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Hub that can give MRO data extra bite

Posted 17 September 2019 · Add Comment

Control of the ‘big data’ generated by modern airliners is increasingly a sensitive issue in the maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) industry. Is how the data is used ultimately more important that who owns it? Chuck Grieve investigates.

The new technology associated with ‘big data’ is changing the dynamics in the MRO industry, and many in the established MRO community are uneasy about what they see.
They fear being denied access to the terabytes of information that modern airliners relay to base, which could affect the way they maintain customer fleets.
A recent initiative called Aviation DataHub seeks to prevent that. It was launched in March by Lufthansa Technik (LHT) as an independent company to give data owners efficient control over the collection, compilation and processing of their data across all relevant dimensions of an airline’s business, including technical, ground and flight operations.
“Airlines, in particular, will now be able to decide whether and with whom they want to share their data regarding the technical support of aircraft or the improvement of ground-handling and flight operations,” the company said.
Neutrality is key. The data hub “is open to anyone who wants to improve our industry – and that naturally includes our competitors”, said Dr Christian Langer, head of LHT digital fleet solutions.
Michael Britzke, co-managing director with Jan Stoevesand, said Aviation DataHub aims to become the data platform for the entire aviation industry. “Our mission is to leverage synergies in the digitalisation across the industry and ensure data protection and competition at the same time,” he said.
Stoevesand added: “It is our firm belief that all data that is owned by the operator should also remain under the control of the operator.” He was confident the interest shown in the concept before launch would translate into the active participation that will enable LHT to reduce its 100% stake in the new venture.
How quickly this happens is open to conjecture. Airlines appear to be more concerned with the traditional factors of cost, on-time performance, quality and consistency in their MRO outsourcing decisions than with access to data and data analytics, according to the 2019 Oliver Wyman MRO survey.
Data, its collection and use can be misunderstood. “People are not aware which data is important and which is not,” said Dr Johannes Bussmann, LHT chairman and chief executive. The problem is simply not making full use of the data that is available.
System suppliers have “invested billions” and need to review operational data from the current generation of aircraft and engines to guide the development of the next generation. “I think there could be a potential problem if everything ends up with the airframers,” he said.
Equally, airlines – especially smaller ones – could lose out on data-driven competitive advantages if decisions affecting their fleets’ technical reliability were being made by others.
What’s needed, he said, are benchmarks that cut across the industry. “At the end of the day, the target is to have aircraft as safe as possible. Everyone is working on this.
“I’m convinced that different engineers looking at the same problem from different perspectives helps advance safety and reliability. That’s why I think the focus should be on analysing the data in a smarter way, not who has access to it.
“Everybody has a role here. Airframers have a great deal of knowledge but we also know a lot about what happens during an aircraft’s operation, why it happens and so forth. Everyone should be involved in finding solutions to technical problems.”
Dr Bussmann believes the way forward is with a neutral system that would allow operators to access and analyse aircraft data, and share it with their chosen MROs. “We decided to establish Aviation DataHub for processing any kind of flight, MRO and context data,” he said. “It is designed to avoid a data monopoly.”
Lufthansa Technik isn’t looking to make money out of it, he said. The objective is to store data securely in a structured way. “From there, an airline can decide who the data goes to for analysis. Then we work together on whatever problems come up.”
Wide participation by original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) is important, he said, adding that it makes no sense to replace one set of information siloes with another. “It will be an open and global data hub in aviation and will fuel the digitalisation of our industry and related ones.”
This should be welcome news to Ajay Agrawal, president of aftermarket services for Collins Aerospace, who sees the need for an “aftermarket digital ecosystem” where the right data is interpreted and used correctly. Writing in MRO Network, he suggests the aftermarket needs better coordination to help customers realise the value of their big data.
While Collins and others are working to leverage multiple digital products to get the full benefit of predictive maintenance, “closer collaboration between leading players in the industry is needed to accelerate progress and bring actionable solutions to the customer faster”.
Among those leading players is Boeing, whose spokesman said: “Our industry has always shared information and collaborated on common issues, such as improving safety and environmental performance. We have found that deep knowledge of the entire ecosystem, including aircraft design and airplane operations, is an essential requirement to extract more meaningful results from raw data.”
Boeing has AnalytX, which the Seattle manufacturer says is a collection of services and solutions designed to help customers improve their situational awareness, performance and processes. Options include ‘DIY’ data analysis, an analytics consultancy and software powered by analytics.
Ultimately, says Boeing, ownership of the data depends on the type of data, what systems generate it and the contractual relationship around it. At Boeing, many of these issues, such as sharing airline operational data, are handled by voluntary contractual agreements between parties.
Under the long-established Boeing in-service data program, for example, customers and suppliers agree to share data to help improve Boeing aircraft and to allow airlines to benchmark their own operations to improve reliability. Boeing manages data access based on voluntary contractual agreements. Airlines can see operational data only from their own fleets, unless they agree to share data among themselves.
As to sharing data with a third party, such as an MRO facility, that’s up to an airline to decide. Boeing is not involved in that decision, and does not control access to that airline’s fleet data in these instances.
AJW chief executive, Christopher Whiteside, says data analytics has an impact on his company’s operation with improved decision-making throughout the supply chain. “We use the data to ensure we have the right part in the right place at the right time to maintain the highest standards of customer service,” he said.
AJW gathers data across various commercial and business aircraft platforms and has access to a large number of data sets and data collection points from many vendors, including its own MRO facility, AJW Technique. The company also has access to historical data at a component and serial number level that helps analyse the past operational environment of an individual part or component.
The specific business need determines what data to use for individual business decisions. In some cases, pooled transactional data is most appropriate; in others, where, for example, customers operate in different environments, it is not. Customers also have varying approaches to maintenance. Where this is the case, the data applied needs to be specific to the relevant circumstances.

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