The Internet of Things (IoT) is fast permeating every industry, and the airplane industry is no exception. While the air industry has embraced digital technologies, the presence of sensors from nose to tail is set to open a plethora of opportunities going forward. Here’s a look at the opportunity IoT holds for the industry, while glancing through the progress so far.
The global air industry is huge, with 4.3 billion passengers and 62.5 million tons of cargo being carried across various destinations in 2017. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) forecasts global industry net profit to rise to $38.4 billion in 2018. The industry creates 2.7 million direct jobs and supports 3.5% of global economic activity.
Over the years, the aviation industry has simplified procedures, improved workforce productivity and delivered customer-centric services; however, there is still room for improvement.
Taking a cross-country flight can be a daunting task with the hassle of checking in, the security lines, the fear of missing luggage and so on. Further, flight delays and disruptions don’t just cost passengers, they cost the airline industry every year. Don't forget about maintenance costs and unnecessary failures. It is estimated that even a small reduction in “aircraft on ground” time can translate into substantial savings for airlines.
Fuel is another significant contributor to the operating expenses of the airline industry. During 2018, the fuel bill is forecast at $188 billion, accounting for around 24% of operating expenses at $70 per barrel, according to a report by IATA.
Fuel consumption is a very critical parameter to check costs. A lot of factors determine the fuel consumption, including weather, engine efficiency and flight path, among other things. Likewise, it is reported that a clean engine burns less fuel, but washing engines is time-consuming and expensive. However, since such procedures are expensive, determining when the optimum time to do the same is quite crucial.
Projects & Progress, So Far
IoT is defined as a “network of sensor-equipped, intelligent, exponential technologies that can gather data, interpret it, and take action.” It is estimated that their connected things in use worldwide will reach 20.4 billion by 2020. With the number of ‘connected’ devices rising rapidly, there is an enormous amount of data that is being generated, which is being put to gain in-depth insight into various dimensions of the industry.
Within the air industry, the data generated from across sensors and devices can be a rich resource to extract valuable information that can be used to minimize costs, boost revenue, improvise processes and enhance the overall passenger experience on land as well as in the air.
One of the earlier manifestations of the IoT in the air transport industry is the use of beacons—which were introduced by SITA in 2015. American Airlines was the first to use SITA’s Common Use Beacon Registry in a pilot program at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport to provide passengers with up-to-date and relevant information on their mobiles.
Airbus and IBM (IBM) started working together in 2013 to transform Airbus’ fleet solution offerings. Eventually, a platform – ‘Airbus Smarter Fleet’ - that leverages IoT and IBM’s Watson was launched in 2015 to provide end-to-end e-Solutions for maintenance, engineering and flight operations. WestJet, Alitalia, Korean Air and Garuda Indonesia are some of the other airlines collaborating with IBM.
AirAsia has been leveraging GE’s (GE) Flight Efficiency Services (FES) since 2015, powered by IoT to make significant savings, through the implementation of precision navigation services and fuel-management program: targeting bottom line operational savings in the order of $30-50 million over a five-year term (2015-2020).
In 2016, Delta (DAL) made a historic move by introducing RFID to replace barcode hand-scanning, which had been the industry standard since the early 90’s. The $50 million investment then was made to ensure superior tracking and increased transparency of luggage with initial deployments throughout the baggage process showing a 99.9% success rate.
Microsoft’s (MSFT) Azure IoT technology has been contributing to different aspects of the aerospace industry. It collaborated with NAV Canada to enable better air-traffic control. The data from IoT-enabled planes is put to use by offering optimized routes and accurate information on environmental conditions (such as wind) to reduce fuel consumption. Further, Rolls-Royce—which has over 13,000 engines for commercial aircrafts in service around the world—is using Microsoft Azure IoT solution and Cortana Intelligence Suite to transform how it uses data to keep aircrafts available and efficient.
Powered by Intel’s (INTC) Atom processors, companies such as Advantech-DLoG, INFORM GmbH and Cobus Industries GmbH are offering services such as high-quality airport buses, logistics’ software and computing devices. These provide a consolidated view of all bus information, and thus facilitates coordination with airport security.
Honeywell’s (HON) GoDirect Connected Maintenance is an IoT-powered system that analyzes existing aircraft data to identify potential faults before they become problems, improving aircraft reliability, reducing costs, and limiting delays. GoDirect can reduce APU-related flight delays by 35% and has 99% accuracy when predicting part failures. In 2017, it entered into a contract with Cathay Pacific to deploy Connected Aircraft maintenance offering across a fleet of Airbus A-330. During 2018, it collaborated with AT&T to use IoT for a range of solutions, including Connected Aircraft.
The global air industry has traditionally been an early adopter of technology and even today, it continues to keep pace with advanced technologies such as IoT that will align the industry for better.