After a difficult year for commercial aviation, 2022 will be one that offers the opportunity to look forward and profit from technological advances. Rob Mather, Vice President, Aerospace and Defense Industries, IFS, looks at three key trends that will define commercial aviation in 2022.
Commercial aviation has seen a lag in returning to full operations in the last year as pandemic pressures have led to passenger hesitancy, staffing complications, and day-to-day operational strains and unpredictability. While the year saw some recovery from 2020, the year saw a halving of typical passenger numbers and a $324 billion loss in potential revenue according to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
The stage is then set for 2022 to be a year that will be defined as one of recovery, consolidation and optimism—it is predicted 47% more passengers shall fly this year, and profits resume for airlines. Yet, as the last two years have shown, airlines, maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) companies and original equipment manufacturers (OEM) cannot be complacent—and instead must be forward thinking and agile to educe and succeed in tomorrow’s market.
1. Cloud becomes king for MRO – airlines move to embrace cloud technology as legacy aircraft maintenance systems market share drops from 37% to 21% by 2027
First, let’s take a serious look at the existing software infrastructure. Many airline operators and MROs still use legacy software which not only negatively impacts 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 key to their recovery plans—central to this search is cutting-edge aviation maintenance software. Why? Because this will 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 becomes a staple for airlines – 15% of major airlines will invest in predictive maintenance this year
Truly predictive maintenance will come of age and its 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 research in this area during an aviation industry webinar, and when asked what aspect of digital transformation would lead to the greatest ROI, the top answer, chosen by nearly half of respondents 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 FAA will give commercial Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) aircraft the green light this year – paving the way for a market that will 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.
Next generation technology will help power new opportunity and growth
This year the aviation industry will finally return to near post-pandemic normality, as flights and passenger numbers increase. This will be coupled by the increasing pressure for the sector to modernize and embrace digitization and new technology—that will pave the way for efficiency increases and better aircraft utilization thanks to AI powered predictive maintenance.
There is also new opportunity in the sector due to the impending rise of AAM which will quickly redefine air travel over the next decade. This will not challenge traditional aviation but instead be symbiotic and offer airlines, MROs and OEMs opportunities to discover and grow in the new market segment.
By prioritizing new technologies and digital initiatives operators, OEMs and MROs alike cannot just recover from the pandemic but, set themselves up on a solid foundation grow and prosper in the aviation sector decades to come.