One of the aerospace industry’s major suppliers is embracing big data to help operators, as Mark Broadbent explains
TECHNOLOGY HONEYWELL GODIRECT
Today, organisations in numerous high-value industries handle ever-larger amounts of information, because of the growth in connectivity. This means big data, which broadly refers to the gathering, storage and usage of the information, has become a big business trend. With the complexity of aircraft and their systems, it is little surprise to see aerospace industry powerhouses bringing out new products that help customers manage and interpret the huge amounts of data they now have to handle.
Earlier in 2017, Airbus and Boeing brought out new big data resources, respectively called Skywise and AnalyTX (Boeing has also established a new dedicated business unit called Global Services to strengthen its big data offering), and GE Aviation offers its Predix digital services platform.
Honeywell is another major OEM making strides in big data. This company, whose products feature in military, commercial, business aviation and private aircraft, has long offered comprehensive support to operators: its Flight Support Services division has for over 30 years provided VHF and satellite communications to datalinkequipped aircraft worldwide.
However, according to Nate Turner, Product Manager for GoDirect in the Flight Support Services Team at Honeywell Aerospace (and a former American Eagle ERJ-145 pilot and still a licensed commercial pilot), the company is seeking to go further.
Turner told AIR International: “Honeywell up until now has really been an industrial company, producing hardware. We’re trying to move into being a software company where we can analyse the data that’s coming in from our multiple products out there.” The result is a platform called GoDirect, which is designed to be a single support source for flight planning, operations, maintenance and ground handling for operators.
GoDirect is an app-based system that links to web-connected systems through the aircraft interface device using on board wi-ficonnectivity. Pilots and engineers then use a tablet such as an iPad or a Microsoft Surface to access the system; no software update to an aircraft is required.
Honeywell is probably best known for manufacturing auxiliary power units (APUs), but it also supplies other hardware and software for commercial, military and private aircraft, including avionics, environmental control systems, actuators, lighting and wheels.
GoDirect is designed to assist operators more easily access information about these systems. For instance, there’s an app that shows the performance of the APU and lets operators see performance trends flight-by-flight and assess wear and tear. In a similar vein, a separate app called MyMaintainer presents performance data that enables a maintainer to, Turner said, “see all the different fault codes for an aircraft and to better see the trends in their activities”.
All GoDirect data is sent to Honeywell’s Global Data Centre in Phoenix, Arizona, which operates 24 hours a day and gathers information from all the company’s multiple product lines. Honeywell data scientists and aviation professionals based there analyse the information collected to support operators.
Turner said Honeywell providing a support product for the systems the company has itself supplied is a key advantage of GoDirect: “We know our hardware. We understand the FMS [flight management system], the avionics, the APU and their internal workings [and] how they interconnect. We understand the data and we can make better predictions from it.”
GoDirect also features apps that draw information from the FMS which flight crews can use to support flight planning, operations and optimisation.
A Weather Information Service app shows up-to-date weather data en route. Turner said this app enables a crew, “to see a live picture of the weather ahead hundreds of miles down path, typically beyond what an onboard radar will show the pilot”.
A Flight Preview app uses Federal Aviation Administration data to display the flight path ahead, including waypoints and vertical and lateral profiling, and the state of the runway at the destination.
Another app, Fuel Efficiency, tracks fuel consumption during the flight. According to Turner, this app is used by more than 35 airlines and aboard more than 2,100 aircraft.
Pilots can also access an app called MyGDC, which enables them to use a tablet to create and file flight plans, customise, email and download trip kits, and access weather updates. Business aircraft pilots can use the Pilot Gateway app, which gives instant access to dedicated resources for pilots of corporate aircraft fitted with Honeywell products and services.
Making use of data
An issue with big data in any industry, but especially one as data-rich as aerospace, is making use of data. There’s little point having lots of data if it doesn’t have a purpose or if it’s too complex to make something of it. Honeywell has tried, in Turner’s words, to “give operators more actionable insight” with GoDirect, rather than just lots of raw data. For example, the Fuel Efficiency app, which displays fuel burn, shows specifics such as usage at cruise altitude and even the impact of when the flaps are deployed on approach. Turner said crews can therefore decide how to configure the aircraft during flight to improve efficiency.
Turner gave other instances of practical benefits. He said: “On a flight up to Idaho, I was able to see [from the Weather Information Service app] that between 32,000ft [9,753m] and 34,000ft [10,363m] there was going to be clear-air turbulence.”
As air traffic control cleared him initially up to 32,000ft, there were a few bumps. Turner said he knew from the app there would be no turbulence above 36,000ft (10,972m), so he asked control for clearance up to that altitude. At that level the bumps subsided.
Of the connected APU app, Turner said: “We have the ability to use analytics to predict when faults might occur, so the airlines themselves can predict when to take an aircraft off the line and do the repair proactively instead of reactively. We’re able to make better predictions. We did a test with our connected APU product with Cathay Pacific. There was a 35% reduction in operational disruptions and less than a 1% false positive rate.”
Returns like these will likely continue to create demand from operators for products providing deep analytical insights. In turn, the business opportunities stimulated by this demand will likely mean the major aerospace OEMs like Honeywell will continue to develop services managing and analysing big data.
Turner observed: “Connectivity is only going to grow. The data coming off and on to aircraft will also grow, but that’s just data. It’s about providing insights to do something with it. That’s where the trend is going. We’ve got to tie the benefit to operators.”