Oct. 19, 2023

As aircraft produce more and more data, what role can artificial intelligence (AI) and other technologies play in predictive aircraft maintenance to create efficiencies in aircraft operations?

The answer came during an education session at the 2023 NBAA Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (NBAA-BACE), sponsored by the association’s Business Aviation Insider magazine.

The FAA refers to these technologies generally as integrated aircraft health management (IAHM), said Thom Patterson, Business Aviation Insider managing editor and panel moderator.

“Everything is getting more and more connected,” said Elza Brunelle-Yeung of Bombardier. “We wanted to integrate that to business aviation, so we created Smart Link Plus.” This system, developed with GE Aviation, collects data from an aircraft and transmits the data wirelessly to maintenance planners and technicians.

“We realize everything is digital these days and this system unlocks a tremendous amount of a data that was previously unavailable,” said Kevin Duffner of GE Aerospace. For example, it can determine if a part is nearing the end of its useful life.

“Repair turn-around time and fix effectiveness are both improving with these technologies,” Duffner added.

Chris Poliak, of Executive Jet Management, said increasing utilization of an aircraft and minimizing AOG events is an ongoing goal for aircraft operators. He said using real-time data can not only meet those goals, but potentially lead to inspection schedule efficiencies in the long-term.

Advisory Circular 43-218 Operational Authorization of Integrated Aircraft Health Management describes the FAA’s process for authorizing the use of IAHM to develop a predictive maintenance program, Poliak told attendees. It will take time for the FAA to fully recognize the potential of predictive maintenance programs based on real-time data, he explained, adding industry will play a significant role in educating the agency and developing a higher acceptance of these programs.

These technologies also allow technicians to determine root causes of maintenance issues more effectively and efficiently – even in flight.

“This is happening now,” said Kevin Ryan of Camp Systems. “It can stop that repetitive cycle of ‘Troubleshoot, fly, troubleshoot’.

“The reality is there are a lot of other platforms today that are generating data,” he explained. “Creating data is one thing – getting the data off the aircraft is another challenge. Then the next big challenge is analyzing that data to make an aircraft more available and less expensive to operate.”

AI brings another level of potential efficiencies to these activities.

“AI can help analyze big data and predict when a part will fail. No human can really analyze that volume of data and that’s where AI comes in,” said Brunelle-Yeung. AI can also assist diagnostics and prognostics.

While AI can increase maintenance predictability, a human stays in the loop to address security concerns, provide oversight and act as the decision-maker.

“Smaller flight departments can most effectively use these technologies by ensuring the data gets to the OEMs,” said Ryan. Fully leveraging these technologies going to take “tight cooperation” within the maintenance community.

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