At last week’s Predictive Aircraft Maintenance (PAM) Conference, a panel discussion of industry experts took place to explore the evolving landscape of predictive maintenance from the perspective of commercial airlines.
With lengthy lead-in times for hangar slots and delays in new aircraft delivery, airlines are having to keep older fleets in the air for longer, so they need better visibility of maintenance requirements to operate efficiently.
The panellists – Amanda Bock, senior analytics engineer – propulsion technology at Delta Air Lines, Matias Bjerregaard, predictive maintenance specialist at Scandinavian Airlines, and Craig Lynch, predictive maintenance specialist at easyJet – discussed the opportunities and challenges they face.
With a fleet of 1,000 aircraft, Delta Air Lines’ Bock emphasised the significance of planned maintenance for one of the United States’ major airlines.
“Being alert about problems is crucial. If there are issues, we of course need to find out as soon as possible,” she said.
Bock also explained that the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic brought about challenges for the airline, including a loss of experienced personnel. However, she noted that “successful recent recruitment programmes have been instrumental in rebuilding the workforce.”
Positioning easyJet as relatively advanced in predictive maintenance, Lynch underscored the airline’s ongoing digital journey and its commitment to providing a safe and punctual service for passengers.
“I would say we’re quite advanced in the game, certainly a lot more than other airlines,” he explained. “But there is of course a long way to go. We ultimately must provide a safe and punctual service for passengers, so I’m always thinking about how the use of predictive maintenance will benefit them.”
Lynch also acknowledged how accessible social media is for passengers to use when things don’t always go to plan. “It is easy for passengers to complain about delayed flights on social media, so I want to ensure predictive maintenance can be used as best as possible to stay ahead of the game and reduce delays,” he said.
Bjerregaard shared that Scandinavian Airlines is very much still on its predictive maintenance journey, learning to maximise available resources efficiently. Despite the airline’s digital plans being disrupted due to the pandemic, Bjerregaard emphasised the continued need to “adapt and change”. Bjerregaard, with a mechanics background, stressed how essential it is to “provide aircraft mechanics and engineers with the tools and digital knowledge necessary for quick aircraft turnaround.”
When considering to what extent is the successful adoption of predictive maintenance in the sector going to come down to greater cooperation between airlines and other industry stakeholders, the panel agreed that there needs to be greater willingness to cooperate, especially in the sharing of both data and technological know-how.
Delta Air Lines’ Bock underscored the value of collaboration to enable shared learning. “Strong partnerships can only lead to further development of predictive maintenance capabilities; the industry needs rich technical and operational knowledge from everyone to be able to grow.”
Scandinavian Airlines’ Bjerregaard agreed that true understanding of big data comes down to greater cooperation, but “there is still work to do on data integrity to increase overall trust in the data gathered, and resolving this challenge is crucial for effective collaboration and knowledge exchange.”
easyJet’s Lynch also agreed that data ownership issues in the industry need ironing out, but for easyJet it is important that “we need to get to a position where we should be able to handle any data that relates to any operational system we use, for our own purposes.”
The panel also discussed future opportunities, and opinions were raised if the concept of digital twins would be a true benefit for airlines.
A digital twin for commercial airlines is a virtual model of an aircraft that can use real-time data to monitor and simulate its performance, and the panel agreed that it does hold potential to facilitate predictive maintenance to enhance efficiency, safety, and overall operational performance.
Delta Air Lines’ Bock said: “We’ve looked a little into the potential of digital twins and I think it does hold opportunities for the future, but a lot more research in this area is needed.”
Scandinavian Airlines’ Bjerregaard agreed by adding: “I think there is huge potential in digital twins revolutionising many aspects of aircraft planning and performance, but I don’t think a ‘one-size-fits-all approach’ applies.”
easyJet’s Lynch added: “Different aircraft operate differently depending on the routes they take and weather conditions, so greater understanding in aircraft operational activity is needed to be able to realise a future of true digital twins use.”
Lynch concluded that he “envisions a future where aircraft talk to us effectively, providing real-time insights into their needs and health status so we can deliver optimised maintenance practices.”
In summary, the panel discussion highlighted the dynamic landscape of predictive maintenance for airlines, with a clear emphasis on the need for greater collaboration and more understanding of the impact of data ownership.