Airlines Use IOT Playbook to Battle COVID-19

The Internet of Avionic Things (IOAT) sensors and networks previously used for avionic MRO and infotainment may be tweaked to help fight coronavirus.

How have IoT technologies changed the aviation and aircraft markets? In the pre-COVID-19 era – pretty much anything before the start of 2020 – the sensor, processor and network rich IOT systems were used to measure and improve aircraft operation dynamics and the experiences of airline pilots, on-board and ground-based crews, and passengers. However, with the beginning of the COVID-19 era, a new more critical driver has been added to the mix, namely, the tracking and hopefully mitigating the effects of the global disease during flight travel.

The aviation industry presents a unique and substantial opportunity to leverage even more benefits from the commercial and industrial versions of the IoT. What has emerged is the Internet of Avionic (or Aircraft) Things (IOAT), which have improved almost all aspects of the airline industry from ground maintenance support and operations to crew safety and passenger infotainment systems.

The explosive growth of data from connected Internet-of-Things (IOT) devices will ultimately be a major revenue generator in the avionics space. For example, just consider the data generated by modern jet engines and how it will enhance the Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul (MRO) of fleet aircrafts.  Or consider the in-flight entertainment and connectivity (IFEC) systems which are being shaped by high-tech electronics like HD screens and touchscreens, as well as by low-tech advances like seats that accommodate tablets.

Today, the average number of sensors monitoring the health of aircraft engines is about 250 devices per engine. These devices provide a snapshot of data at any one time. But with the availability of inexpensive and “smart” sensors, that snapshot is turning into a continuous stream of data. The challenge is how to quickly analyze the higher volume of increasingly more accurate data. The same data challenges – although at a lesser level of volume – is also happening on the In-Flight Entertainment commercial side of the aviation industry.

Modern aircraft engine monitoring systems are quickly growing from several hundred to several thousand sensors. For example, the Bombardier C Series jetliner carries a Pratt & Whitney’s Geared Turbo Fan (GTF) engine, which is fitted with over 5,000 sensors that generate up to 10 GB of data per second. Thus, a single twin-engine aircraft with an average flight time of 12-hours from Los Angeles to New York and back again can produce up to 864 TB of data for that flight. If that number is expanded to include the typical number of commercial flights in the sky over the US on a given day (~28,000) times an entire year, then the amount of date is closer to 8,830,000,000 TB.

The IOT movement goes beyond improving aircraft engine performance and maintenance to include almost every other aircraft subsystem. Consider the avionic communication subsystem, which traditionally transfers data up to a maximum of 12.5 KB/s up to more modern Boeing 787s and Airbus A350s Ethernet-based aircraft data networks that achieve rates up to 12.5MB/s.

Estimation of sensor data created per year during an average of round trip, cross-country flights/

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