The Internet of Things (IoT) is playing a growing role in various aspects of commercial flight, ranging from engine data collection to passenger entertainment. Less than 10 percent of aircraft had connectivity of any sort 15 years ago, but by 2030, it’s anticipated that 90 percent of all aircraft will be connected in some way.
While it’s clear that connectivity in aircraft will be commonplace in two decades, its role today continues to be of a developmental nature. IoT, within the context of an aircraft, is essentially the practice of collecting, analyzing, and sending data for analysis. IoT traces its roots back to the early 1980s, but the term has become popular over the past decade as Internet connectivity has become widespread.
Aircraft features led by IoT
IoT applications have enabled significant expansions in data storage, bandwidth, and processing in the airline industry. Any aircraft traveler today is likely to come face-to-face with IoT in some capacity, whether it’s in the form of Wi-Fi capabilities or on-demand touch screens. In the pilot’s cockpit, air-traffic controllers find better communication with global high-speed satellite-based networks like Inmarsat’s GX Aviation.
The power of in-flight entertainment and connectivity (IFEC)
While on-demand touch screens were usually reserved just for first class passengers, their abundance on most major commercial flights has made them more of a standard feature that flyers expect in all classes. Panasonic, one of the leading providers of IFEC systems, has outfitted more than 1,100 aircraft with its equipment. And it aims to outfit a further 10,000 to 12,000 commercial aircraft with these devices over the next decade.
The end of 2016 will mark another step forward for IFEC systems, with partners OmniAccess and Panasonic expected to utilize Extremely High Throughput Satellite technology to provide 6 to 10 times the capacity of current networks. Features with the upgraded system include 4-dimensional weather forecasting, technical monitoring, and entertainment systems.
Improvement of forecasting and technical analysis
Honeywell Aerospace, another leader in IoT-related aviation technology, is developing a connected radar — an update of its IntuVue RDR4000 3D weather radar – that the company claims will eliminate about $65,000 in annual cost per aircraft related to airborne weather hazards and delays, such as cancellations, diversions, disasters, turbulence, and severe storm activity.
Another Honeywell company, Aviaso, also provides IoT software that analyzes aircraft usage data and proposes methods to save 3 to 5 percent in fuel costs and tens of millions of dollars annually for airlines. The software provides real-time aircraft data before, during, and after a flight to provide technicians, pilots, and other personnel with information that can diagnose an aircraft’s status.
Improved weather forecasting and thorough aircraft testing are expected to save money in several areas, including turbulence and fuel costs. Companies like Panasonic, Honeywell, and Bombardier — with its Smart Link service — continue to carve out a very lucrative niche with IFEC systems and IoT-aviation alignment.
The challenges of incorporating IoT in the airline sector
The primary challenge that IoT faces in the airline sector is consolidating resources, with many opportunities presenting numerous ways to focus efforts.
For example, projects to improve baggage handling, track pets in transit, enhance passenger experience, and to monitor equipment and fuel usage are all important areas that IoT can be used in the aviation sector. However, chief information officers have faced challenges incorporating the IoT architecture into legacy systems. The transition can be costly and disruptive for active airlines.
Rapid innovation development platforms and cloud-based systems offer a solution, as they’re able to manage a heavy stream of incoming data. This allows IoT to focus on all areas that need improvement, as opposed to just a few.
Quick delivery of software upgrades, prompt identification of design flaws, and thorough usage and performance monitoring are all vital to ensuring that the transition to a full-on IoT experience will be smooth.
The future of aircraft technology is very exciting, with expected improvements to most facets of the aviation experience. Improved IFEC systems, baggage tracking, clearer transfer options, equipment monitoring, and fuel efficiency upgrades are just a few areas that IoT will improve, with chief information officers working hard to smooth the transition with rapid innovation development platforms.
This article was written by Megan Ray Nichols. If you enjoyed this article, please visit her page Schooled by Science.
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