Fluctuating oil prices, labor skills shortage and more complex assets entering service are all part and parcel of this competitive environment that is 2019. Despite the growth in air travel demand bringing opportunities for airline operators, they will face challenges along the way.
When looking at the technologies which will help operators maximize efficiency over the next year, I can see that reliability data, accelerated innovation through cloud deployments and emerging talent & knowledge tools will play a central role.
A central role for reliability data and predictive maintenance
According to 60 percent of respondents in industry research from IFS, one of the top pain points in commercial aviation is operational availability. The disruption caused by having aircraft on the ground means knock-on effects and schedule delays—with parts and time costing big dollars.
The pressure to source spare parts at short notice is often a cause of cascading maintenance schedule changes and expensive emergency parts sourcing. To achieve improved operational availability, we must begin in the maintenance planning process. Here, improved access and analysis of reliability data will provide the key and enable operators to better predict when a part is likely to malfunction or fail.
A clearer picture of when a component is likely to break means getting a longer window—as much as two to three weeks—to consider the most cost-effective part replacement and sourcing options. This is why in 2019 I think we can expect to see airline operators move much faster to implement these predicative capabilities and attempt to avoid the costs of aircraft on the ground and the impact it has on fleet utilization.
Faster innovation will have to come from the cloud
Operators are under a lot of pressure to innovate.This means adopting technologies to improve the passenger experience, such as in-flight entertainment, or to drive greater efficiencies in operational processes.
But here’s why operators can sometimes suffer from a bit of an innovation dilemma. The desire to innovate might be there, but regulatory constraints and the length of time taken to approve and integrate new solutions make them anything but agile. Paper-based processes are still in play across large parts of the maintenance process!
Operators are starting to see cloud software as a necessary tool to cut delivery times for new capabilities, as well as mitigate the cost of purchasing and managing on-premises technology. For the many new capabilities which operators are looking to onboard, Software-as-a-Service will be the primary delivery model, and in the coming year we will see commercial operators connect more areas of the enterprise to the cloud to speed up innovation and deployments.
Securing knowledge transfer, preparing the next generation
With labor costs the second-largest operating expense for airlines after fuel, operators are looking to ensure workers have all the knowledge, tools and support possible. Robots are not going to replace engineers and other professionals this year, but the work force is aging and there is a widely recognized skills gap in the commercial aviation industry.
This is a big driver behind why we are starting to see novel approaches to tech-enabled knowledge transfer. Innovative ways to take knowledge from a relatively small number of maintenance experts and successfully disseminate it across the enterprise are going to get more and more attention in 2019.
One such approach is to use augmented reality help make expert knowledge travel faster and further than previously possible. IFS is already working to deliver IFS Applications on Microsoft HoloLens headsets to enable experienced technicians to remotely support newer recruits—an example of one-to-many knowledge transfer—making it easier for recruits to learn and receive on-the-job training. Looking longer-term, incorporating asset history into maintenance support systems will ensure that lessons learned stay learned and component history can be tracked.
A critical year for efficient service delivery
This will be a critical year for operators to improve the operational efficiencies that impact how much time aircraft spend on the ground and keep flight schedules on-track. Reliability analysis, cloud delivery, and tech-driven talent management all have an important role to play in 2019 and can act as real differentiators for operators. Taking advantage of disruption means prioritizing the technology which will improve the speed and quality of service delivery.
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