Commercial, Profiles

The Future of Data: An APiJet Engineer’s Perspective

APIJet engineer BJ Arun. (APIJet)

BJ Arun joined APiJet as a junior systems engineer when Aviation Partners and iJet technologies created the joint venture in January of this year to provide data services and analytics solutions to airlines.

The Washington native has known for a long time that aerospace engineering was the path for him. It’s what he studied at the University of Washington while he worked on NASA-funded aircraft icing research projects. He was also on the university's Formula Motorsports team, building racecars; high-tech ways to make machines go fast have fascinated him since he was young, he recalled.

Now with APiJet, Arun helps ensure that the company’s open-architecture data-monitoring solutions work well for customers such as Icelandair. He spoke with Avionics about his job and what challenges face an increasingly data-driven industry.

What does your job entail?

I work on the integration side of our platform. Our team is essentially split down the middle between software development types — software engineers and ops people and quality assurance — and then our side, which is the integration. What my job essentially entails, from a big picture standpoint, is making sure that our platform operates to the best of its ability on the aircraft. That means that we get accurate data from the aircraft, that our platform doesn't cause any other problems and that it plays well with all the other avionics systems. It requires a lot of testing of our platform as well.


Open architecture is at the core of what APiJet offers and is a buzzword around the industry in general. How does it play into what you do?

Our platform works in a way that the platform you get today might not be the platform you get tomorrow. We like to stress the idea of a smart aircraft. It's sort of analogous to a smartphone.

If you think of all the apps that you have today on your phone — whether it's your navigation apps and music apps — they are completely open-ended in terms of their uses and their functionality as they move forward. So when I talk about an open-architecture and open-software platform, I'm talking about how our platform will grow and do more things as we go on just like the apps on your phone will do more as time moves on. Just thinking back five years ago, your phone probably looked a lot different than it does now. That's really what I'm talking about.


Is there anything you are working on right now that you can talk about?

One of the big things we're trying to do is get our platform up and ready for integration into the 737 MAX — Icelandair recently purchased three of them. And it's a real challenge in terms of the amount of data that's output from the plane just because it's one of the newest planes on the market. As planes get newer, more data and more information is output.


APIJet's BJ Arun solidifying the company's partnership with Icelandair with an Iceland National Team soccer jersey. (APIJet)

What do you think will be the biggest developments in the industry over the next few years?

I really feel that the biggest thing will be that the aerospace industry and the airline industry is moving toward analytics and being more analytics-friendly. I think that in the past, airlines have always been about cost-cutting and about trying to get the best bang for the buck.

But for the next few years, I feel like the real competition will come in which airline can handle data the best, which airline has the best predictive and monitoring systems, and I think that's really where the future lies in terms of our operation.

I'd say one of the biggest challenges is just finding a way to understand all the different types of data, just because a lot of airplanes are very unique. For example, with the Icelandair fleet, the kinds of data its different aircraft output is very specific. And I think as more planes and airlines become more analytics-friendly, the real challenge for us will be to leverage all those differences and try to put that together in a way that that can be scaled.

At this moment, I feel like we do have one of the best platforms. In terms of the whole industry, we're the only ones that, when the data comes off the aircraft interface device, we can gather that data, and that data goes to the airlines right away. That’s something that that's very unique because we're not really a middleman; the data never really belongs to us. It just comes from the AID and it goes to the airline. I think that's really the simplest solution. From a scale standpoint, I think we're well-positioned to handle the challenges that are coming to us.


What do you think the best solution is to handle all the different kinds of data produced by aircraft?

That is that is a pretty complicated question, and I think it is very specific to every single application. Whether you're looking at alerts or whether you're looking at numerical data, it really depends, but I do think that finding commonalities is always good. I think that being able to merge as much data as you can is the best way to look at it.


You were on your college’s Formula Motorsports team. I’ve come across a number of people in different kinds of aerospace engineering that are heavily into cars. I know you can’t speak for them, but why do you think that is?

I think that's a common theme just because I feel like that a lot of people's first exposure to engineering and technology and just kind of seeing how a car works when you're in it — you probably spend a lot of time in a car, so it's really one of the first places I feel like I was exposed to engineering technologies.


Whether it’s planes, cars, or space shuttles — what, for you, is the attraction? 

The big thing for me was just seeing how much work goes into every single system that's around us. Even if you think about the most mundane things in our lives, you kind of understand that so much work had to go into making everything around us work well, and especially when it comes to airplanes; you could just, as a kid, admire all these millions of parts that have to come together for an airplane to work well or for a car to work well. I think that's really what really interested me from a young age.

A lot of people nowadays talk about how aviation and aerospace move so slowly because of safety-first kind of protocols, and I do understand that. But, at the same time, I feel like all the technologies in aerospace are just so unique and so high-tech. I mean, just think of how quickly the industry moved when it was first starting. In the span of, say, 50 years, we went from the Wright Brothers flying over North Carolina at something like 15 miles an hour to sending someone to the moon. And I think that's really the kind of promise that really attracted me to the aerospace industry.

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