GE Aviation’s new Digital Solutions division has been gathering momentum since its formation in 2015. It was earmarked as the focal point for the engine and aircraft systems group’s efforts to help customers reduce operating costs through better use of data and analytics tools. The most recent addition to this portfolio was the March 27 acquisition of Critical Technologies, Inc., which is the developer of the AirVault cloud-based digital records management platform already used by more than 40 airlines and maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) organizations.
At the Farnborough International air show last July, the company unveiled a scaled version of the digital collaboration center. It has used the system to work with customers such Middle East low-cost carrier Fly Dubai to integrate its Predix data analytics platform for tasks such as minimizing the impact of unavoidable delays, giving pilots better operational understanding of their aircraft and protecting schedules and thus, revenues. In addition to the collaboration center in Dubai, GE has since opened similar facilities in Paris and in Austin, Texas, where its digital division is headquartered.
Then, in November 2016, it launched a new Configuration Data Exchange and intends to roll this out for customer use throughout 2017 to give operators more information, more quickly about the performance and condition of aircraft and systems. The new Big Data application has been developed in partnership with Capgemini as a data pipeline allowing two-way flow of asset data between airlines, MROs, lessors, OEMs and parts brokers.
Last November also saw a new partnership between GE and Teledyne Controls to use Predix to improve engine health monitoring. Teledyne will supply its expertise in wireless flight data collection to advance applications of the system.
In March of this year, GE agreed to start working with offshore industry safety association HeliOffshore to develop and implement a new global safety management system specifically for helicopter operations. Under a program called InfoShare, HeliOffshore has already laid the groundwork for sharing data and information among multiple helicopter operators, including data from health and usage management, and flight data monitoring.
“We’re trying to help our customers be more successful,” GE Aviation’s chief digital officer Jim Daily told AIN ahead of this week’s Paris Air Show. “The industry is now fully recognizing the value data can bring if you have the enough capability to analyze it thoroughly. You can drive outcomes [in improved operational performance]. Predix is bringing value from domain expertise in terms of how customers operate their assets and how data integrates in the overall operational environment.”
Essentially, Predix marries up aircraft and operational data on one cohesive, Cloud-based platform. Daily explained that the platform is agnostic in terms of which operational management systems it can work with to support the optimization of multiple assets. For sensitive defense applications, the technology could be installed within a secure site, and GE has made significant investments in adding data protection to the system.
GE’s ability to harvest data isn’t confined to the engines and other systems the U.S.-based group makes for multiple aircraft platforms. “We started with a lot of focus on engines, but, thankfully, engines are not the biggest problem areas,” Daily said. “Data is out there throughout the aircraft and the new vintage of aircraft have more and more data; the more of it we can collect and analyze, the more solutions we can generate.”
Smaller operators potentially will derive the greatest value from this approach to mining Big Data, since they do not have to employ larger IT departments to benefit. “Overall, the common thread is reducing uncertainty and unpredictability in what remains a very dynamic industry, and help operators understand what best to do when things do go wrong,” Daily added.
Next up for GE’s digital team is the planned launch of an application called Fly Pulse that helps pilots better understand how to more efficiently operate their aircraft. The system has been developed through collaboration with Australian carrier Qantas.
“We’re still at the earliest stages and barely scratching the surface of all the data out there,” concluded Daily. “There is still latency in terms of how long it takes to get data off systems even with a wireless connection, but we hope that within 10 years this will all be achieved in real time.”