Recently heard a metaphor in which data exchange was compared to water irrigation. Imagine modern aircraft and engines accumulating vast amounts of data from sensors and asset management processes. Most of that data then remains confined in the operator’s systems, as water in a reservoir.
Little value is gained from that data, until a pipeline is built to distribute it to those who have the capabilities to extract data-driven value for both themselves and the data provider, as a canal providing water from the reservoir to the vineyard. In my last column, we explored the value that OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) can extract from digital twins of their assets when they are able to access the airlines’ up-to-date digital records and sensor data. In this context, digital records refer to the fleet and asset configuration data, maintenance records, part utilization data and flight records, all of which are typically maintained in the airline’s Maintenance & Engineering (M&E) system. In this article, I will discuss how the pipeline for that data can be built.
To determine how OEMs can establish a reliable data exchange solution, we first need to explore the requirements for that solution. There are three key requirements that need to be fulfilled for the OEM to effectively utilize the digital records data.
1) The data is standardized across all different airline customers
The OEM must receive the data from all their assets in the same format. One of the challenges in establishing regular and reliable data feeds from operators to data consumers is the lack of standardization in how data is stored and managed by different operators using different M&E systems.
2) The data ingestion is automated and frequent
To ensure that OEMs can utilize the digital models of their assets, those models need to be up-to-date with the latest data from the operator’s system. To meet this requirement without unreasonable effort, manual processes for formatting and entering the data must be eliminated. Therefore, the data must be provided to the OEM in a format which can be automatically ingested by the receiving systems.
3) The data quality is high
This requirement is obvious, but not trivial to meet. As digital records data is generated to a great extent by manual processes, data quality issues are inevitable, and data quality across different airline systems varies widely. To allow for this, the data exchange solution itself must include monitoring and data validation logic to ensure that only high-quality data is delivered to the OEM’s systems.
Taking into account these requirements, it becomes apparent that a centralized data exchange solution for automated transformation, validation and delivery of the data from the different airlines is needed. A centralized solution allows the OEM to tap into one data source that provides a continuous flow of formatted and validated data, separately for each of the OEM’s systems that require it. A centralized solution also allows effective monitoring of the data streams from different airline customers, and enables the continuous development of data validation rules built into the data exchange solution.
Rolls-Royce is an industry leader in this area and provides data exchange enabled digital services for their airline customers through the Blue Data Thread program. Nick Ward, VP Digital Systems, Civil Aerospace at Rolls-Royce describes the program as follows: “Imagine a thin blue thread connecting every Rolls-Royce powered aircraft, every airline operation, every maintenance shop and every factory”. Read more about Rolls-Royce Blue Data Thread in the Aircraft IT article, Aircraft IT MRO V10.5, Winter 2021 by aircraftit - Issuu.
Rolling out a working data exchange solution between any OEM and its hundreds of airline customers does not happen overnight. The challenge of onboarding airlines to the platform is two-fold. The first is the technical challenge of connecting to the airlines’ systems. Subject matter expertise in M&E systems integration and a deep understanding of the data in those systems are critical capabilities for the OEM to acquire.
The second challenge is to motivate the airlines to participate in the data exchange, which is a complex matter but can be broken down into a simple cost-benefit equation. To address the cost side of the equation, the airline’s burden to connect to the pipeline should be minimized. This is accomplished by providing support for the airline and designing the integration around existing M&E system data export capabilities. In practice, a light-scale integration project with each airline is needed and should be managed by the OEM or their integration partner.
To address the benefit side of the equation, the OEM must consider the business value it can generate for airline customers with access to the data. For example, this value could come from enhanced predictive maintenance techniques lowering maintenance costs, automated data management, or optimized operations.
When considering the value that can be generated by the right data consumer, and looking at the development of the industry in a broader sense, we can envision a future where several data consumers tap into the same centralized data exchange solution. In this vision, there are a host of airlines on one side of the platform, and several data consumers on the other side, together comprising an ecosystem of data exchange and value sharing. As owners of the data, the full control of data sharing must remain with the airlines.
In summary, the key ingredients in enabling data exchange between operators and data consumers are the technical integration capability, and a willingness to collaborate and create value for all involved parties.
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