of downtime. This is a major benefit as most airlines need every possible piece of revenue from every single flight in order to make a profit.

3. Predictive and prescriptive maintenance

We’ve seen the benefits of condition-based maintenance, but airlines are already looking at the next step in asset management: moving from condition-based maintenance to predictive maintenance. By picking out the relevant data patterns being fed back from IoT-enabled devices, airlines can detect early signs of potential failure and rectify matters before they impact service delivery.

IoT and predictive maintenance allows for better sharing of both operational and maintenance data between airlines, aircraft operators and third-party MROs, enabling further cost reductions. By feeding the data into the EAM or MRO solution, the parts could be sourced and the work schedules of engineers optimized, meaning potential downtime could be drastically reduced.

Predictive maintenance is a game-changer for MRO, but operators aren’t stopping there.

Prescriptive maintenance is the next step beyond predicting the condition of an aircraft, allowing operators to not only predict what will happen, but offer what-if scenarios to show how each possible event will impact operations.

IoT data is fed back from the sensor into the analytical system to optimally define the prescribed maintenance activities in terms of reliability and asset uptime. The main benefit of this is allowing airlines to know what they could do better in the future. Operators want to know when an asset may fail as well as the most efficient way to reduce the possibility of failure going forward. Prescriptive analytics can guide maintenance engineers on the optimal time to execute the repair, with sequences of tasks set up to help them isolate the issue efficiently.

Prescriptive maintenance will revolutionize civil aviation MRO. IDC predicts that 50 percent of all business analytics software will incorporate prescriptive capabilities by 2020. Watch this space as the technology starts to mature in 2017.



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