Big Data in Use: An Engine Manufacturer, Airframer and Airline Weigh In

Monday, January 15, 2018

Enhanced technology is playing a key role in today’s aircraft selection and as technology matures, expectations regarding big data services increase and collaborations among the airframer and engine manufacturers grow.

Pratt & Whitney, Bombardier and Air Baltic took to the stage to discuss the use of big data within the aviation industry during a panel discussion at MRO Europe in London. The panelists discussed the opportunities and challenges associated with incorporating this enhanced technology into maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) operations.

“We have great expertise and great knowledge, but it’s the latest technologies and immediate access to more data that is bringing us together to determine how we can bring the most value to our customers,” said Karine Lavoie-Tremblay, associate director, engine health management, Pratt & Whitney. “We say that each airline customer is like a snowflake – they’re each unique and have different needs. We want to be quickly accessible and ready with solutions to make sure we meet their needs.”

Bob Duffield, senior director, product performance, Bombardier Commercial Aircraft, said engine manufacturers have led this industry for years in developing the means for access of data off their engines.

“We looked at the technology that’s available now -- predominantly led by engine and avionics OEMs -- and saw the opportunity to really look at data collection and diagnostic capability at an airframe level. With Pratt & Whitney and ourselves, what we’ve been doing is creating a secure environment in which the data flows through to the customer,” said Duffield.

“The Bombardier FlightLink system offers bi-directional communications continuously in-flight via ACARS through our Real Time Monitoring (RTM) System, and On-Ground One Cellular/Wi-Fi Data Management System (DMS). Based on current systems designs and customer feedback, we came to realize that there was no single turn-key solution on the market, and therefore, with Pratt & Whitney’s collaboration, we developed a system that features flexibility and efficient reporting, along with a high degree of security and confidentiality.

“The system provides flexibility on how data is managed on the aircraft and how it’s transmitted. It also affords the customer the flexibility to use the data and control what data is made available. It therefore gives airlines the ability to determine what data is important to them and how they want to use it.

“System efficiency ensures that in-flight reporting is optimized to manage real-time data requirements at manageable costs, while the download of ground-only accessible data is managed to ensure that downloads only capture data that’s required for an airline’s customizable reports. It’s easy to dump gigabytes of data, but if you don’t need it, it’s useless.

“We’re happy to report that our customers are beginning to experience the benefits of FlightLink, with both the RTM System and the Data Management System,” added Duffield.

Lavoie-Tremblay noted that “silos of expertise” exist within airlines, airframers, other companies in the industry and within Pratt & Whitney. You need to connect them to extract value, Lavoie-Tremblay said.

“Earlier this year, we launched EngineWise™, which represents the entire portfolio we offer our customers,” Lavoie-Tremblay said. “It’s a journey of learning to make sure that we develop the right customer solutions. As a result, we’ve been able to come up with solutions in days and weeks, versus months and years, just because of the access to data. It’s how we are going to connect together and unlock the true value for our customers.”

Bjorn Stickling, general manager, diagnostics, prognostics and health management group for Pratt & Whitney Canada, said the company has been steadily connecting their products since the early 2000s. “We developed our FAST systems that allow us to connect products to be agile. You need to create value at the beginning of the customer relationship to establish a trusting relationship,” he said.

Maija Ludborža, flight data monitoring Analyst, Air Baltic, said that prior to the Pratt & Whitney-powered Bombardier C Series, the airline had a small amount of data, which was easily worked within the company. Now that there are 50 to 100 times more parameters and more reports, it’s not possible to work alone. “We need to work with engine providers because it’s impossible to work through that amount of data without guidelines [by ourselves],” she said.

Ludborža went on to discuss how access to more data has benefited the airline.

“We definitely see positive time-management moments,” Ludborža said. “From the moment we get a fault message [in flight] the planning process is already established. We know if we need to take actions now, or if it can wait. We have information provided by Pratt & Whitney and we have corrective actions already planned for the moment the aircraft is on the ground.”

Bombardier and FlightLink are trademarks of Bombardier Inc. or its subsidiaries.