Airbus’ leading role in aerospace industry digital transformation is evident at this week’s Paris Air Show, where the company’s emphasis on digital-powered, cross-divisional services is as important as its exhibits of aircraft, spacecraft and other hardware. The company’s outlook on the future of aviation, with a focus on sustainability, also is reinforced with technologies and partnerships highlighted at Le Bourget Airport.
Expanding Airbus’ portfolio of military digital services: SmartForce
A service Airbus is continuing to develop, and which is in focus at the Paris Air Show, is SmartForce – the company’s digital services offering for aircraft and helicopters in military fleets. Seven new services have now been added to the existing umbrella of SmartForce, ranging from reliability analytics and maintenance planning to fleet optimisation – which was detailed by the Airbus team.
“SmartForce is a new service – launched last year – which is generating high customer interest,” explained Stephan Miegel, Head of Airbus Military Aircraft Services. “The seven products we launched at this air show will be continuously enriched in accordance with customer feedback. And there are more services to come.”
Miegel continued: “Some of the SmartForce services are the same for both fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft, while others differ depending on the customers and their individual needs. Customers have the opportunity to choose from the range of services we have on offer in order to maximise fleet availability and improve operational mission success.”
The SmartForce suite of services utilises data gathered by Airbus-built military aircraft and helicopters, providing intelligence whenever and wherever needed – and sharing the aggregated data between operators to increase the range and effectiveness.
A digital open-data platform with Airbus Services
In Airbus’ Paris Air Show display area, Airbus Services is presenting for the first time its new “Flight Hour maintenance Services powered by Skywise” – the company’s open-data platform of reference for all major aerospace players. The new service will identify required parts for customers’ aircraft, locate the nearest worldwide logistics centre where these parts are stored, and track their delivery to customers, to be provided at the right time. Powered by Skywise, Flight Hour Services can be used directly by airlines’ maintenance control centres or by Airbus for its full FHS service on all Airbus aircraft.
Since launching Skywise at the 2017 Paris Air Show, Airbus has progressed from four “early adopter” airlines to 80-plus operators, growing from a few hundred aircraft supplying data for the platform to more than 6,000 today, according to Marc Fontaine, Head of Airbus’ Digital Transformation Office. There are over 10,000 unique monthly users on the Skywise platform, involving airlines, suppliers and users within Airbus.
Airbus’ evolution of the Skywise offer includes the Paris Air Show announcement of the first Skywise digital services for the leasing community, with CDB Aviation and CALC signing up as the initial customers.
Skywise provides all users with one secure, cloud-based platform for aviation data that is aggregated and anonymised, and which is enriched from multiple sources across the industry – including airline operators and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). The more data that airlines and OEMs share in the Skywise Core platform, the more accurate the predictions and models for the connected users.
By adopting Skywise, airlines will benefit from a “supercharged” and ever-evolving digital platform, enabling operating efficiencies, savings and revenue opportunities which are achieved by reducing operational interruptions, burning less fuel, operating more efficiently, reducing workload and leaving room for third-party services (mostly in maintenance).
An exponential growth for the Skywise services platform
Fontaine said the exponential growth of Skywise users underscores how fast digital transformation is advancing in aviation. “This shows how an industry that many people expected to be a late adopter of digital technologies can take the lead…or could be subject to disruption if it does not accept the revolution that is happening.”
The digital transformation process was a major challenge for Airbus, according to Fontaine, who noted “there is no textbook on how to apply digital transformation to industrial systems such as aerospace and aviation.”
In reviewing Airbus’ digital transformation to date, Fontaine said one of the lessons learned was that multiple “digital foundations” are needed to be put in place, including information management (IM) and data governance.
Fontaine explained that the transformation of information management is essential, as companies such as Airbus were previously focussed on the core capabilities of engineering, manufacturing and supply. “While IM was a more ‘remote’ support function in the past, it is becoming blended in everything we do today – from design and manufacturing to services – so we need to completely transform the profile and pre-eminence of our IM departments,” he explained.
Data governance also is vital, Fontaine added, especially for the Skywise services platform – as it gathers data from the airline operators and suppliers, as well as from within Airbus. “Data governance involves issues ranging from who owns the data and who gives access rights to how we share it with the airlines, and when suppliers can access the data,” he said. “Dealing with data governance is a huge challenge, requiring a tremendous effort to put policies in place, and to ensure the proper execution of these policies.”
Expanding the reach of Airbus’ services portfolio
Other services programme updates announced during the Paris Air Show include Airbus’ integration of the A220 programme – its newest single-aisle jetliner family member – into its Customer Support & Services network. On the new business side, Chilean low-cost carrier SKY Airline was identified as the launch customer for the new Airbus Chile Training Centre; completion of the first A380 full-cabin retrofit for Singapore Airlines, performed collaboratively by SIA Engineering Company and Airbus Services, was introduced at the show as well.
“Services are core to the Airbus strategy, optimising the aircraft operations until dismantling and improving efficiency throughout the full life cycle,” Rémi Maillard, Head of Services by Airbus, explained to the media during a press conference.
E-Fan X: building the future of aviation today
The aviation industry is moving towards zero-emission flight – and one area of focus for Airbus E-Fan X, a hybrid-electric flight demonstrator project, which was a topic of discussion during the Paris Air Show. Expected to make its first flight in 2021, this testbed will mark an important step in Airbus’ electrification journey.
Using a BAe146-RJ100 airliner as the testbed platform, programme teams will remove one of its four turbofan jet engines, replacing it with a 2-MW electric motor accompanied by a serial hybrid electric propulsion architecture. By maturing the technology, performance, safety and reliability of this testbed, Airbus, along with its partner Rolls-Royce, is accelerating progress on hybrid-electric technology – exploring such challenges of high-power propulsion systems as thermal effects, electric thrust management, altitude and dynamic effects on electric systems, and electromagnetic compatibility issues.
E-Fan X is an evolution of Airbus’ strategy to advance the state of more-electric aviation, and follows its well-known E-Fan demonstrator – which performed a pioneering crossing of the English Channel in 2015. By stepping up from the small, two-seat E-Fan to the E-Fan X, Airbus is increasing the onboard power levels from kilowatts to megawatts.
Airbus Helicopters and Safran Helicopter Engines team up for sustainability
In other news during Day 3 of the Paris Air Show, Airbus Helicopters and Safran Helicopter Engines announced plans to team up in exploring the potential for more sustainable vertical flight. The two companies are seeking to jointly demonstrate future technologies that will help reduce fuel consumption and noise emissions, while continuing to improve safety. Among the options the team will be exploring are: electric-hybrid flight, biofuels, along with advanced engine architectures.
“Together with Safran, we want to grow the trend and continue to lead the industry in welcoming innovative solutions to progress on reducing emissions in terms of noise and fuel consumption,” Bruno Even, Airbus Helicopters CEO, told reporters during a joint press conference.
Continuous popularity of single-aisle aircraft
Airbus Commercial Aircraft were back in the news at the Paris Air Show today, with its single-aisle aircraft family order book continuing to grow. Announcements included the A321XLR version (officially launched Monday at the Paris Air Show) receiving 50 orders from Indigo Partners; while American Airlines also booked 50 aircraft of the type (30 of which will be converted from the carrier’s existing order for A321neos); Qantas Airways Limited converted 26 of its existing A320neo Family orders into the A321XLR version, and booked 10 additional A321XLRs.
Other NEO (new engine option) members of the A320 Family also remain popular with airlines, with Accipiter Holdings announcing the signing of a Purchase Agreement with Airbus for 20 A320neo aircraft – while China Airlines signed a Memorandum of Agreement for 11 A321neo jetliners, with another 14 on lease.
For additional information:
- For more information on Airbus Helicopters and Safran Helicopter Engines teaming up for more sustainable flight, read the press release.
- Discover more about SmartForce and its new services in the press release.
- Find details on Indigo Partners’ Memorandum of Understanding for 50 A321XLRs in the dedicated press release.
- Learn about Accipiter Holdings’ purchase of 20 A320neos in the press release.
- See the press release for more information on China Airlines’ new A321neos.
- Details on Qantas’ order for the A321XLR aircraft are available in the press release.
- Read about American Airlines’ order for the A321XLRs in the press release.