The newfound ability to share and intelligently aggregate and evaluate onboard data with multiple other sources will affect nearly every aspect of aircraft design and operations in the very near future.
From flight management systems (FMS) to brakes, Honeywell Aerospace believes that tapping into the connectivity options already commonplace in the consumer world will arguably give participating airlines a hefty edge on the competition in the near term and will significantly influence avionics system design in the longer term.
“The biggest game-changer with connected aircraft is not the connectivity device itself, it’s that the systems on the aircraft are no longer limited by the boundaries of the aircraft,” says Bob Witwer, Honeywell’s vice president of advanced technology. “If you started with a clean-sheet design, what would you put on the aircraft and what would you put on the ground?”
A key provider of avionics, auxiliary power units, engines and other aircraft systems, Honeywell is in the process of mentally reverse-engineering practically every component it builds to evaluate the potential impact of connectivity. While the benefits of connected weather radar, a capability the company recently certified as a software upgrade for its RDR-4000 weather radar, are fairly well established, others are increasingly coming to light—including brake life, auxiliary power unit health, air conditioning systems, avionics, flight planning and routing, and improved weather information to the flight management system.
“There’s not one Honeywell product that does not have strategies impacted by connectivity,” says Carl Esposito, the vice president of strategy, marketing and product management for Honeywell. While the connected weather radar is being rolled out, he says a number of other connectivity projects are in various stages of concept testing, customer evaluations or demonstrations. “We’re testing things, getting customer feedback on the economic value of this technology,” Esposito says.
A connected auxiliary power unit (APU) trial is underway with an unnamed Asian long-haul carrier, with the APU self-reporting operational hours for automatic billing purposes. The company also plans to begin reporting APU health information, including vibration levels, for preventative maintenance.
The data is not only meant to benefit the bottom line for the airlines but in some cases for maintenance service providers such as Honeywell, which will receive usage data directly rather than after the fact from airlines. “Access to data can better determine if the price should be higher or lower,” says Bob Smith, chief technology officer for Honeywell Aerospace, regarding usage data on maintenance contracts and warranties.
Smith is careful to distinguish Honeywell’s approach to connected aerospace applications—getting economic value out of ubiquitous data, sensing, computation and connectivity—from the generic “Internet of Things” term used in the consumer world. “It’s not about putting a new sensor on,” he says. “It’s about giving you emergent opportunities that have not existed prior.”
John Croft is Senior Avionics & Safety Editor, Aviation Week & Space Technology, which, like IndustryWeek, is powered by Penton, an information services company.