Almost every traveler has experienced a flight delay because of a maintenance issue on an aircraft. They’re incredibly frustrating and inconvenient. There’s a perception that these annoying travel delays are only warranted when something related to the plane’s flightworthiness is compromised. However, many other maintenance issues can cause a flight to be delayed – including maintenance issues within the cabin.
Expanding predictive maintenance into the cabin is not only a natural next step in enhancing the air travel experience, but also can reduce aircraft downtime spent on repairs and create fleet-wide maintenance efficiencies, contributing to airline operability and cost savings.
Considering the negative impact that faulty cabin equipment can have on the passenger experience, it is not surprising that airlines are embracing the extension of predictive maintenance to the cabin. An unusable premium-class seat, an unavailable lavatory, a dysfunctional coffee maker, or a broken oven can often negatively shape a passenger’s perception of an airline.
This can create a “catch-22” for airlines. Neglecting a problem in the cabin before a flight could adversely impact the passenger’s experience. But a flight delay caused by an unforeseen repair can be equally frustrating for the passengers. The better alternative would be to identify these issues before components fail, and make proactive repairs at a more convenient time and location – which is possible with predictive maintenance.
What is Predictive Maintenance?
Predictive maintenance takes historical aircraft and maintenance data and uses it to develop performance trends for components. The predictive maintenance system then generates detailed maintenance recommendations for the airline, which may help prevent maintenance-related delays, flight returns, or unpleasant aircraft-on-ground (AOG) situations. This will also enable the airline to turn unscheduled maintenance into planned maintenance.
How? Predictive maintenance uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to analyze thousands of parameters and look for correlations between parameters in more complex systems with multiple potential failure points. Because of the inbuilt intelligence, the system learns and can fine-tune algorithms and its predictive capabilities with every additional data package it analyses.
Another aspect of predictive maintenance that is becoming increasingly important is the need for data interoperability, especially when considering the growing number of components to which predictive maintenance is applied. Airlines tend to have many different system providers onboard the aircraft -cabin or otherwise- all of which are becoming “smarter” by producing more data for maintenance purposes.
Open and Shared Data is Critical
It’s highly ineffective for an airline to have multiple predictive maintenance systems. This is why it is essential for predictive maintenance providers to gather relevant data on the components of various suppliers. This requires a shift from the old paradigm of singular solutions where no data is generated or shared. Openness and a collaborative spirit are now needed for predictive maintenance.
Predictive maintenance may also take into consideration various environmental data. Think of the different operating environments for an airline’s air conditioning system on the ground in the Sahara or in Greenland. External factors such as temperature and humidity can impact air conditioning system usage and, subsequently, its maintenance requirements.
Predictive maintenance evidently has numerous benefits that could revolutionize airline operations. Here are our top three benefits of utilizing this powerful tool on airlines:
1) Save money
Use cases for a variety of components show the value of predictive maintenance is created through avoided aircraft turns, delays, cancellations, reduced maintenance costs, and lower spare parts stock for components.
Think of a premium-class seat that is inoperable because the recline mechanism is broken. If this issue was discovered just before the aircraft’s scheduled departure, the airline would have to block that seat, not only potentially costing the airline revenue and service costs, but also impacting a passenger’s trip. Predictive maintenance, however, could identify the faulty recline mechanism before it occurs, allowing operators to address the issue ahead of time during scheduled aircraft downtime.
2) Save time
One of the main purposes of predictive maintenance tools is to enable the airline to use their data more effectively. And the operational and maintenance data generated by today’s “smart” aircraft is orders of magnitude bigger than the previous generation.
Through the use of predictive maintenance technologies, airlines are now able to more easily navigate and use these huge amounts of data. These easy-to-use, platform-agnostic, web-based infrastructures enable the airline to create new types of maintenance reports in-house in an afternoon rather than waiting months for the component’s original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to create such reports.
3) Sustain the planet
Predictive maintenance can also have an impact on sustainability. Although they are not in the cabin, an example is the detection of ailerons -the little flaps on the edge of wings – being “out of rig.” Traditional aircraft maintenance will usually only detect an issue if the aileron has reached a minimum threshold for being out of rig, meaning that the aircraft could be flying with sub-optimally adjusted ailerons for a period of time. This won’t affect the aircraft safety, but it increases fuel consumption. Predictive maintenance enables an airline to detect an out-of-rig situation much sooner than the normal maintenance notification comes in.
The increasingly connected aircraft and the resulting exponential growth of data will enable airlines to generate information that is relevant to their operation and maintenance at a level that was unheard of a few years ago. This capability will create a substantial potential for the utilization of predictive maintenance to drastically enhance the airlines’ performance and significantly improve the passenger experience.