2020 Commercial Aviation Predictions

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Today almost every organization and industry is ramping up to become more environmentally-conscious and technologically-advanced. Large-fleet commercial operators and aviation MRO providers are not immune from this pressure.

While they must make use of the latest technology available to enhance their service and stay competitive, this will need to be balanced alongside meeting industry sustainability targets. Best efforts are no longer enough—operators and MROs alike must cater for evolving customer demands and work towards achieving sustainability expectations today. Here are three actions that I think will enable them to strike the right balance in 2020.

1. Reignite predictive maintenance strategies with AI and ML

The goal for commercial airlines is to keep customers happy, so ensuring flight delays and cancellations are at a minimum is paramount. But when you consider the number of aircraft airlines have within their fleets – and the variety of models – when mistakes surface, finding out why can be a complex challenge.

This is where Artificial Intelligence (AI) in predictive maintenance will be vital in the next 12 months. AI technology has the capability to streamline the time-consuming task of ingesting, aggregating and analyzing raw data transmitted from aircraft. Recent industry examples of Delta and Lufthansa Industry Solutions integrating AI and machine learning (ML) into their aircraft maintenance strategies demonstrate the shift organizations are now making towards a digital and predictive-focused maintenance approach.

It’s the level of service accuracy and the time and labor resources saved that make predictive maintenance strategies so desirable. Nick Ward, Head of OEM Digital Solutions at aerospace engine maker and IFS customer Rolls-Royce, discussed these benefits during the 2019 IFS World Conference, “We have a sophisticated simulation engine which looks across our entire fleet. It looks at all the risk drivers attached to engines within that fleet—things that might force the engine off the wing. We simulate those engines through their lives against different scenarios, different kinds of operating profiles that might be flown. We get a very accurate – greater than 90% accuracy – on exactly when any given engine is likely to be forced off wing.”

2020 Commercial Aviation Predictions

2. Get to grips with drone technology in the maintenance arena

Automated drone technology has the potential to complete end-to-end visual maintenance inspections in less than an hour – a stark contrast to manual inspections that can take up to six – and this technology is now being used to identify structural damage and assess paint quality, markings and lightning strikes. Drone-supported aviation maintenance will not only help organizations digitally transform and drive service improvements, it will also play a significant role in helping mitigate the shortage of skilled maintenance technicians in the sector.

Although challenges to its adoption exist in the form of attaining full certification for inspections and ensuring images are captured accurately and consistently, the efficiency and productivity gains associated with drone technology mean its potential is huge. Commercial aviation operators and MROs should keep a close eye on developments this year to keep pace with competitors who are integrating drone technology to augment their maintenance workforce.

2020 Commercial Aviation Predictions

3. Pay close attention to sustainability expectations

A record number of passengers are forecast to fly in 2020, but growing concerns over the environmental impact this is having has put pressure on airlines to reduce their carbon footprint.

Flygskam – or “flight shaming” – has come to the fore and received worldwide recognition to encourage people to take alternative methods of transport to flying, while the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has gone on record about its aim for one billion passengers to have flown on a sustainable aviation fuel-blend flight by 2025. While sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is already helping fuel some flights today, production will need to significantly increase if the IATA is to achieve its goal in the next five years.

One breakthrough we did see last year was the unveiling of a prototype of the first commercial all-electric commuter aircraft, “Alice”. Designed and built by Israeli firm Eviation, the aircraft is expected to enter service in 2022, and IFS customer Cape Air has already placed an encouraging “double-digit” order. Fleets consisting of lighter, fully electrified aircraft may be some way off, but the progress of aircraft technology such as Alice highlights the changes airlines are starting to make to improve their sustainability credentials.

Lay the foundations for long-term commercial aviation success today

The next 12 months represent an opportunity for significant progress in the commercial aviation sector. Technological and environmental considerations will only grow in importance for airlines and fleet operators into the decade and that’s why it’s critical organizations put the necessary building blocks in place this year to evolve their maintenance strategies and keep pace with an evolving commercial aviation landscape.

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