GE Joins Airbus Digital Alliance to Expand Predictive Aircraft Maintenance Scope of Skywise

GE Digital has become the third member of the Aviation Digital Alliance, established by Airbus and Delta TechOps in 2019. (Airbus)

GE Digital has become the newest member of the Aviation Digital Alliance, a partnership first established in 2019 to combine the aircraft systems expertise of the maintenance division of Delta Air Lines with the flight data collection and cloud computing services of the Airbus Skywise platform.

Now, the addition of GE Digital will double both the number of analytics algorithms as well as the number of aircraft parts that can be monitored by Skywise. During a June 30 media call, leadership from Airbus, Delta Tech Ops, and GE Digital explained how the expansion of the Alliance will improve their collective ability to predict when critical aircraft parts and components are about to fail and potentially cause an un-scheduled airline delay.

"The first initial project we're working on with Delta and GE is about predictive maintenance, monitoring the health of the aircraft, monitoring the messages generated by the aircraft, and collecting all the data generated to predict failure. The engine of this solution is the collection of analytics, of knowledge that will predict and anticipate the failure mode of the equipment,” Lionel Rouby, senior vice president, customer services innovation digital solutions at Airbus said during the media call. “The first advantage of being together with Delta and GE is that we all have our own set of analytics available that we have delivered on our own and thanks to the Alliance we're putting all of them together, enlarging the coverage of the failure mode, enabling eventually a real nose to tail coverage of the aircraft.”

Skywise, the aviation data platform launched by Airbus in 2017, provides the key digital infrastructure to the Alliance, as it provides 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. Rouby said that the cloud computing infrastructure for the servers utilized by Skywise are based in Ireland, and today contain a total of 15 petabytes, or 15 million total gigabytes of flight operational data points about individual in-service Airbus aircraft parts, systems, and engines.

While Skywise and the broader Digital Alliance platform with Delta TechOps and GE Digital collects data about other aircraft, licensing agreements with airlines keeps Airbus from accessing data about non-Airbus aircraft.

"We used to say that data analysts used to spend 80 percent of his time looking for the data and 20 percent of his time analyzing the data. With Skywise it is just the opposite," Rouby said. "We as the Digital Alliance provide a solution that will use Skywise as the source of data, and do the job for the airline of analyzing the data to predict the part failure and to provide the information as a turnkey solution that does not require any type of data analyst or data scientist competence for the airline."

As a show of commitment to the growth of the Digital Alliance, Airbus has set-up a dedicated team of data scientists, customer experience designers and software developers based in Atlanta to work with Delta TechOps.

Skywise is the aviation data collection platform first launched by Airbus in 2017. (Airbus)

GE Digital’s addition to the Alliance will along with it bring some of well-known flight data applications such as FlightPulse, which combines airline-specific fleet data with pilot historical trend data to give pilots the ability to improve fuel efficiency and risk management by accessing their own individualized efficiency metrics and trends on a per-flight basis.

In April, Lineas Aereas Suramericanas (LAS) Cargo, a Colombia-based domestic air freight carrier, signed a new five-year contract with GE Digital for an electronic Flight Operation Quality Assurance (FOQA) program or eFOQA as GE describes it. According to GE, their eFOQA technology analyzes flight data recorder data and actively tracks safety metrics to alert flight departments of possible risks. Several tasks in the FOQA process that previously would have been performed by humans, including data ingestion, error correction, and statistical reporting are automated by eFOQA.

Using GE Digital’s Event Measurement System (EMS), a flight data platform, operators can access both safety and fuel analytics to identify and quantify specific opportunities to reduce fuel consumption. The eFOQA platform utilizes EMS to gather, cleanse, and process data.

Andrew Coleman, Senior Vice President & General Manager Aviation Software at GE Digital said that the combination of their fault-finding analytics with the data collection capabilities of Skywise and the in-service maintenance expertise of Delta, airlines using their services can permanently eliminate unscheduled maintenance delays.

"We have identified a series of [Air Transport Association] ATA Chapters, things we know across fleets in the world that tend to break and how do we get ahead of these things to start tracking and monitoring versus finding out about them when it's already too late driving that delay or that cancellations," Coleman said.

According to Coleman some of the specific ATA Chapters that the Alliance is focused on developing predictive maintenance algorithms around include “ATA 21, which covers air conditioning and pressurization, ATA 27 which covers flight controls, ATA 28 for fuel systems, and ATA 29 for hydraulics components,” among others, he said.

"Imagine going to the airport, looking at the departure board and only seeing the words on-time or early. The word cancellation or unplanned maintenance is a word we're going to put in the past," Coleman said. "When you think about any innovation that's taken place in our industry, most of it has been around physics and the mechanical, but we believe for the next 100 years of aviation the majority of the innovation will be building and bridging all the great things that have happened mechanically into the digital world."

Airbus currently supports 140 total airlines on the Skywise data platform. Delta Tech Ops, in addition to being the maintenance division of Delta Air Lines, also separately distributes digital aviation maintenance expertise and services to 150 different aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) providers globally.

Don Mitacek, Senior Vice President, Delta TechOps, said that the Digital Alliance can work with non-Airbus aircraft types and airlines outside of Delta through service level agreements about data sharing and analytics.

Mitacek said that Delta TechOps provides the type of knowledge of aircraft maintenance history and repairs that cannot always be captured by an algorithm.

"In the early days of this we brought consultants in and they would come up with algorithms that would say on the third Tuesday of every month the [engine’s constant speed drive] CSD is going to go out. The statistics were valid, however, it wasn't valid for reality and that's where you're putting some real operator knowledge with smart data scientists and analytics that is amazing,” Mitacek said. “Any time we take a component off of an airplane for predictive maintenance, we run it through the shop and test it for that problem and if we don't find that problem we go back to say where in our analytics did we go wrong? And we continue to refine those predictive measures to get them better and better and better.”

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