Remote Engine Monitoring

AMTs that maintain corporate and business aircraft are responsible for some very important people and very expensive aviation assets. These corporate AMTs generally work in small corporate flight departments or for individual owners and operators.

Back in the day, my best friend, Larry Watkins was one of those corporate AMTs. We met in the Air Force, attended the same AMT school, and after graduating Watkins took a job with one of the local oil companies, while I hired on with an airline. I worked in an environment that was rich with maintenance decision-making tools and resources. I had access to technical experts in MOC, industry product engineers, and onsite support staff from the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), as well as all the other senior AMTs and managers with years of experience. By contrast, Watkins was a one-man maintenance department. He maintained his aircraft when it was in home base, and often flew as the crew chief when it was away on business trips.

Watkins ‘s job pressure came from being the solitary AMT with 100 percent maintenance responsibility for not only the beautiful aircraft, but also the corporate family that used the plane, including not only the flight crew and owners, but sometimes friends and family members as well. One of Watkins‘s main worries was aircraft reliability and utility. I often wished he had access to some of my resources, but that was not possible at the time.

Now manufacturers have recognized this business need, and have stepped up with products to support the maintenance of corporate and business aircraft engines.

Diagnostic service
At the October 2008 NBAA conference, Honeywell first presented its Remote Aircraft Diagnostic Service (Zing™) for aircraft equipped with the TFE731 engines. Zing is a service package that includes avionics hardware, wireless connectivity and transmission, plus customer access to a Honeywell portal, as well as support from both computer and human experts. Granted this is not a new concept — the airlines have used remote engine monitoring and trend analysis for years. However, what Honeywell did was integrate remote monitoring with current wireless technology, along with a third-party engine monitoring service, thus making remote monitoring accessible and affordable for the smaller corporate aviation market. These integrated systems provide corporate and business AMTs with more decision-making and support resources. Honeywell’s and other similar OEM systems, when implemented, can dramatically improve the AMT and aviation department’s maintenance effectiveness and bottom line.

Streamlining maintenance
These systems significantly streamline the maintenance process for the AMT by reducing the time, effort, and procedures required to maintain their aircraft engines. This is accomplished by reducing data downloads to minutes, thus allowing more frequent downloads, as well as providing for more data to be sent. Increasing the frequency and amount of downloads means more data for analyzing trends, thus reducing the risk of performing unscheduled maintenance. Further, the download and analysis can be completed anywhere through the use of wireless devices. According to Jim Beasley, Honeywell field service engineer for engines, APUs, and ECS, the Honeywell Zing system “significantly improves engine reliability and utility” in two ways:

First by helping owners, operators, and maintainers continuously monitor their engine performance parameters. Per Beasley, this function facilitates both situational awareness and decision-making. “Users can put engines on watch if they see some degradation in performance. If the trend lines warrant, the aircraft can be brought in for engine tests or maintenance long before an event or hard shutdown.”

The second benefit is that the system facilitates accurate troubleshooting. “Each time there is any weight on the wheels, the Zing system sends a load of engine data to the owners or operators, tech services, or to an analyst. Within minutes after an engine fault or shutdown occurs, with the push of a button and a few mouse clicks, analysis can be made, and other experts notified. With the Zing system, the AMT now has expert help to accurately identify root causes to engine events and perform or recommend the most appropriate corrective action. This is particularly useful in locations that have limited maintenance support. Having access to detailed data vastly improves the maintainer’s troubleshooting efficiency.”

Customer feedback
Customers like Herman “Fred” White, an aircraft maintenance manager, enthusiastically endorses the remote diagnostic system. Per White, “The Honeywell Zing service works great; it’s easy to use and it saves us about one hour of labor for each download. The ability to see up-to-date engine performance trends and faults globally gives us an added measure of confidence and peace of mind.”

According to White, “If one of our engines has a fault, both myself and a Honeywell tech rep get a buzz on our cell phones, and within a few minutes we know what is wrong, how serious it is, what we need to do, and can get our resources moving in the right direction to quickly fix the problem. This system can help the flight crews understand engine faults. This helps maintenance, the flight crews, and passengers make better flight dispatch decisions.”

From my perspective, the big benefit for the AMTs is the access to an expert performance support system available 24/7 to improve the efficiency of their troubleshooting. Honeywell states that this system can reduce troubleshooting time by as much as 60 percent.

White agrees with this figure as well. “The cost of this system is small compared to the data that you get and time you save. You may go for months and or longer without seeing some problems, and you have a tendency to forget details,” White explains.

“This system helps you focus and move down the right troubleshooting path quickly without having to go back and refresh your memory by reviewing maintenance manuals,” White says.
This time savings is realized every time the list of recommended tests is prepared, and the most logical corrective action identified within minutes. Further, information is presented in an on-screen “Dashboard,” along with the appropriate maintenance manual and illustrated parts catalog pages, all of which can be shared with technical experts in field services, product engineers, and onsite support staff from the OEM, as well as the experts at Honeywell or its partner Jet-Care that provides worldwide engine trend analysis.

Equipment and training
The onboard avionics equipment required for remote diagnosis are the Engine Condition Trend Monitoring Data Down Loader (ECTM-DD) and remote control panel. These components weigh less than 4 pounds, and support up to three digital electronic engine controllers (DEEC) simultaneously. The onboard systems work collaboratively with system components located on the ground.

The system is operated by the push of one button and a few clicks of a mouse. The ECTM-DD gathers and transmits data when there is weight on wheels and the button on a remote panel is pressed by the pilots, maintenance, or any other qualified person. According to White, one of the challenges of this current system is repeatedly reminding the flight crews to remember to push that one button to keep the data refreshed!

Stephen Eagleton, the product manager for Zing Intelligent Monitoring system, affirms that the system is straightforward and easy to use, and a 10- to 15-minute training session is usually all that is required to get customers up and running.

Most AMTs can operate the Dashboard without training and can quickly navigate to their customized Dashboard with a few clicks. Once there, the AMT answers four simple questions: What happened? How bad is it? What do I need to do? How do I fix it? From this data a work plan is created with recommended tests, the most probable root cause, and a suggested corrective action plan that includes likelihood percentages, part name, and number. “With the detailed work plans the system provides,” Eagleton states, “maintainers can now defend their recommendations and actions to their CEOs and the accountants.”

In other words, good data helps AMTs improve the reliability and utility of the aircraft, and build the confidence of their owners and operators. I asked Eagleton to look in his crystal ball and tell me about the next generation product in the pipeline. Per Eagleton, the next version of the ECTM-DD that is projected to be out mid-year 2010 will be automatic without the need for anyone to press that one button. (Did you catch that, Fred?)

My hat goes off to the many AMTs who support corporate and business aircraft. They deserve support and assistance from all available resources, including the latest maintenance technology. For all the Larry Watkins of the world, these systems will change the way they work and think.

Whether you are a lone ranger or part of the maintenance organization that supports a large corporation’s fleet, AMTs now can have access to empirical data that will let you know the real-time health of your engines. As maintainers, we know that even the most well-made parts will eventually wear out, and Murphy’s Law will remain a constant in our industry. However, by having technology that provides us with the ability to plan ahead, so that when our airplanes break in those faraway places, we can implement the right fix that gets the aircraft back in service faster than ever before.

These remote diagnostic tools won’t ever replace the knowledge AMTs develop through real-world experience. They will provide a solid base for a total maintenance system that is far superior to the way engines have been cared for in the past.

Charles Chandler is AMT’s Field Editor. A Texas-based A&P, he received his training at Spartan College of Aeronautics.

Who is watching your engines?

Next time you fly on a major airline, take a glance out the window, and take comfort in knowing the health of the engine is monitored by a bunch of very smart people using some very smart technology. I should be watched this closely. Airlines have been using engine condition monitoring systems for a while. Users are typically the main line air carriers, whose engineers oversee large fan engines. These engineers constantly review data, to catch any decline in engine performance before the flight crews receive indications or experience an in-flight event.  In today’s economy, managing the cost of engine maintenance and spares is critical. Engine performance, fuel burn, line replaceable units (LRU) cycles, and shop visits all equal costs. Engine monitoring systems can help avoid expensive, unscheduled hot section overhauls or major engine failure. While many airlines have their own engine monitoring systems, many look to the engine OEMs for support. 

For those who attended the MRO AMERICAS conference last April in Grapevine, TX, I hope you attended Frank Albert’s, Pratt & Whitney’s general manager of engine management programs, presentation titled OEMRO: Leveraging Technology for Service Application.

P&W has a robust engine maintenance solution that includes an engine management program (EMP). P&W’s EMP uses the Advanced Diagnostics & Engine Management (ADEM) system which includes web-enabled software tools. With this system, customers transmit data by the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System, email or manually through the web. Data is processed 24/7, and sends alerts to customers. Data can also be accessed via a secure, customized web portal.

Another advantage P&W EMP offers engine owner/operators is the tailoring of an EMP to match their fleet and budget. P&W can provide expert data analysis, reporting, and recommendations provided by a dedicated point of contact, or customers can choose to monitor their fleet themselves leveraging ADEM tools including trend and aberration reports, fault diagnostics, and fleet watch lists, among others. EMP service options move up from there to full program management that covers engine removal forecasts, spare engine support, maintenance planning, and engine overhauls at P&W facilities.

In talking with Albert, I asked him about the biggest benefit he sees for customers using P&W EMP services. “Customers can detect small problems before they become big problems,” Albert explains. “Customers can be proactive and manage engine maintenance cycles, keeping their engines on the wings longer.” Having worked full engine overhauls, I know that when the engine is on the wing it’s making money. When off, the costs start adding up!

Ultimately, the impact of OEM systems like P&W’s EMP service is that engineering and production control staff can produce very precise fleet maintenance plans and accurate bills of work. These are handed off to AMTs to effectively maintain, repair, and overhaul engines. The enhanced team effort, combined with engine monitoring technology, has almost completely eliminated catastrophic engine failures, as well as extending the utility and reliability of the modern fan engine.
— Charles Chandler