In 1927, pilot Charles Lindbergh wowed onlookers when he landed at Le Bourget Airport upon completing the first nonstop trans-Atlantic flight in history. More than 90 years later, spectacles still abound at this legendary site, chief among them the Paris Air Show, the largest annual aerospace-related gathering in the world. When viewers peer into the skies this year, they won’t be marveling at a single pilot’s derring-do but instead will see how billions of data points teeming through each aircraft can transform the aerospace industry.
GE Aviation is rolling out a host of new partnerships and innovations at the show this week that herald the digital age of aviation. It’s an era that empowers pilots to make better decisions; mechanics to operate more efficiently; leasing companies to assess the soundness of each aircraft more swiftly. Most importantly, it will allow every byte of relevant data to interact with one another to improve air travel across the board. Though aviation experts have waxed poetic about this digital moment for many years, the 2019 Paris Air Show may just be the year it finally comes to fruition. As Jon Dunsdon, chief technology officer at GE Aviation Digital, says: “We’ve had a vision, and now we’re actually executing a plan.”
That plan starts with the pilots, who can have a huge impact on an airline’s cost savings, fuel efficiency, flight schedules and, most importantly, safety. Most useful is the suite of GE Aviation digital tools, including Event Measurement Services (EMS), flight analytics and fuel-efficiency services, which gives pilots the information they need to make the best decisions. Swiss International Air Lines will also begin trying out FlightPulse, a flight analytics tool that helps pilots analyze data and reduce the amount of fuel they burn. “What programs like these do is help the individual see the impact of what they are doing,” says Dunsdon, pointing to the 2,400 Qantas pilots who noticed a change in their habits while testing FlightPulse. “Data can be a huge motivator,” he says.
Visitors to the GE “chalet” at the show will get to play around with the newest preflight version of FlightPulse. They can pretend to prepare for an upcoming flight, using the app to tap into the collective knowledge of other pilots who’ve flown the same routes and share which runways require more fuel or where safety concerns might crop up.
Data will soon change how maintenance hangars operate at the Italian aerospace and defense company Leonardo, also present in Paris. Part of its service is to ensure that every part on a British military aircraft is in tiptop shape. So, Leonardo announced plans to work closely with Digital Works, GE Aviation’s digital service team, to build a new system that streamlines the process. Soon maintenance workers will be able to keep tabs on the precise location of each part within the facility, how long the maintenance will take and — if there’s a holdup — what’s stopping it. By making its maintenance process as transparent as cellophane, Leonardo will find ways to save money and operate more efficiently.
Similarly, Avation PLC is about to pick up the operational pace of its aircraft leasing business. Just as car rental companies run through a checklist of mileage, oil levels and tires on every returned car, the Singapore-based company must review the condition of its aircraft at the end of a multiyear lease. This checklist arrives in the form of pallets and pallets of paper, however, and Avation PLC must sort through all of it and add it to its system so that the next lessee knows exactly what it’s getting. The process can take up several months, during which time the company is forced to sit on a $100 million asset that isn’t earning a penny.
To handle those records digitally, Avation recently announced plans to implement the AirVault Asset Transfer System, a program that automatically maintains a cache of data, ensuring that each record complies to government standards. The new system will save Avation an estimated $125,000 per aircraft and shave off a month of turnaround time.
Finally, the GE Aviation company Avionica acts as the lynchpin to connect these digital capabilities together. The business produces avionic devices that collect and transmit data from the airplane to the cockpit, maintenance hangar, leasing office, control tower or wherever other flight data is needed. European regulators gave Avionica the green light to install three of its devices on more than 300 European aircraft models. In the United States, the FAA will now allow Avionica’s network server, known as aviONS, to operate on its cybersecure network to safely transmit data regarding airline information, passengers and GPS locations.
With each of these digital pieces in place, GE Aviation is poised to achieve its larger goal. “We want to create a comprehensive single version of what’s happened to the aircraft since it left the factory,” Dunsdon says. Living in a world where an aircraft can tell its own story to create safer, faster and cleaner flights: That’s a future as dazzling as the one Lindbergh promised when he coasted in from New York City.