MRO AMERICAS: Embraer paints picture of future aircraft maintenance

Big data will change aviation maintenance, increasing efficiency and avoiding unexpected and costly aircraft maintenance issues in the future, according to Embraer Commercial Aviation senior vice-president operations & COO Luis Carlos Affonso (pictured), who spoke before the MRO Americas conference in Miami today.

However, the industry has much to do before it can analyse the data for the benefit of the bottom line.

Affonso explained the problem and his vision. “Big data and smart integration are very important,” he said. “Current aircraft are already generating data, but airlines cannot fully explore the data or even extract the maximum value from it. With smart integration we will be able to know on a global basis when an aircraft will fail in the next 30 days. That will trigger an entire network that will use artificial intelligence to determine the best time and best location to work on the aircraft.

“The network will also figure out where the required parts will come from. That will also trigger events for fleet planning and deployment as well as crew scheduling changes,” Affonso remarked. “This will all be done automatically. The technology is already available and we’ve already seen the integration of some elements. Even so, we have to put systems in place to guarantee that all is in readiness when an aircraft shows up.”

Affonso also said that health-monitoring systems are key tools. “New health monitoring systems allow us to be predictive on what is about to fail,” he confirmed. “That is transforming maintenance. It simplifies inspections. It allows us to schedule maintenance with all the accompanying efficiencies. With that, however, comes both a technology and business challenge on what do to with a part that is removed but is still working.”

He noted that health and systems monitoring and structural inspections have significantly reduced time between major maintenance visits. Embraer, for instance, has increased the interval from 4,000 hours on the ERJ 145 to 6,000 hours for its E-Jets. For the E-2 family, it will increase again to 8,500 hours.

New metrics, Affonso continued, are driving the industry with market share having been replaced by shareholder returns, high unit profit, higher yields, higher return on assets with the resultant right-sizing of aircraft and continued capacity discipline.

“Airlines are now more interested in the entire life-cycle costs of an aircraft,” he reported. “They want to know about efficiency, maintenance costs, fuel burn, life-limited parts. Being able to control maintenance costs; being able to de-risk the costs, is key to the future.”

Affonso observed that a decade ago it was only small airlines that included parts programmes in their contracts. Today even large airlines are doing so because they are focussing on their core business. “Our biggest E-Jet partner has joined our parts pool,” he said.

He also offered a few other observations to industry changes. While low-fare carriers wrought havoc in domestic markets, reliance on the stability of long-haul markets was an industry norm but that is no longer the case. The softening of the international, long-haul market is driven by new competition for the traditional legacy carriers as well as the consumer empowerment which not only provides access to the cheapest fares but all a platform to instant feedback.

He also indicated that while airlines are currently benefitting from lower fuel prices, fuel remains highly volatile.

These challenges, said Affonso, require the industry to change its mindset, to continuously search for efficiencies and adopt new technology as the enabler to success. Part of the new mindset centres on sustainability.

“Years ago the industry was puzzled why, with only 2% of emissions, it was being targeted by critics,” he commented. “If we had never taken any action we would have more than doubled emissions. As it is now, not only are we producing far more efficient aircraft but the industry has set a goal of 50% reduction in emissions by 2050, the first industrial sector to set any goal.”

Kathryn Creedy, contributor, Low-Fare & Regional Airlines/
Miami, FL, USA

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