Maintenance of aircraft. Much has been said about the tremendous potential that digitalisation holds for this industry. However, it often describes a glossy vision of the future , one that appears to be detached from the complex realities of daily maintenance operations. What are the biggest obstacles today and where are we heading?
1. Data silos
Airlines and MROs alike started leveraging AI, machine learning, big data, and digital maintenance logs to predict better and manage their operations. Their vision? Not only provide better experiences to travellers but also improve maintenance performance, reduce unplanned downtime and, as a result: save costs. But how realistic is it to achieve this vision? Given the industry siloed systems for storing data, data exchange is rarely seamless.To build an integrated maintenance ecosystem, airlines will have to overcome a challenge as old as aviation itself: operations, maintenance, and data ownership. Therefore, the willingness and ability to sync data across various sources, formats, and departments appear to be one of the main barriers for operators to invest in digital initiatives today fully.
2. Digital readiness
We see a race to build digital platforms by the more prominent players. Airbus, Delta, and Lufthansa Industry Solutions begin experimenting with intelligent tools for their maintenance operations. AI, VR, drones, and smart glasses (Microsoft Hololens, Google Glass) are all part of the modernization of the industry. And that’s a great thing in the long term.
However, which new technologies to deploy now, and how should they best be utilized? A question that often remains unanswered. Besides this, evermore connected digital aircraft are accelerating turbulences for maintenance and engineering operations to collect, process, and act upon increasingly complicated aircraft systems. In the meantime, operators and MRO providers struggle with retrofitting both existing and new tools and services to meet the demand of the volumes and wealth of data they produce. It appears that the rate of technological change is increasing and is rapidly exceeding the industry’s ability to keep up.
3. Transformation of the workforce
The transformation of the workforce is and will continue to stay a challenge for the aircraft MRO sector. With maintenance of aircraft increasingly digitalising, the next-generation solutions and the skills required to effectively use analytical tools have to be present in the organisations. That is often not the case. Little investment has been made in human capital that is sufficiently skilled and experienced in dealing with digital tools. As a result, most aviation organisations do not have the expertise to apply machine learning, deep learning or artificial intelligence (AI) to their information or conduct pilot programs required to embrace new technologies. Besides educating future generations, it is therefore crucial to also train existing employees to move into more digital roles.
On the customer-facing side, airlines have already leapt at the opportunity to embrace AI and predictive analytics to better understand and engage passengers. It is time for the MRO side of the industry to follow suit.
At Mainblades, we are keen to be part of this transition. We believe in the enormous potential of more digitalized and integrated maintenance of aircraft to make the industry safer and more efficient. Our approach for visual inspections guarantees efficient data sharing, less discussions and more efficient operations.
If you are interested to learn more about us and how we support the industry in overcoming the challenges addressed in this article, check out our two recent webinars on this topic: