How Collins Aerospace is Bringing its Vision for Connected Aviation to Life

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At the annual Farnborough International Airshow, Collins Aerospace discussed the value of Connected Aviation to the aviation industry. During the show, the Connected Aviation Today editorial staff sat down with a number of different aviation experts from Collins Aerospace to discuss what connectivity and new technologies could mean and how they could revolutionize the entire passenger journey – from check-in to the gate, to the tarmac, and into the air.

Ultimately, these experts described a new, brighter future for commercial aviation where passengers weren’t fidgeting with paper tickets and passports as they waited in long lines to check in and proceed through security. A world where flight delays due to bad weather or maintenance were mitigated or avoided. And a world where flights were smoother, safer, and greener because flight plans were optimized in real-time as conditions changed, and pilots had all of the information they needed – when they needed it – in the cockpit.

But what technologies are making this all possible? How can we take Connected Aviation from concept to reality? And what is Collins Aerospace doing to realize a more connected future?

To find out, we sat down with aviation industry veteran, Jennifer Schopfer, who currently serves as the president of the Connected Aviation Solutions business unit at Collins Aerospace.

Jennifer Schopfer

Connected Aviation Today (CAT): We’ve had numerous conversations with your associates at Collins Aerospace about how Connected Aviation will transform the passenger experience and how airlines operate. But we’ve never really asked them to define it. What is your vision? What does it mean for the industry?

Jennifer Schopfer: Connected Aviation involves bringing together billions of data points. These data points are everywhere across the aviation ecosystem – in the airport, on the aircraft, and on the tarmac. They come from radars watching the weather, transponders communicating with air traffic controllers, the sensors that measure the health of airplanes and engines, and the digital records from aircraft subsystems —and so much more.

But we need to take that a step further. It’s not enough to simply aggregate and store this data. We need to put this data to use to make every part of the aviation ecosystem better, more efficient, more sustainable, and more convenient for the passenger.

By bringing these billions of data points, patterns, trend lines, and prognostics together and then analyzing them, we can deliver data-derived insights to the right people at the right time. The result is greater efficiency and smoother operations across the industry.

As a full-stack digital solutions provider, Collins Aerospace is uniquely positioned to make this vision of Connected Aviation a reality.

CAT: Let’s focus on the connected cockpit and aircraft first. What solutions has Collins Aerospace introduced to help make the aircraft more connected and to enable airlines and flight crews to use their data?

Jennifer Schopfer: There are a number of different solutions that we’ve innovated for the more connected flight deck. These are designed to increase the amount of data available about the aircraft to those on the ground. They’re also designed to make actionable intelligence and information available for flight crews and pilots when needed.

“It’s not enough to simply aggregate and store this data. We need to put this data to use to make every part of the aviation ecosystem better, more efficient, more sustainable, and more convenient for the passenger.” — Jennifer Schopfer

It starts with the next generation of advanced routers and servers that Collins Aerospace has introduced for aircraft that are making high-bandwidth connectivity possible in the first place. But it extends to the new solutions we’ve introduced that allows flight crews to employ that connectivity to make flights safer, more efficient, and more sustainable.

Our FlightHubTM solution, introduced just a few months ago, is an Electronic Flight Folder (EFF) that is accessible on a pilot’s Electronic Flight Bag (EFB). FlightHub centralizes data sources and workflows to combat a real problem facing many pilots:  app overload and the inability to find the right data at the exact time it’s needed. FlightHub aggregates data sources, such as flight plans, weather information, and other sources of truth to coordinate the entire flight lifecycle from start to finish.

Integrated into FlightHub is another Collins Aerospace innovation – Flight Profile Optimization (FPO). This solution suggests optimal routes during flight to save fuel, time, and CO2 emissions.

CAT: We’ve all experienced flight delays resulting from aircraft maintenance issues. We’ve all sat at a gate waiting for our plane to be repaired. In a previous interview with your associate at Collins Aerospace, Seth Babcock, he talked about how predictive maintenance could help change that. How is Collins Aerospace enabling that?

Jennifer Schopfer: Seth is completely correct. One way to minimize delays is through predictive maintenance – and one way to predict maintenance needs is through analysis of aircraft and engine data.

We recently signed an agreement with Pratt & Whitney that will enable them to leverage Collins’ GlobalConnectSM solution and Ascentia® Analytics full-flight data product to offload that engine health data from the airplane in real time. The engine health digital services provided by Pratt & Whitney can analyze data from the assortment of sensors on an engine. For example, the Pratt & Whitney geared turbofan (GTF) engine can generate four million data points per flight. Maintenance teams can use those data points to determine days in advance when they’ll need to fix or replace a part. This collaboration will enable the more effective and proactive maintenance of engines.

That kind of predictive analysis allows for better planning; operators can even proactively schedule those repairs in the best locations – a major airport with a hangar and plenty of mechanics rather than a remote outpost with limited resources.

the Pratt & Whitney geared turbofan (GTF) engine can generate four million data points per flight. Maintenance teams can use those data points to determine days in advance when they’ll need to fix or replace a part. This collaboration will enable the more effective and proactive maintenance of engines. — Jennifer Schopfer

Moving forward, the predictive maintenance picture will only become clearer as more data is unlocked from engines, and as the adoption of technologies such as Pratt & Whitney’s Advanced Diagnostics and Engine Monitoring data analytics platform grows. But this kind of predictive analytics and maintenance isn’t limited to the engine. Collins Aerospace is using its Ascentia platform to predict maintenance needs across the aircraft.

Through statistical analysis, machine learning and modeling, the Ascentia platform analyzes flight operations and maintenance data, predicts the health of the aircraft and its Collins-made components, and prescribes the best course of action for everything it monitors. Ascentia also is used to normalize aircraft sensor data on more than 2,500 aircraft across more than 60 airlines.  This data is then returned to the airline in a self-serve, multi-tiered platform where it can be analyzed and configured to alert on user-defined logic. 

These predictive and proactive maintenance programs are being extended across the aircraft to ensure that everything works as it should and the passenger experience isn’t negatively impacted. For example, the Collins Connected Aviation Solutions team is partnering with other groups from across Collins to define smart product strategies for a number of different parts and components of the aircraft. They’re working with our interiors division on Smart Galley inserts that will alert the airline when a coffee pot malfunctions so that passengers will always have access to a hot cup of joe when they want it.

While that seems like a somewhat insignificant initiative, it can have a big impact on the passenger experience and how much they enjoy their flight. It’s also an excellent example of how we continue to partner across our own organization to introduce more real-time data analysis and more products that come out of the box with predictive maintenance and our Ascentia Prognostics and Health Monitoring (PHM) solutions enabled.

The end result is maintenance that is optimized by occurring in more convenient locations and at predictable times. This optimization helps eliminate surprises and delays – cutting costs for the airlines and improving the passenger experience.

CAT: Passenger experience is certainly important. And I think it’s safe to say that – for the average passenger – the airport experience is one of the worst parts of their vacation or business travel. We heard your associate, Tony Chapman, discuss how biometrics could improve that. How is Collins Aerospace making biometrics possible?

Jennifer Schopfer: Airport check-ins, baggage drops, security checkpoints, and passenger boarding processes are usually the last, significant inconvenience that passengers face before they get to relax on a tropical vacation or close a deal on an important business trip. We understand. We fly too.

And Tony is right of course. Biometric technology can allow passengers to expedite all those processes by simply using their facial scan or fingerprint in lieu of a printed form of ID. But there is more to biometrics than just identification and security procedures.

For example, for travelers that have opted-in, biometric identification technology coupled with better data analysis at airports can direct passengers to alternate security checkpoints to avoid delays. It could be used to provide personalized instructions and directions, eliminating the confusion that can accompany a trip to the airport.

Times like these require creative, innovative solutions to help manage costs and increase efficiency, and that’s exactly what our new technologies are enabling. — Jennifer Schopfer

Our ARINC SelfPassTM biometric solution is already in use at Haneda Airport, one of the busiest airports in Asia. Just last summer, Haneda Airport installed almost 100 self-service check-in kiosks, dozens of biometric enrollment kiosks, over 100 biometric devices for self-bag drop, biometric automated security gates, as well as biometric automated self-boarding gates to expedite the passenger journey through the airport and make that journey more seamless.

CAT: So, we’ve talked about the impact of Connected Aviation on aircraft maintenance, airline operations and the passenger experience. Why is it so important for airlines and airports to embrace the digital transformation that we’re seeing in the aviation industry? What trends are making this essential for them today?

Jennifer Schopfer: Ultimately, the different stakeholders that comprise the aviation community – the airports, airlines, ATC and flight crews – are all facing continued challenges.

Harnessing the digital revolution within the aviation industry and embracing Connected Aviation can help these stakeholders in the aviation industry face these new challenges. Increasing their operational efficiency will enable them to better compete in a crowded marketplace. It will enable them to service more passengers while still delivering a better passenger experience. And it will enable them to meet the aggressive” Net Zero” carbon emissions goals that we’re seeing across the aviation industry.

Times like these require creative, innovative solutions to help manage costs and increase efficiency, and that’s exactly what our new technologies are enabling. For example, aircraft brake wear is a costly challenge for airlines. Factors like temperature and behaviors such as speed can impact how quickly brakes wear and can be difficult for airlines to predict.

To tackle this problem, our Collins Connected Aviation Solutions team partnered with our Collins Wheels and Brakes group to leverage FlightAware data to pinpoint operating behaviors that were negatively impacting brake life. In mere months, the teams jointly defined, built and released an analytical solution for an airline customer that is helping extend brake life for their operations. As you can imagine, optimizing maintenance and elongating the life of parts like brakes is critically important to our customers given the challenges facing the aviation industry over the last several years.

Together, with our customers, Collins is tackling the toughest challenges in our industry and bringing continuous innovation to the aviation ecosystem to increase efficiency, sustainability, and safety.

To learn more about the benefits of Connected Aviation, click HERE.

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