The digital transformation in aviation data transfer: trends and opportunities

As the aviation industry continues to evolve and become increasingly digitized, data transfer processes are becoming more complex. Industry experts at QOCO recently discussed the latest trends, challenges, and opportunities in this area during a LinkedIn Discussion session. This blog post will discuss what we learned in the session about aviation data exchange and how it is changing. It will also cover how industry professionals can improve collaboration and efficiency.

Advanced technologies such as drones, AI, and augmented reality are streamlining aircraft maintenance processes and improving efficiency. Drones can inspect hard-to-reach areas, AI can perform tasks and assist in inspections, and augmented reality can help visualize and map out damage. Paperless solutions such as electronic flight bags and tech logs reduce paperwork and save time and costs. Data collection and analytics technologies, particularly AI, are improving processes by providing valuable insights to the aviation industry.

Challenges in data transfer: The current state and pain points

One challenge in aviation is sharing data between organizations like MROs, airlines, OEMs, and lessors. Blockchain technology has the potential to address this issue by sharing maintenance records, but it is still in its early stages and requires more widespread acceptance. In the meantime, automated data sharing among organizations can help bridge this gap and improve efficiency.  

“Although many organizations are in the process of digitization, external processes still rely heavily on manual data input. Therefore, automated data exchange is necessary to free up human resources for more productive tasks.” - Henrik Ollus

In the aviation industry, data is sourced from M&E systems in various formats such as Excel, PDF, or XML. This data is then shared with third-party organizations through email or file transfer methods.

The third party then manually manipulates the data for their system, which can result in potential quality errors. This manual process is time-consuming and prone to mistakes, especially in heavy D checks with multiple revisions. Improving this administrative process would be extremely beneficial for data sharing between organizations.

Engine examinations and fixes are being routinely carried out by technicians.

Manual data sharing in the aviation industry presents several challenges. Firstly, it is inefficient, leading to wasted time.

Secondly, quality issues may not be detected in time, which poses airworthiness risks. Thirdly, the high-value assets involved in the industry can experience idle time due to delays caused by manual data processes, such as in heavy maintenance cases. These delays can escalate costs rapidly.

Point-to-point integrations: A challenge to scale

Point-to-point integrations can be effective when systems do not have frequent updates. However, this approach becomes challenging to maintain as the number of integrated systems increases, resulting in exponential complexity. Most companies in the aviation industry use numerous systems, making a managed integration strategy with an integration platform crucial. Collaborative networks of different companies need to improve this approach.  

“Point-to-point integrations are particularly inefficient for external data transfer, lacking transparency for system updates and data quality control. A more managed and monitored integration approach is essential in scenarios involving multiple partners, like MROs or OEMs, collaborating with various airlines.” - Patrick Corrigan

The role of managed Data Exchange Service

Henrik Ollus has spent four years working with Rolls Royce, focusing on implementing data exchange services for their airline customer base. More recently, he's extended this work to include collaboration with other industry players like MROs, OEMs, lessors, and airlines.

He emphasizes the importance of a Managed Data Exchange Service as the solution for establishing seamless data exchange across various networks. This service provides a single interface for customers to receive data from all partners, ensuring the normalization of data formats across different systems.

The service includes robust data quality checks to address issues arising from manual data processes. Apart from that, domain expertise is significant in setting up such data exchange services, highlighting the industry-specific nature of data, systems, and related processes.  

Real-time information sharing: A game-changer

In a practical scenario of an aircraft undergoing heavy maintenance at a third-party MRO, the workflow involves seamless data exchange between the airline's and MRO's M&E systems. The work package originates in the airline's system and automatically transfers to the MRO's system with continuous updates.

As tasks progress and are closed out in the MRO's system, real-time information flows back into the airline's system. This ensures ongoing knowledge and data sharing throughout the entire maintenance process, avoiding the need to wait until the end for comprehensive information transfer.

A centralized data exchange service facilitates real-time sharing not only within one MRO and its airline customers but also between multiple MROs and airlines. This centralized service proves essential for effective data synchronization compared to the limitations of point-to-point integrations.  

Digitalization, automation, and data standardization

They are interconnected elements in the aviation industry. Digitalization involves processes becoming more digital and advancing data availability. While the industry excels in internal processes, digitalization enables automation, particularly in external data exchange between entities like airlines and MROs. This automation yields various benefits, as previously discussed.

Data standardization is essential for creating a common language in data sharing. Currently, systems use diverse methods and data models, hindering effective communication.

The Air Transport Association (ATA) has a set of data standards, for example, the ATA Spec 2000 and ATA Spec 2500. These are industry-wide initiatives to get to the state where we have a common language on how we represent and share the data. Some M&E systems and providers are now adopting these standards, fostering a common language across different systems and industry players.  

An airplane touching down during sunset.

Optimizing your data transfer process: Key suggestions

If you want to enhance your data transfer process and team collaboration, there are a few things you should consider. Firstly, it is important to move away from manual data exchange and embrace digital solutions. Although internal operations have benefited from digitalization, there is still a lot of scope for improvement when it comes to external processes.

Secondly, look for partners within your network who are also committed to this goal and seek out digital exchange service providers that have specific knowledge of the aviation industry. This will help ensure a smoother implementation process and reduce the risk of misinterpretations.

Finally, consider implementing secure and standardized communication protocols. Establishing clear communication channels is crucial for efficient data transfer and collaboration, particularly in the aviation industry where the accuracy and timeliness of information are paramount.

Conclusion: Embracing the future of aviation data transfer

In conclusion, digitalization is an inevitable trend in the aviation industry that promises tremendous benefits for professionals who embrace it. By leveraging digital solutions, standardizing data, and promoting collaboration, the industry can optimize data transfer processes, enhance efficiency, reduce errors, and unlock new possibilities for growth. The insights provided by Elisabeth Tadoe, Patrick Corrigan, and Henrik Ollus highlight the challenges, opportunities, and best practices for professionals navigating this transformative phase.

As the industry continues to evolve, it is crucial for aviation professionals to stay up-to-date with the latest trends and technologies to remain competitive and deliver exceptional results. The future of aviation data transfer is undoubtedly becoming more and more digital, and it is time for the industry to embrace this change wholeheartedly.

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