As the International Civil Aviation Org.’s (ICAO) Global Aeronautical Distress Safety System (GADSS) concept of operations moves closer to becoming a reality for operators, aviation industry companies are working to ensure airframes have the right mix of technologies needed to improve aircraft tracking in remote airspace. Avionics caught up with Kambiz Aghili, newly appointed CEO of fleet management and tracking company Blue Sky Network, to learn about what the company is doing to support improved aircraft tracking and other aircraft technological concepts for the future.
Aghili was appointed CEO of Blue Sky in March, the same month in which Blue Sky moved to a larger office to accommodate its move to hire new sales, marketing and technical staff. He brings a strong engineering background to the company with a Ph.D. in computer science from the University of California, Santa Barbara on big data, pattern recognition and analytics. He also holds a bachelor's degree in computer engineering from Bilkent University.
Headquartered in San Diego, California, Blue Sky describes itself as a supplier of satellite-based communication technologies designed to help aviation, marine and mobile operators track and manage their assets in real time. The company also has existing technologies that meet some of the aspects of ICAO’s GADSS recommendations for operators, which ICAO formalized in March 2016.
At a recent avionics standards development conference, engineering experts from Airbus and Boeing expressed support for new industry standards to support GADSS.
Avionics: Blue Sky Network published a white paper on ICAO’s initiative to improve global aircraft flight tracking, a move toward building the Global Aeronautical Distress and Safety System (GADSS) concept of operations, how will Blue Sky help the aviation industry realize GADSS?
Aghili: There are four different components of the GADSS initiative: aircraft tracking during normal operations, aircraft tracking during abnormal operations, autonomous distress tracking (ADT), and automated flight data recovery (AFDR).Some of these requirements have been well defined; some of them are still being evolved. I can say that via our proprietary hardware and software as a service offerings, we are well positioned to accommodate and meet most of the needs as they are presently defined, especially for the normal tracking requirements.
Integrating our satellite-based tracking technologies with different data buses onboard the aircraft is a tremendous initiative that we’re working on today- in conjunction with a few different partnerships. Different aircraft types have varying requirements; their bus and ARINC standards are different. As a result, we’re working on integrating our solutions into those data buses which will allow us to accomplish normal tracking, abnormal tracking, and autonomous distress tracking while at the same time being able to report on exceedances, and other onboard anomalies.We’re seeking to offer a wide range of capabilities that go way beyond anything ICAO is furthering with GADSS.
We stand with our offerings today not only to meet the ICAO recommendations, but also to detect anomalies and report exceedances on critical data inputs from the cockpit to improve safety and operational efficiency of our clients globally.
A select set of such intelligence is detecting patterns on oil pressures, fuel flows, fuel pressures, various component temperatures, sudden accelerations and hard landings.
Avionics: What type of aircraft operators have you seen the most demand for your aircraft tracking technologies recently?
Aghili: We have seen demand from nearly every operator category including corporate and private jet operators, Part 121, Part 135, Part 137/wildland firefighting operators, as well as airborne first responders.
Many operators don’t have to meet GADSS requirements due to their specific mission scope; some will just be seeking to use our technology to improve other aspects of their operations.
Avionics: What types of operational improvements do these different operators look for when they equip their aircraft with your tracking, communications and fleet management tools?
Aghili: Our clients are looking for specific products that are going to help improve their safety and operational efficiency. Forecasting fleet problems with predictive analytics, being able to look into asset use across all fleets, and predict maintenance issues before they occur and optimizing asset utilization directly passes the savings to our clients, while improving safety. For example, with monitoring the health of the engine and its parameters, clients should be able to stream those parameters down to the ground, and identify exceedances (as well as detect performance anomalies before they happen).That’s a strategy core to our product roadmap.
Being able to share with a client the specific data points, such as having raised their operational safety by 15.2 percent in the last month, we are able to provide our clients with 1) the ammunition to benefit substantial savings on the insurance of their fleet, 2) a very holistic view on their overall fleet and hence understanding which of their assets are being underutilized. These are the types of operational intelligence that clients should expect from every service provider, those with a strong commitment to clients as is Blue Sky Network. “Operational Insights” refer to those insights that are directly actionable, almost in real-time.
For example, if we let a wildland firefighting operator know how much water is in each of their aircraft before they dispatch 10 to 20 of them from around the state, we can optimize their firefighting efforts. Depending on the location of fleet on the map, depending on how much water is in each aircraft, and then deciding what is the most optimal way to group the top 4 or 5 of those aircraft, what route of flight is going to best get them to the fire, and how low they can fly safely are the exact level of detail and advanced operational planning that we seek to provide to our customers.
Crewmember using Blue Sky Network in cockpit. Photo: Blue Sky Network.
Avionics: Blue Sky Network was one of the first aviation hardware suppliers to leverage Iridium’s satellite network capabilities. How are you leveraging your latest offerings to align with Iridium NEXT?
Aghili: Through Iridium Certus 350 we’ll be able to reach streaming and background bandwidth of up to 256 kbps and 352 kbps, respectively. That will open up a whole range of new applications that we’re working on today.
In the commercial corporate and government space, simply being able to communicate those operational insights/data back to the operations center and allowing the software to extrapolate insights out of that data is what will help to create a very intelligent cockpit and operational setup for our clients.
Avionics: Over the next five to 10 years, where do you see some of the biggest growth opportunities for Blue Sky across all segments of aviation?
Aghili: I think the concept of the intelligent cockpit is in the earliest stages of development. The sky is the limit in this market; it’s a market that’s going to see 20-30 percent growth year-over-year for the next decade. We’ve looked at and sized the market across all the type operators. From our perspective, it’s a really under-tapped market.Eventually, we believe that such infrastructures will become standard equipment on all aircraft.
We also see tremendous growth potential in enabling the transmission of more and more information such as CVR/FDR data, and HUMS data for FOQA/MOQA applications. The focus is not on transmitting all this data in real time and then leaving it up to the operator to make something out of it, but really being an intelligent cockpit and discerning when we need to send something and only sending data when it is absolutely necessary, while providing the services around data transmission through very advanced analytics versus a home-grown excel sheet export! The really value is inherent in creating such opportunities for clients where at the click of a button they can create graphs and charts on the fly, visualize such anomalies with the ability to take action immediately; these are called “Operational Insights”. That’s not happening today, and it’s needed. I believe there is huge growth potential in providing advanced flight operational analytics.
Intelligent cockpits and intelligent operations on the ground help bring safety, fuel savings, and operational efficiency. We work with very sophisticated clients that seek insights such as: 1) 'how can I best utilize assets in a way that will save fuel dollars, that will save us on take off and landing times, that will save us on incidents, which will reduce our insurance costs as well increase risk mitigation, 2) how do I operate as a data-oriented operation benefiting from these services?' These are just a few of the areas with huge growth potential in the coming years.