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The aviation sector has been faced with major ongoing challenges through 2021 as numerous Covid-19 variants continue to cut passenger numbers, disrupt operations, and cause staffing issues. While there has been a significant uptick in comparison to 2020, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) reported that 2021 has seen a 49% reduction in passenger numbers from 2019, leading to an estimated USD $324 billion dollar loss of airline gross passenger operating revenues.

However, the prediction for the market remains one of positivity and recovery in 2022, as passenger numbers and capacity are predicted to increase by as much as 47%, allowing in turn for profits to return. The last 24-months have clearly shown that neither airlines or maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) providers can rely on past successes. Instead, they need to proactively look to adapt and futureproof their business end to end. Here are three key themes the world of aviation needs to address in order to do so.

#1 Out with the old and in with the cloud – the largest airlines will move away from outdated aircraft maintenance systems dropping legacy system market share from 37% to as little as 21% by 2027 as cloud software adoption continues to accelerate.

First, let’s take a serious look at the existing software infrastructure. Many airline operators and MROs still use legacy software which not only reduces efficiency, but also doesn’t allow for true fleet oversight. Recent research from ARC found that the industry is poised for change: “with the overall trend by the major airline carriers to move to enterprise level core MRO solutions that are more comprehensive in scope, this should afford an opportunity for those providers whose MRO solutions meet these enterprise core requirements to replace legacy MRO systems currently used by these carriers.”

As airlines begin to look at technology as a key dependency to their recovery plans, they will find that cutting-edge aviation maintenance software sits firmly at the center of those plans. Why? Because this technology can unlock the potential of efficiency gains that allow for the better management of fleet configurations, modernizing and optimizing maintenance planning, and standardizing reporting across an airline’s operations, to deliver insights across the entire value chain.

Cloud solutions also allow for scalable growth across MRO operations globally for any airline to save both time and costs. These factors allow in turn for better financial performance visibility, greater efficiencies and more opportunities for cost saving—and the good news is unlocking these benefits doesn’t necessarily require large scale digital overhauls or major IT investment.

#2 Predictive maintenance is lined up for take-off – the number of airlines undertaking predictive maintenance programs will grow to 15% of top airlines in 2022

Truly predictive maintenance is here to stay, and its accelerated adoption will be a key driver of digital transformation in the aviation industry throughout 2022. Before the pandemic it was estimated that as little as 10% of top airlines had implemented a predictive maintenance program. IFS recently conducted an opinion poll during an aviation industry webinar. When asked what aspect of digital transformation would lead to the greatest ROI, the top answer was predictive maintenance.

By using multivariable predictive maintenance forecasting algorithms – powered through advanced artificial intelligence (AI) – an original equipment manufacturer (OEM), airline, or MRO can in turn collect accurate and real time information of the health of every on-board system and every sensor-connected component in their fleet. This practice is well established for engines, relatively self-contained units, which can produce a 30% performance efficiency gain over traditional analytics techniques and allows for a maintenance team to safely and efficiently service and maintain aircraft components while maximizing their life and minimizing aircraft downtime.

Outside of just being applied to engines, another emergent trend is moving from designed algorithms to advanced machine learning models for training the AI, resulting in better results across more aircraft systems. IFS is already piloting this predictive approach with Icelandair, as the airline builds out strategy to be able to see the maintenance predictions down to the serial number of its aircraft components. By analyzing data patterns, it can be seen that an individual part is expected to fail within a certain timeframe.  This information is then proactively fed to the Icelandair planning team or maintenance control for further action.

By embracing the predictive maintenance opportunities AI offers, maintenance can be forecast forward to better predict failures and allow needed maintenance to be scheduled when convenient. This will have advantages not just in efficiency terms, but also translates in passenger satisfaction and revenue as more flights fly on time, every time. I expect these types of programs will become significantly more of common across airlines in the year ahead and beyond.

#3 The first commercial Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) aircraft type certificates will be granted by the FAA in 2022 – as the market is due to grow sevenfold by 2035

Another key consideration in 2022 is the emergence of electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) vehicles, driving the rise of Advanced Air Mobility (AAM). Deloitte has recently reported that its emergence will be transformative and extremely lucrative, becoming a USD $115 billion dollar industry by 2035 and employing north of 280,000 people. AAM will usher in a new age of goods and cargo delivery and short haul and regional commercial travel and commuting. This will involve the use of technologies such as drones, and electric or hydrogen powered eVTOLs that can service destinations within a city from out-of-town airfields and nodes.

AAM is gaining traction both privately and publicly, and investment is increasing. NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have launched a joint AAM National Campaign to propel a positive narrative to foster favorable public opinion and to explore the issues to make sure the technology is “safe, sustainable, accessible, and affordable”. The first certifications from the FAA to companies manufacturing commercial AAM type aircraft are expected later this year.

AAM will yield many advantages to the operators that embrace it. Not only will it fuel a sustainable revolution within aviation, but will allow for the creation of a more tightknit and advanced ecosystem that will allow a single software or service to be utilized to manage these assets from design and manufacture, through operations to maintenance.

As commercial aviation recovers from pandemic, industry recovery powered by technology and opportunity is on the horizon

As 2022 begins, aviation will face a new dawn. As pandemic pressures begin to subside and flights begin to increase, towards pre-pandemic levels there will also be an increasing pressure for businesses to automate and digitize. Companies can find new efficiency savings and allow planes to stay in the skies longer than ever before through the advances in state-of-the-art maintenance software and AI-powered predictive maintenance.

Furthermore, new markets are set to open as AAM initiatives look to redefine air travel. This will not kill off traditional aviation, but rather augment it by offering a brave new world to existing airline operators and MROs who can find new markets and expand operations to new customer bases.

By embracing technology, airline operators, OEMs and MROs can maximize the opportunity to recover from the stresses of the pandemic.

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