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Business Aviation Maintenance in a Digitally Predictive World

Thanks to emerging digital technology, business aviation maintenance technicians will have greater access to increasingly vast amounts of predictive data, promising to increase effectiveness, efficiency and safety.

There’s no worse feeling in business aviation than having to tell the boss that their multi-million-dollar jet is broken. And for as long as any of us can remember, maintenance technicians have been using preventative maintenance practices to repair and replace parts before an AOG occurs.

“Preventative maintenance steps are spelled out by the OEM and FAA based on the estimated failure times of certain components within the aircraft,” explained Jody Kerton, systems specialist for Dassault Falcon. “Repetitive inspection and maintenance practices are all based on those guidelines. Every XX months or XXX hours, you have to inspect this or replace that.

“We really want to be able to change a component before it fails, but you don’t want to change it too early,” Kerton said. “You want to change it when change is just right. But how can we be sure we know when that is? Operators rely on the OEM to give guidance.”

While that kind of MTBF (mean time between failure) foresight is based on copious amounts of testing and historical fleet data, it’s still more of a technological “crap shoot” than an exact science. As any director of maintenance (DOM) will tell you, the methodology mostly works, but it can lead to having to answer a tricky question like, “Why did you spend money replacing a perfectly good part?”

As Nick Kershaw, product development lead for Gulfstream Aerospace Corp., explained, “Our aim is to reduce the perceived complexity of data-driven services. On-condition maintenance is not an unusual term in modern flight operations; however, decision-making and processes supported by data-driven insights are a concept that many are eager to incorporate into their operations.”

What is needed is a fact-based, predictive technology that lets us look at the real-time health of critical components and use that to overhaul or replace components at the optimum point in their lifecycle.

The Big Step Is Big Data

New-generation business aircraft create billions of bytes of big data every time they fly, and emerging technologies enable operators to collect, analyze and share that information to accurately predict when parts will fail.

“Condition-based maintenance and aircraft health monitoring will improve the readiness and reduce technical cost drivers,” said Leonard Beauchemin, managing director of AeroTechna Solutions, LLC. “This process already has regulatory approval provided by FAA AC 43-218, Operational Authorization of Integrated Aircraft Health Management Systems.”

Issued in July of 2022, the AC allows for the use of “onboard sensors, data transmission, and data analysis to provide information regarding aircraft performance and structural condition,” according to the document. “The result is then used to make aircraft airworthiness determinations that provide economic efficiencies while maintaining or enhancing operational safety.”

“AC 43-218 is one – not the only – process bridge path forward to real-time, data-driven, continuous airworthiness (a.k.a. safety) and functional/structure failure management (a.k.a. operational performance) using highly precise digital methodologies of monitoring and analysis,” Beauchemin said.

“Using data for aircraft and engine reliability is not new, as engine platforms have had this capability since the 1980s,” Beauchemin continued. “Predictive maintenance methodologies have been proven to improve operational safety, enabled effective downtime scheduling and reduced operating costs, all while improving aircraft availability.

“While we’ve had some rudimentary predictive health monitoring capabilities in the past,” said Beauchemin, “only with the sensors built into the components of today’s new-generation aircraft are we now able to capture data from the entirety of the aircraft’s systems and take action to plan maintenance to avoid AOGs.”

“Actions can now be taken to minimize or prevent schedule disruptions, and that is hugely beneficial to complex flight operations,” Kershaw added. “Additionally, successful implementation of predictive maintenance will improve the efficiency of an operator’s ability to plan and optimize maintenance actions on a timeline that suits operational constraints.”

Thanks to increased use of business aircraft, preventing schedule disruptions and improving efficiency is more important to a flight department today than ever.

‘A New Type of Cooperation’

Of course, getting a digital heads-up that there may be trouble brewing in your aircraft is just one of the benefits of predictive maintenance technologies. That forewarning also gives you time to get the affected parts in hand so you can make the change.

“There’s a new type of cooperation found in predictive maintenance. When problems occur, operators can share their data with the OEMs so they can share it with their suppliers to ensure that the required parts are available to support the fleet,” Kerton said. “If the problem is widespread enough, the OEM can get the part’s supplier to redesign the component to mitigate the issue in the future.”

Yes, having the right spares in stock at the right time can sure make a DOM look like a genius, especially in today’s “you-want-it-when?” supply chain environment.

“The aircraft manufacturing industry’s competitive sales will drive the use of predictive data for both reliability and enhanced operations. It will be the standard in the future.”

Leonard Beauchemin Managing Director, AeroTechna Solutions, LLC

Safer Flying Through Technology

While increased utilization and lower operating costs are primary drivers behind the adoption of predictive maintenance technologies, another significant benefit is a measurable level of increased safety.

“As the operational environment becomes more complex and congested, data generated by the aircraft can be used extensively for Flight Operations Quality Assurance (FOQA) applications to enable pilots to review past flights and learn from that data,” Kershaw said. “This will increase pilot awareness of safety-critical flight performance by enabling flight departments and training providers to refine procedures with the objective of increased operational safety.”

“Going forward, there will only be benefits from the significant improvement in the collection and analysis of aircraft performance data relating to mission performance and maintenance,” Beauchemin said. “The aircraft manufacturing industry’s competitive sales will drive the use of predictive data for both reliability and enhanced operations. It will be the standard in the future.”

While it may seem like emerging predictive technologies may be a proverbial silver bullet, promising to cure all business aviation maintenance woes, the fact is, to really benefit from all it can deliver, experts suggest the industry might need to shift the way it looks at intellectual property.

“Communication and collaboration will be keys to success,” Kerton explained. “Data means nothing if it’s not shared with the right people at the right time. The aircraft’s manufacturer, suppliers and customers need to know what’s happening with each airplane to benefit us all.”

Review NBAA’s guidance for maintenance personnel at nbaa.org/maint.

Quick Poll

What is the greatest benefit of using predictive data for aircraft maintenance?
  • Lower operating costs3.64%
  • Increased safety20%
  • Efficiency gains within the maintenance department20%
  • Increased operational availability56.36%

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