Pushing the Envelope for Aircraft Health Monitoring and Maintenance Technology

The inbound plane is 15 minutes out from the gate, so you pick up your tablet computer and touch the icon for that flight. It displays the performance data of that aircraft, and you see exactly what needs to be worked on while that aircraft is at the...


Some airlines and MROs are starting to partner with aircraft maintenance training schools, to help develop the curriculum, sponsor scholarships, and recruit to meet the increasing demand for skilled aircraft maintenance technicians. There have been some articles in recent issues of Aircraft Maintenance Technology covering the aging aircraft maintenance technician global population, and looking at ways to get young people to consider this as an exciting career opportunity. But the numbers are still not keeping pace with the predicted volume of aircraft. And competition for the same types of recruits is still heavy from other related occupations, such as NASCAR and Indy race car circuits, to name a few.

 

The regulators

The governing regulatory bodies are also concerned about the pace of moving forward with the innovating technology. The ability to modify aircraft maintenance check times and content, based on actual performance data of components on the aircraft is trying to shift the paradigm from “one size fits all” aircraft general maintenance programs to customized checks for each tail number. Lufthansa Technik also sees checks based on areas of the aircraft or specific to a certain component chapter. “We will have a check time around everything, say like gears. Or maybe not just gears, but also hydraulics – and the work is ‘close by’ [in relation to its location on the aircraft] so the time to prepare other work is decreased,” proposes Giljohann.

Boeing has seen some regulatory changes driven from the operator’s side: “I think of the analogy with what we saw with iPads in the flight deck,” says Linda Hapgood, program manager Airplane Health Solutions, Boeing Commercial Aviation Services. “There was no way that we would be allowed to have a device with airport maps in the flight deck, connected to the avionics systems. And here we are, we’ve got iPads and they’re not certified equipment, but providing fantastic data. It took a couple of airlines to push the envelope and push through the change in the industry.”

That is where the airlines, supported by their MROs, and together with the data from the OEMs, will play a pivotal role in changing the way maintenance is planned and done today. With enough data to substantiate removals and component life, hard times could be expanded or eliminated all together. “We have the capability to look at the data and analyze when it may trend away from normal,” states O’Dell. “We are able to see if it was caused by the action of the pilot, such as setting the parking brake in flight, which causes an annunciation. This allows Gulfstream to understand the root cause of the issue more quickly, if it is an operational one, as opposed to the failure of a component.”

“Currently, we have a little room where we can change things and optimize, but for the big shifts, we need the discussion with EASA,” adds Giljohann. “I think serious discussions will start in one to two years. Everybody is talking about it and working on the diagnosis and monitoring things. We need a different understanding in the future and what it means for the MRO business and how we do maintenance.”

Medical surgeons are now using Google glasses while they operate on patients to have access to additional information and see things they normally would have to step away from surgery to review. Can using these glasses and other data be far off for the maintenance technician?

 

Karen Berg, associate publisher of Aircraft Maintenance Technology, is a 27-year veteran in the aviation industry. She held leadership positions at Northwest Airlines before joining KLM Royal Dutch Airlines in the Netherlands. In recent years, she served as VP Sales North America for Air France Industries and KLM Engineering & Maintenance.

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