Analyzing the Past to Accelerate Aircraft Maintenance in the Present and Predict Issues in the Future

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We’ve all heard the phrase, “Have you tried rebooting your machine?” It’s the first thing practically every IT help desk and tech support specialist asks when you call them with a technical problem. But why does a technician ask if you tried rebooting your system or device whenever you call for tech support?

It’s most likely the first recommended step in a decision tree that the tech support employee has been trained to follow. A simple reboot is at the very top of that tree because it’s a quick and easy fix for some basic computer problems that require clearing temporary data and refreshing the operating system.

Once a reboot is done and it fails to solve the problem, the IT specialist will begin to work down the troubleshooting decision tree. The specialist will work to eliminate potential causes of the problem through trial and error, starting with the simplest potential fixes and continuing with increasingly complex fixes until a solution is found.

This is a relatively common practice when it comes to troubleshooting and repairing anything that isn’t working. A similar scenario usually happens when aircraft maintenance crews are trying to identify and repair a problem with an aircraft.

When aircraft systems or components begin to fail, maintenance personnel generally reference the aircraft’s maintenance manual and begin to work their way down a troubleshooting decision tree. They’ll usually start with the most common and likely problems with the easiest solutions and work their way to the more complex and challenging problems that could require costly and time-consuming fixes.

The Repeaters solution will not only identify repeat events on an aircraft but will also identify the root cause…This can eliminate many of the incorrect fixes that may be present in the traditional troubleshooting decision tree and help maintenance personnel [more rapidly] identify the solution…

But there’s a challenge with this approach to aircraft maintenance: it can lead to a maintenance action that may only be a temporary fix or may not resolve the underlying issues the first time. This can lead to repeat maintenance events, causing an aircraft to be out of service multiple times for the same root cause problem. 

Complex systems, complex problems
The systems and components on aircraft are complex and can be exceptionally difficult to troubleshoot – potentially resulting in a significant loss of time and money. Let’s take a look at the pneumatic system as an example.

The pneumatic system is responsible for pulling compressed air off of the engines and supplying it to run things like the air conditioning system, providing airflow throughout the entire aircraft or the wing and engine anti-ice system. Complexity is inherent in this system because many valves and a monitoring system are needed to ensure air pressure is regulated and temperature is consistent depending on the stage of flight.

Air is pulled from various compressor stages of the engine. If the aircraft is taxiing or in decent, the pneumatic system will pull air from the intermediate stage, but may need to supplement from the high-pressure stage due to low engine speeds. When the aircraft is taking off or in cruise, the intermediate stage should be adequate to supply air for the system.

Enabling this system is an ecosystem of valves, computers, sensors, and sense lines. This complexity makes the pneumatic system a challenging one to troubleshoot, which is compounded by the inability to replicate scenarios the flight crew experiences in the air by maintenance teams on the ground.

Airlines have a tremendous amount of historical data about their aircraft…They should be able to use past maintenance and repair operations data to drive more proactive troubleshooting…

Having previously worked in aircraft maintenance at an airline, I have firsthand knowledge of what it was like troubleshooting this system. Historically, when fault codes would begin to point to problems in the pneumatic system, a mechanic would reference the troubleshooting or fault isolation manual and start to progress down the troubleshooting decision tree.

The first step in the manual could be to replace the monitoring computer. Unfortunately, the monitoring computer typically has a very high “no fault found” rate and, often times, the aircraft will quickly be back out of service due to the same root cause. The systemic problem leads to additional out of service time and an incurred component overhaul cost for no fault found.

How can we solve this problem and make the first fix to the aircraft the correct one? A more practical solution might be to learn from what has been done in the past to enable more rapid and effective repair operations in the present.

Using data for more proactive maintenance
Airlines have a tremendous amount of historical data about their aircraft, including maintenance logs, fault codes, and full flight sensor data. They should be able to use past maintenance and repair operations data to drive more proactive troubleshooting and expedite the maintenance and repair process.

Collins Aerospace is developing a number of exciting new features for its Ascentia® platform that could do just that.

A new tool called Analytic Developer takes 3,000 full flight parameters and transforms the data set into 1.2 million unique analyses. It then compares the results against component removals to identify patterns and correlations in the data that can be used to create new analytics that the airline can choose to enable.

Analytic Developer will enhance the airlines’ ability to self-develop their own analytics quickly to supplement the existing analytics Collins currently has developed, providing a more wholistic, predictive self-service maintenance platform.

The systems and components on aircraft are complex and can be exceptionally difficult to troubleshoot – potentially resulting in a significant loss of time and money. 

Collins is pushing things a step further—to further bring predictive analytics and maintenance datasets together with troubleshooting and diagnostics. We will soon be launching another new feature in Ascentia called Repeaters, which uses natural language processing on maintenance log page datasets at an airline.

The Repeaters solution will not only identify repeat events on an aircraft but will also identify the root cause and extract the corrective action and recommend the part to be replaced, if applicable. This can eliminate many of the incorrect fixes that may be present in the traditional troubleshooting decision tree and help maintenance personnel identify the solution that helps troubleshoot the root cause in significantly less time.

Let’s look back at our pneumatic system example to see how this would work.

As we discussed, the first step in the troubleshooting or fault isolation manual often involves replacing the monitoring computer, which is rarely the problem. The Repeaters solution would be able to look back through historical maintenance logs and identify that this step rarely fixes the problem. It would then help to point maintenance personnel to the correct action to fix the problem earlier in the process.

Problems most frequently occur in the pneumatic system with the valves and/or sense lines. The Repeaters solution would identify from fault codes and maintenance logs that the valves or sense lines were the most likely culprits. This—coupled with full flight data—could also direct maintenance personnel to the particular valve or sense line that was most likely malfunctioning.

A critical component to better maintenance
In the commercial aviation industry, discussions about leveraging advanced technologies to improve maintenance often mention connectivity, sensor data, and artificial intelligence (AI) to become more proactive in repairing or replacing failing components and parts. In fact, I did an entire interview on this site about that capability.

While it’s incredibly beneficial for airlines to predict the future and become more proactive with their maintenance, they can also benefit from looking to their past to make their present repair operations more effective. Putting the past and present together with predictive technologies will enable airlines to further use that data. With solutions like Repeaters and Analytic Developer, airlines can accelerate maintenance and repairs, reduce downtime, and streamline operations.

To learn more about how historical data can expedite aircraft maintenance and streamline workflows, click HERE.

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