How Connected Cockpits are Helping UPS Increase Aircraft Efficiency


During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when Americans were mostly sequestered in their homes and relying on delivery services for access to everything from dinner to health and beauty products, global delivery giants like UPS were an essential and near-constant presence in our lives.

But many of us only know UPS from what we can see – their fleet of brown trucks and friendly delivery people. We don’t see the 1,200 flights that the company’s almost 300 owned and operated aircraft take daily to ensure that your eCommerce and life-saving healthcare packages, arrive on the doorsteps when promised.

Getting a package from “Point A” to “Point B” by a select date and time is a promise that UPS makes to its customers. This makes finding ways to increase the efficiency of flights and finding the most effective flight paths fundamental to the company’s business. This also makes aircraft connectivity and innovative and new aviation technologies essential for the company’s continued growth and success.

To learn more about how UPS is ushering in a new era of connected aircraft and aviation, we sat down with Kevin Swiatek, the airlines Flight Operations Manager. During our discussion, we spoke about how UPS defines the connected cockpit, how connectivity could empower the flight crew to make better flight path decisions, and what the future of the connected aircraft looks like.

Connected Aviation Today (CAT): How does UPS define the connected cockpit?

Kevin Swiatek: The concept of the connected cockpit involves making everything that’s available to the flight crew in their ready room available in the cockpit, itself, throughout the flight.

But there is a larger, potentially more disruptive definition that includes much more than simply utilizing data. That definition involves turning that data into information and finding ways to utilize that information to assist our pilots, dispatchers, and mechanics. Essentially, using that information to improve aircraft reliability. That’s the larger definition – or the “big promise” – of the connected cockpit.

“We see the connected cockpit as an enabler – getting that data to crew members, maintenance personnel, or dispatchers in real-time.” – Kevin Swiatek

There’s so much data on airplanes. And, while we see a lot of that data, much of it is not being properly utilized.

At UPS, we’re constantly thinking about how we can tap into that data and provide real-time access to the data that’s on the airplane. And, once we can access that data in the cockpit and on the ground, we’re thinking about how we can leverage it for information to improve safety and reliability. We see the connected cockpit as an enabler – getting that data to crew members, maintenance personnel, or dispatchers in real-time so that it be used to make their jobs more efficient, and safer, and provide a better delivery experience for our customers.

CAT: What are the major benefits you see airlines and delivery companies receiving from a connected aviation ecosystem?

Kevin Swiatek: Ultimately, the benefit is more data and better data. It’s more actionable data and more timely data. If you take that data and translate it into information, that’s better information, more actionable information, and more timely information. That’s really the benefit.

“By providing pilots and dispatchers with a high-level view of the weather, we can enable them to make decisions that can increase efficiency and safety.” – Kevin Swiatek

For example, think about the iPad or smart device that the pilot has with them in the cockpit. What if we can share efficiency opportunities that can shave time off their route of flight or a more optimal flight level or fuel-saving possibilities? What if we can provide them with real-time weather and weather effect data and maps on that device? What if we could give them a satellite view of what’s going on from a weather perspective between where they are and their destination?

If you speak with pilots, they’ll tell you that weather deviations and unexpected weather effects can happen much more frequently than people realize. Especially in the summer, or when flying near the Equator.

If the pilot can see that information right there in the cockpit, and that same view can be shared by the dispatchers on the ground, they can collaborate in real-time to determine more efficient flight paths with minor offsets that allow them to avoid that weather effect. Compare that to the past, when pilots wouldn’t be aware of weather effects until coming upon them, and then needing to conduct significant flight path offsets to move around that weather.

This is just one example of how the connected cockpit could be beneficial. By providing pilots and dispatchers with a high-level view of the weather, we can enable them to make decisions that can increase efficiency and safety.

CAT: How is UPS utilizing electronic flight bag (EFB) connectivity, and what benefits is it delivering?

Kevin Swiatek: The EFB has become the platform that enables us to extend the applications and data that the flight crews can access in the crew ready rooms and get it out to the cockpit. And those weather feeds, data sets, and applications that are used in the cockpit are also used by the dispatcher. This ensures that both the pilot and the dispatcher are seeing the same information, which is extremely important.

With connected EFB we can, for example, provide a platform for displaying weather information. We can overlay the flight path on that weather map so that the pilot and dispatcher can better anticipate weather events and take proactive steps to avoid them, or to utilize tailwinds to optimize their flight – saving time and fuel.

For a business like UPS, which operates 1,200 flights per day, saving time on those flights and cutting fuel costs can have a massive impact on packages getting to where they need to go on time, and improving operational efficiency.

CAT: How do you see this connectivity trend playing out over the course of the next few years?

Kevin Swiatek: Many operators are trying to leverage traffic data or ADS-B data to give them better situational awareness. And there’s a good reason for that.

When you talk to pilots, they want more transparency into what the pilot in front of them is flying through and what they’re going to experience. They want visibility into the flow of the airplanes into their destination airport and they want to know what weather events or conditions are ahead on the flight path. There is a large safety and reliability benefit to being able to share that information and having that data displayed for the flight crew.

In the future, I believe that we could see the EFB interrogating, or getting information from the flight management computer, to have the capacity to pull information and different data sets together to start massaging the route to avoid traffic jams or weather patterns. It could almost operate like the GPS solutions that we use on roads to help navigate us around traffic or arrive sooner – even if we have to travel a further distance.

Then, there’s also a movement towards using that data for predictive analytics and becoming more proactive in the maintenance and operations of aircraft.

To learn more about the benefits of increasing connected aircraft, click HERE to download a complimentary copy of the white paper, “Understanding the Impact of Data From New Generation Aircraft on the ACARS Network.”


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