Last year, the emergence of COVID-19 effectively restricted the majority of air travel. As a result, entire fleets were grounded worldwide, including two-thirds of the world’s passenger jets.
As a direct result maintenance has become more important than ever before to ensure that all grounded aircraft is in good working order. This includes controlling humidity, which can corrode internal components, and guarding against the possibility of birds nesting in turbines. Some aircraft also need to be loaded with fuel to add weight to ensure they don’t rock across the tarmac on their own.
And with maintenance costs skyrocketing, it’s no surprise that the aviation industry has been rushing to make maintenance cheaper and more effective. Here are a few innovations that are taking the industry by storm.
Big Data and AI
Aviation alone produces over two million terabytes of data a year. Although this can be a great resource for actionable insights, humans can’t possibly sort through all that information manually.
Fortunately, artificial intelligence (AI) can parse through the data for you, gleaning those much-needed insights in a flash. Many airlines are utilizing Big Data and AI to enhance maintenance, repairs, and overhaul maintenance repair and operations (MRO) systems through predictive maintenance.
Preventive maintenance is done based on a component’s age, and thus is usually conducted too early. Meanwhile, predictive maintenance maximizes machine availability by using data to predict exactly when a component needs attention.
With AI doing the checking for you, fleets can cut down on the time spent doing routine inspections and minimize costs spent on spare parts and supplies, all while lowering the risk of human error during inspections.
The same technology that is providing cryptocurrency with the capability to perform secure transactions is now being increasingly utilized in aviation maintenance. Blockchain is a digital ledger that records transactions and hosts them across a network of computers. It’s extremely difficult to alter its contents, making its security world-famous.
In particular, the MRO Blockchain Alliance aims to make transactions between fleets and manufacturers secure and transparent with the use of smart contracts. These contracts help record the aircraft parts that are being sold for tracking purposes, thus improving record reconciliation and potentially cutting MRO costs by a whopping $3.5 billion a year.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)
UAVs are aircraft models that don’t require an actual crew. Drones are a perfect example. Controlled remotely with a device, drones can check for aircraft damage faster and in difficult-to-reach places. Drone maintenance is most commonly used to check for lightning damage, conduct routine inspections, and deliver spare parts.
Currently, UAV companies are working on making drones capable of detecting defects on their own. One way they’re doing this is by powering them with printed circuit boards that can maintain their power integrity using PDN analyzers and other, similar tools. This allows drones to stay in flight for hours, something that’s especially useful for lengthier repairs.
This particular technology is becoming more sophisticated every year, with its applications becoming more diverse, too. In the health sector, for instance, 3D printing is now being used to make affordable, highly customized prosthetic limbs, medical instruments, and even tissues. In aviation, on the other hand, 3D printing can now be used to make reliable spare parts and even customized tools for complex repairs, all for a fraction of the cost.
By tweaking existing technologies, the aviation industry is progressing towards making MRO systems more effective and cost-efficient. However, if you’re interested in a career in aviation maintenance, don’t fret — technology won’t be phasing out the industry’s human workforce any time soon. If anything, human touch will always be needed to ensure full functionality across all operations.
Written by: Amy Gallagher