How Edge Computing Makes Modern AIDs Even Better

0
8

In my last article on Connected Aviation Today, I introduced the aircraft interface device (AID) and how it functions as a router – a hub for all connected devices – on modern aircraft.

I also explained that by aggregating data from disparate aircraft systems and making that data readily available to those who need it – both in the aircraft and on the ground – the AID opens the door to several connected aircraft benefits for airlines and passengers. These include benefits in sustainability, operational efficiency, aircraft maintenance, and even the passenger experience.

Considering the substantial benefits, it’s somewhat surprising that only about one-third of commercial airlines have embraced the AID. Many of these AID early adopters are data-driven, tech-savvy airlines, or smaller airlines operating in places where labor costs are higher. I believe the reason why some of these smaller airlines have been the first to embrace the technology is simply a result of not having a large staff – forcing them to find ways to increase efficiency and automate the retrieval of aircraft system data.

However, the adoption of AIDs is starting to accelerate. This is partly because more new aircraft are being delivered with an AID already installed. But we’re also beginning to see AID holdouts purchase AIDs and install them on the older aircraft in their fleets as they see the efficiency and automation benefits from the AID on their new aircraft deliveries.

The AID concept isn’t necessarily new—it’s actually been around for more than a decade. So, why are airlines just now taking the plunge and spending the time and money to purchase and integrate AIDs? It’s most likely due to a new generation of AIDs with even more functionality thanks to the integration of edge computing.

If a large amount of data is being transmitted, this would quickly become prohibitively expensive. However, if a simple alert is triggered and transmitted, the cost to the airline remains small.

Compute more, transmit less
The concept of edge computing is rather simple – it involves moving compute capabilities out to the edge of the network. This often means giving IoT sensors and other devices the ability to run applications and do analysis. This is precisely what we’re seeing in a new generation of AID solutions, like the Collins Aerospace InteliSightTM AID.

There are two very good reasons why airlines would want AIDs that can aggregate and process aircraft system data at the edge:

  1. Faster decision-making: As the number of sensors and connected systems in the aircraft increases, the amount of data that needs to be aggregated, disseminated, and exploited for actionable intelligence rises exponentially. Finding actionable insights from this data becomes incredibly difficult—akin to trying to find the proverbial “needle in a haystack.”

    If the AID is more intelligent and capable of running algorithms, it can use that data at the edge and determine when to alert the flight crew and personnel on the ground. If a sensor identifies that a system is acting differently or if an incident occurs that may impact the aircraft, the AID can identify that and trigger an alert to those that need to know and identify the appropriate data to send to the users to enable review and corrective action.

    Without the ability to access and analyze that data, the AID would effectively transmit a mountain of data. That data would have to be sorted through by humans or computers on the ground. Only then would they discover the issue. By doing the analysis locally, the AID speeds decision-making and helps airline personnel make more data-driven decisions.
  2. Less data to transmit: While aircraft on the ground can utilize 5G and airport Wi-Fi networks for connectivity, airlines still rely on satellite services to provide connectivity in flight. Unfortunately, unlike terrestrial networks, satellite is expensive, and the user pays for the satellite capacity that they use.

    The major benefit of the AID is allowing all parties to monitor aircraft system data that need it—including personnel on the ground. Satellite services would need to be used to transfer that data from the aircraft in flight to maintenance crews, operations personnel, and flight dispatchers on the ground.

    If a large amount of data is being transmitted, this would quickly become prohibitively expensive. However, if a simple alert is triggered and transmitted, the cost to the airline remains small. The AID can save airlines a lot of money in expensive satellite services by doing the data analysis on the plane and then only transmitting alerts or red flags to the ground.

How would these edge computing benefits work in the real-world? Let’s look at two entirely possible scenarios involving real issues impacting aircraft.

If the aircraft systems indicate an overly hard landing, the AID could identify that and send an alert to engineers and maintenance crews. Those crews could review the aircraft data sent from the AID and then be ready and waiting for the aircraft when it arrives at the gate to conduct any required inspections and ensure there was no structural damage.

Falling (too) hard for you
We’ve all been on flights that ended with a somewhat “stiff” landing. These hard landings aren’t just uncomfortable – they may be a bit worrisome – for passengers. They can also have a negative impact on the health of plane components and systems.

If the airplane lands too hard and the G-forces on the landing gear exceed a certain limit, structural damage could result. This damage could lead to a future incident or the need to take the aircraft out of service for replacement parts and repairs.

Unfortunately, there is no real way of determining immediately if a landing was too hard in older aircraft. It’s ultimately up to the pilot’s discretion to alert maintenance crews and airline operational personnel if they think the landing could have resulted in damage.

If the aircraft systems indicate an overly hard landing, the AID could identify that and send an alert to engineers and maintenance crews. Those crews could review the aircraft data sent from the AID and then be ready and waiting for the aircraft when it arrives at the gate to conduct any required inspections and ensure there was no structural damage. This could minimize incidents and identify issues before they become problems in the future.

This is a great example of how the AID could benefit airlines, but there’s an even better one.

Stop guessing
The flaps on the wing extend during takeoff and at lower speeds. They eventually retract when the plane reaches a certain speed and altitude. However, it is possible to fly the plane too quickly when the flaps are extended. This results in a “flap overspeed exceedance” that can negatively impact the aircraft.

The potential damage caused by a speed exceedance is proportional to the aircraft’s speed. Exceed the optimum speed by a few knots, and the aircraft will probably be fine. Exceed it by 100 knots, and you could rip those flaps right off the wings.

As the number of sensors and connected systems in the aircraft increases, the amount of data…rises exponentially. Finding actionable insights from this data becomes incredibly difficult—akin to trying to find the proverbial “needle in a haystack.”

I heard an interesting story about one particular flight involving a long-range widebody aircraft. The flight crew reported a flap overspeed exceedance on the climb-out but weren’t sure just how fast they were going when it occurred. They estimated the speed when radioing to the engineers on the ground, and those engineers thought that the aircraft had a significant overspeed situation.

Concerned about the severity of the event, the engineers recommended that the flight crew dump fuel and bring the passengers back to its departure airport. This was incredibly expensive for the airline, which had to house the passengers overnight and fly them out the following day.

Later on, upon analysis of the aircraft system data, they identified that the flight crew overestimated their speed during the occurrence. There was a very low chance that the aircraft had sustained major damage, and it could have kept its original flight plan and continued to its destination.

If there had been an AID with edge computing capabilities on that flight, it would have analyzed the aircraft system data in real-time. It could then have alerted the engineers to the severity of any flap overspeed exceedance, along with the data necessary for them to determine if it was significant enough to cause a problem. This would have eliminated the guesswork and kept the aircraft flying to its final destination—which it would have reached with no incident.

AIDs are beneficial to airlines. They improve sustainability, increase operational efficiency, and deliver better passenger experiences, which ultimately impact a passenger’s perception of the airline. And while many passengers are relatively understanding when flight delays are driven by weather or air traffic control delays, acceptance of delays driven by “maintenance issues” is often different. That makes these new AIDs all the more valuable as they help an airline reduce and avoid delays through proactive routine maintenance.

This new generation of AID solutions with edge computing capabilities can accelerate and improve decision-making by delivering important information – and only important information – when and where it’s needed.

In my next article on Connected Aviation Today, I’ll share three considerations that airlines should keep in mind when choosing an AID solution.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here