In applying digital technologies that are bringing major transformation across all of its operations, Airbus increasingly is asking: “What if?
“What if” the company could digitally connect every tool in each of its factories? “What if” substantially more data could be accessed aboard aircraft in service around the world on a more regular basis than today? “What if” most instances of component failure could be predicted on its jetliners, helicopters and spacecraft?
The answers, according to Airbus Digital Transformation Officer Marc Fontaine, lead to what he terms “360-degree aerospace data:” a way of using emergent technology in improving nearly every aspect of Airbus operations.
Fontaine sketches out a future in which additive manufacturing, augmented reality glasses, robotics that amplify human users’ capabilities, and the intelligent use of advanced data analytics are the norm.
Harnessing processing power to track aircraft data
Using an A320 Family jetliner from Airbus Commercial Aircraft as an example, he noted that the aircraft’s onboard systems typically track approximately 400 parameters for the pilots and maintenance crews – less than 2 per cent of all the data available. Ubiquitous connectivity, and the processing power to manage this data, would enable some 24,000 parameters to be tracked.
Such improvements in data acquisition and analysis are reflected in Airbus’ new open digital aviation data platform called Skywise – powered by Palantir Technologies, a pioneer in big-data integration and advanced analytics. With Skywise, Airbus operators can leverage the power of 20,000 Airbus engineers in following the performance of each aircraft throughout its entire operational life. Until now, this deep reservoir of information was accessible only during the few years of development, flight tests and certification prior to an aircraft’s entry-into-service.
The new digital aviation platform was unveiled at the Paris Air Show this week, where details also were provided on how seven “early adopter” airlines are working to harness the power of Skywise – positioning it as “the beating heart of aviation.” These carriers are AirAsia, Hong Kong Airlines and Peach in Asia; Delta Air Lines and jetBlue in the United States; Emirates in the Middle East, and easyJet in Europe.
They are benefitting from Skywise through multiple developments, including integrating data for large-scale fleet analyses and maintenance capabilities, developing advanced predictive digital solutions to boost and deliver airline efficiency and implementing real-time health monitoring and predictive maintenance. Other steps include developing a new data analytics tool that helps airlines avoid fuel overconsumption on descent and approach flight phases; evolving new capabilities encompassing engineering investigations, component reliability analyses, and enhancing maintenance operations; as well as automating quality monitoring and interactively visualising flight paths
As Airbus’ Digital Transformation Officer, Fontaine also is interested in providing powerful digital tools to everyone from the company’s production workers to airline customers. “For example, augmented reality is giving our employees on the assembly line the power of a computer without limiting their mobility or dexterity,” he says. Fontaine also imagines airline customers for Airbus jetliners being able to “walk through” as-yet-unbuilt passenger cabins by using immersive virtual reality headsets to see how their interior design choices come together.
Beyond commercial aircraft, the future Fontaine sketches out is one with the potential to touch every aspect of Airbus operations. Guillaume Faury, the Chief Executive Officer of Airbus Helicopters, for example, speaks of the “digital continuity from design to production to support” that infuses his division today. “Until now, the way helicopters are produced had not changed much over the past 50 years,” he says.
A new “digital world” for production of helicopters and spacecraft
The newest Airbus rotorcraft – the H160 helicopter – is built “on a 100-per cent digital shop floor. There are no paperwork inspections,” Faury says. “Every worker has their own tablet connected in real time to a manufacturing execution system. Everyone on the shop floor can see in real time the progress of each aircraft in production. This is the digital world we live in.”
Digital systems and technologies are similarly being embraced by Airbus’ Defence and Space Division, says Nicolas Chamussy, the Executive Vice President of Space Systems. “We use 3D digital models along the entire value chain,” he says, including “computer aided design modeling on the shop floor to support the integration of the equipment and systems.”
“Thanks to 3D technology and automatic design,” continues Chamussy, “we are reducing the lead time for designing the connectivity of a satellite payload – which is becoming increasingly complicated – by a factor of more than one thousand.”
Airbus “wows” with the first European A321neo delivery
Moving from digital to the “real” world at this week’s Paris Air Show, a brand new A320 Family jetliner stood out from the rest on the Le Bourget aircraft display line with its distinctive purple livery: the first A321neo delivered to a European airline, which was handed over to Iceland’s WOW air for operation on lease from U.S.-based Air Lease Corporation.
The milestone A321neo – powered by CFM International LEAP-1A engines – will join WOW air’s existing all-Airbus fleet of A320 Family aircraft and A330s in transatlantic low-fare services between Europe, North America and other destinations, using Iceland as a hub.
“Selecting the right aircraft will allow WOW air to serve millions of customers in North America and Europe, bringing affordable travel and opening up people’s vision to Iceland for the first time in their lives,” said Steven F. Udvar-Házy, Air Lease Corporation’s Executive Chairman of the Board.
As a pioneer in the aircraft leasing business, Udvar-Házy noted that the A321neo delivered today to WOW air was the 1,108th jetliner he has purchased from Airbus during his career.
Skúli Mogensen – the founder, CEO and owner of WOW air – thanked Airbus for supporting his vision of low-cost air travel from the five-year-old airline’s start. “Airbus really stood by us from the very beginning; believing in us and giving us confidence to continue on our path,” he told attendees at this morning’s delivery ceremony.
Firm orders for Airbus jetliners, multi-role transports and helicopters
In new business announced at the Paris Air Show today, European low-cost operation Wizz Air Holdings Plc, with its Wizz Air subsidiary, signed a firm contract for 10 A321ceos, to be powered by IAE International Aero Engines AG’s V2500. Speaking at a Le Bourget Airport press conference, Wizz Air Chief Executive Officer József Váradi said his company’s large – and expanding – A320 Family fleet serves as a cornerstone for the future success of Wizz Air’s business.
Also detailed today was the first direct booking with Airbus from Hi Fly, a Portuguese airline specialising in worldwide widebody aircraft wet leasing, which placed a firm order for two A330-200s.
In other activity, Airbus Defence and Space marked its first aircraft sale to a leasing company with the firm order placed by Canadian aviation financier and lessor Stellwagen for 12 C295s – the Airbus multi-role medium transport aircraft. This agreement, which includes options for a further 12 aircraft, positions Stellwagen to address such civil markets as the humanitarian sector, freight operators in austere environments, and operations of such government agencies as search and rescue services.
The Japan Coast Guard placed an order with Airbus Helicopters for three additional H225 helicopters, raising their fleet of H225s to nine by early 2020. These three helicopters will be used for security enforcement, territorial coastal activities and disaster relief missions. Separately, the French Gendarmerie Nationale purchased an additional EC145 helicopter to be delivered in 2018. It will supplement an existing fleet of 14 EC145s used for law enforcement and public services missions.
Airbus to meet the new market opportunities in global services
Based on Airbus’ Global Market Forecast, the more than doubling of the world’s passenger aircraft fleet above 100 seats during the next 20 years will also drive a doubling of the total industry aftermarket services spend to approximately US$3.2 trillion. According to data released by Airbus at the Paris Air Show, this spend will be led primarily by maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO), while also including training, cabin and systems upgrades as major contributors.
In response to the increasing demand for MRO capabilities during the coming two decades, the company has launched the Airbus MRO Alliance (AMA) – which is to become an important element in the company’s strategy to develop efficient and high-quality services worldwide.
The AMA will bring together MRO members with high standards and proven expertise in airframe heavy maintenance from around the world, with participants’ selection based on specific and demonstrated criteria in terms of industrial capabilities, capacities, performance and quality.