Integrated cockpit and propulsion systems are percolating their way from air transport aircraft to the business and general aviation arenas. That’s a given. So too are innovative maintenance practices, practices designed to better choreograph the care and feeding of ever more complex systems.
Case-in-point, Honeywell Aerospace’s MyMaintainer mobile app. It allows technicians to wirelessly access information at the gate, performing fault analysis from data stored on the aircraft via a Data LAN Management Unit Wireless system, or DLMU-w.
“We [already] have a wireless connection [to] a Part 23 [GA] aircraft,” says Eric Christianson, Honeywell Aerospace’s director of marketing and product management for cockpit systems. The airplane is the single-engine, Swiss-built Pilatus PC-12 NG. The workhorse propjet is fitted with a sophisticated Primus Apex™ Integrated Flight Deck. The system “allows us to download maintenance information to an iPad,” says Christianson. That means maintainers don’t have to waste time constructing data connections, or plugging in USB devices to transfer data to PCs or laptops.
The setup essentially straightens the data path from airplane to analysis to maintenance action. It unclutters the process.
Allison Haugen is working on a similar initiative involving Primus Epic®-fitted bizjets, from airframers such as Dassault and Gulfstream. Honeywell Aerospace’s senior manager of marketing and product management for cockpit systems contrasts the old way of connecting the maintenance dots with the wireless MyMaintainer method. Heretofore, technicians had to take their laptop, connect special cabling, plug it in, and “download all the fault information from the aircraft. Then they [had] to take it out and go to a central computer. They uploaded it to someone else, who [did] some decoding of the data, and then they sent it back.”
This sort of circuitous routing saved neither time nor money. The process took hours, sometimes even days.
Enter the new MyMaintainer app. Haugen says Epic’s wireless data loader, paired “with a new iPad application and ground server that we have at Honeywell” puts all the pieces together so raw maintenance data wirelessly downloads from the aircraft and flows to the server where it’s decoded. Then the maintainer-friendly information flows back to the iPad “in a nice app format,” she says. “You can get that data now in minutes instead of hours or days. [That’s] a big difference.”
A big difference that Honeywell Aerospace intends to use as a template for Part 121 transport category aircraft, business aircraft, and general aviation flying machines.
Underpinning the mechanics of all this is what Paul David terms a “philosophical change for Honeywell.” The company’s director of customer and product support says the MyMaintainer wireless solution “demonstrates the fact that through our development engineering we’ve incorporated the end-user experience and requirements in the design phase of the product. That’s important” – important in terms of safety and efficiency.
Downloaded data, be it wirelessly linked after an aircraft lands or transmitted via ACARS or AFIS while still in flight, can speed turn time considerably. “We get the part that [the maintainer] needs on-time and available immediately … as the plane lands. So, dispatch availability increases significantly.”
The idea here is never to forget the situation the maintainer might find himself in. Sometimes David says the mechanic could be “out there on the ramp in Chicago and it’s minus 30 degrees. He doesn’t want to have to troubleshoot that aircraft in that environment. He wants to know where the problem is on the part, go pull that part, and immediately replace it.”
Then there’s a less immediate, but perhaps even more important, benefit. “The other piece of this is the diagnostic piece,” says David, which clicks in when the fault analysis goes back to Honeywell’s engineering and product reliability organization. That’s where they break down the data “[so we can] understand what is faulty, why it’s faulty” as well as the frequency of that particular species of squawk. “That allows us to, in turn, do root cause corrective action and continue to improve on that design to improve reliability and make that product as safe as possible.”
The importance of partners
Honeywell Aerospace casts a wide net when it comes to business and general aviation partnerships. “We have more than 300 authorized avionics dealers and more than 60 mechanical service centers,” says David. “Each of them is authorized to service our business and general aviation customers – in accordance with repair capabilities and our overall channel management philosophy.” That sort of wide reach enables the company to better meet the maintenance needs of “the more than 30,000 operators and customers that we service in the market.”
David says Honeywell’s service programs “are very popular.” Among business and corporate operators “we have many customers who choose to participate in our maintenance services programs, such as [the OEM’s] Avionics Protection Plan, Maintenance Service Plan and Mechanical Protection Plan.” All of these are hourly based programs. Honeywell Aerospace’s director of customer and product support asserts, “People recognize the fact that they’re doing business with a company that actually designed the equipment, and knows how to maintain it.” He says this helps facilitate upgrades and modifications.
In the Part 121 air transport world, carriers can get the manuals they need from the OEM to support their fleets. David says Honeywell has a network of service centers to support its installed base. It also supports operators who have their own repair capability as well as supporting repair capabilities via licensing agreements.
In the business and general aviation areas the arrangement is different. Honeywell has established a network of dealers and channel partners to support the fleet. It’s composed of strategic partners operating out of geographically diverse spots. The OEM says each of its channel partners serves up a “consistent customer experience” – be it line maintenance or full component overhaul.
Licensing and authorizations are predicated on three things: the equipment a service center has, the service center’s equipment expertise and capability and – finally – the level of the authorization itself.
In this increasingly OEM-centric world in which aircraft maintenance organizations operate, Honeywell’s stance on authorization and licensing mirrors that of many original equipment manufacturers. “Authorization and licensing take place to make sure our [products] are extremely safe and that they operate and perform as to their original design specifications,” says David. “Any deviations away from working to the maintenance manual, or that license or authorization, from a proper maintenance perspective, puts our customers at unnecessary risk, both technically and commercially.”
David says it’s about safety, that “authorization and licensing allow us to have [a] level of control, to make sure that those repair agencies are working in accordance with our policies and procedures such that it’s absolutely at the [safest] level of operation that it can be.”
As systems become more integrated, more complexly interdependent, the control imperative becomes more important believes Honeywell. David says it’s no longer a matter of maintaining merely a starter, or an environmental control unit. The mandate is to monitor, and maintain, systems.
To that end, “We’ve developed a systems integration lab for our newer commercial platforms, such as the A350,” says David. Increasingly, fewer components fly solo. They’re woven into the very fabric of the flying machine such that “You really need to understand the interdependence of a product working in that environment.” And that means, contends David, “Not just anybody can work on it.”
Thus the OEM’s belief in the increasing importance of controls in this ever more integrated skyscape. Absent them, he asserts, “When somebody develops a repair, they may not know the implications relative to the rest of the system.”