Civil aviation is one of the most asset-intensive industries in the world. With parts that are high-cost and low in numbers, even the slightest improvement in asset functionality and maintenance can yield significant cost and efficiency advantages.

1. The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) drives adoption of health checks, condition-based maintenance

Civil aviation is booming. Aircraft fleets are set to triple by 2034 in Asia-Pacific, superseding both North America and Europe, while carriers in the Middle East had the strongest annual traffic growth in 2015. The IIoT market is following this lead. American research and advisory firm Gartner Inc. predicts there will be more than 20 billion connected things in use by 2020, with spending topping $3 trillion globally.

Growth of airline fleets and the IIoT will drive the use of aircraft health monitoring systems (AHMS), improving data utilization and analysis to enhance availability, reliability, and safety of aircraft. This drives adoption of condition-based maintenance (CBM) projects to streamline maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO). An MRO survey by international management consulting firm Oliver Wyman reported that 63% of respondents from leading airlines said AHMS increased reliability, with 35% also saying that it helped reduce maintenance costs.

IIoT-enabled sensors constantly measure aircraft health and performance, and data analysis can consider factors such as speed, torque, vibrations, and pressure to pinpoint faults before they become major problems. Actionable information to make better-informed, more-focused maintenance decisions could reduce cancellations, improve operational and flight safety, reduce fuel consumption, help identify rogue serial numbers, and enhance passenger and crew experience.

To put this into context, the number of detectable faults on a Boeing 767 in the 1980s was 9,000. Intelligent sensors on a Boeing 787 can detect 45,000 faults, 5x as many as 30 years ago. With AHMS, data from one aircraft detecting a fault can be used to analyze an entire fleet for the same problem.

The return on investment (ROI) from AHMS in civil aviation is obvious. Streamlining maintenance operations and the almost-instant reactions to faults that AHMS brings could drastically reduce the chance of aircraft on ground (AOG) for airlines – the cost of which ranges between $10,000 and $150,000 for just a few hours of downtime.

More operators will adopt AHMS – driven by affordable IIoT-enabled sensors, powerful data processing systems, and machine learning – enabling airlines to make processes smarter and maintenance leaner.

2. The next step: Not just predicting maintenance, prescribing solutions

Global MRO spend is anticipated to increase by 46% by 2026, driven by growing passenger numbers and aircraft fleets. So, airlines are looking at the next step in asset management, from CBM to predictive maintenance, able to detect early signs of potential failure and rectify matters before they impact service. Relevant patterns seen in data produced through IIoT-enabled parts will allow the benefits of scheduled maintenance to extend throughout the MRO support chain.

IIoT and predictive maintenance allow for better sharing of operational and maintenance experiences between airlines, aircraft operators, and third-party MROs, enabling further cost reductions. By feeding the data into the enterprise asset management (EAM) or MRO software, the parts can be sourced and engineers’ work schedules optimized – dramatically reducing potential down-time. But airlines aren’t stopping there.

Prescriptive maintenance is the next step beyond simply predicting an asset’s status. While predictive analytics answer what will happen, when, and why, prescriptive goes one step further, allowing operators to not only predict what will happen, but offer what-if scenarios to show how each possible event will impact operations.

IIoT data, fed into the analytical system, optimally defines maintenance activities based on the best outcome in terms of reliability and asset uptime. The main benefit is allowing airlines to know what to do better in the future – if they know an asset may fail, they want to know the most efficient way to reduce the failure rate and rectify problems. Prescriptive analytics can guide maintenance engineers with sequences of tasks to execute to isolate the issue, determine the right time to do the repair, and the correct tools to use to reduce aircraft downtime.

Global technology market intelligence provider International Data Corp. (IDC) predicts that 50% of all business analytics software will incorporate prescriptive capabilities by 2020. The future won’t be engineers telling you how and when to repair an asset, because the asset itself will tell you what it needs and how it needs it. The technology is still in the early stages of adoption in civil aviation but is starting to mature.

3. Resource shortages hindering Asia-Pacific growth

Airbus forecasts a need for more than 33,000 new aircraft globally by 2035, largely driven by the rising demand in the Asia-Pacific region. However, this rapid expansion has the potential to be hindered due to a lack of MRO capacity, lack of indigenous training capabilities, and lack of skilled workforce in the region. More passengers mean more planes needed to carry them – more planes require more maintenance.

Currently there are not enough fully-qualified, trained, and certified maintenance personnel to meet the needs of this growing market. Boeing predicts the aviation industry will need more than 600,000 new maintenance technicians globally in the next 20 years as current personnel retire.

Meeting this demand and matching the requirements of the next generation of maintenance workers will take innovative solutions, including new technologies and training methods.

It currently takes up to eight years for a maintenance worker to pass stringent training tests and become fully licensed, time the aviation industry cannot afford. Airlines and MRO operators in the Asia-Pacific have avoided this delay by hiring in personnel from other countries, but this is proving to be a significant cost challenge.

Augmented reality is emerging to help bridge this gap. The cost- and time-friendly solution provides expertise on-demand from any location, no matter how remote. XMReality, which makes augmented reality-based software supporting a range of devices, has developed a telepresence and data transmission solution that connects onsite operators with a technical expert anywhere in the world, in real-time, giving maintenance workers in remote locations access to a virtual pair of expert eyes and hands to guide them through complex tasks.

There will be a sharp increase in adoption in Asia-Pacific as the technology fully matures to plug this resource shortage gap.

New technologies and the digitization of services are creating big benefits for airline and MRO operators to streamline maintenance, reduce operating costs, and take full advantage of skyrocketing air travel demand. Early adopters of these trends will see operations completely transformed.


About the author: Kevin Deal is vice president for Aerospace & Defense at IFS. He can be reached at