Airbus Skywise

Feature in MRO Management, December 2018

Skywise is a new aviation data platform from Airbus, which aims to become the single platform of reference for all major aviation players, improving operational performance and supporting digital transformation, as Mario Pierobon finds

The new platform will provide all users with a single access point to its enriched data by bringing together aviation data from multiple sources across the industry into one cloud-based platform.

Skywise was developed in partnership with Palantir Technologies to enable Airbus, as well as customer airlines, equipment manufacturers and maintenance operators, to tap into vast amounts of aircraft operational and performance data, and to use it to identify areas of improvement. “Skywise can gather and track many thousands of data parameters on aircraft in operation. Use of Skywise-based applications to analyse extensive aircraft data can enable airlines to identify efficiencies, cost savings and enhanced revenue opportunities. Key applications help airlines reduce operational interruptions, maximise aircraft utilisation and flight operations,” says Airbus.

The airline sources include work orders, spares consumption, components data, aircraft/fleet configuration, onboard sensor data and flight schedules. Additional data sources, which are traditionally shared with Airbus and hosted only on isolated servers, will also be integrated into the platform to help operators conduct their own analyses, and make decisions based on the full scope of their available data. These shared sources include operational interruption history, parts replacements, post-flight reports, pilot reports, aircraft condition monitoring reports, complete on-board aircraft data, technical documentation, technical requests and service bulletins.

Early adopters One early adopter of Skywise is easyJet. Earlier in 2018, the airline announced a five-year predictive maintenance partnership programme with Airbus to forecast aircraft technical faults before they occur. “The technology relies on Airbus’ Skywise data platform, which allows easyJet’s engineers to intervene early and replace parts before the component’s failure, thereby preventing passengers from experiencing delays and cancellations. The move is part of our aim of eliminating delays caused by technical issues,” says an easyJet spokesperson.

“These have come down from 10 per 1000 flights in 2010, to just over three per 1000 flights today on easyJet’s newest aircraft, and the airline’s long-term aim is to get to zero. Our investment in the Skywise platform can really make a tangible difference for thousands of passengers by harnessing the power of big data to reduce delays. It will transform the way that we maintain and operate our aircraft with the long term aim of eliminating delays due to technical faults.”

Delta Air Lines, whose overall goal is also to improve aircraft operational reliability, is another early adopter of Skywise as it invests in new tools and technology to further eliminate maintenance cancellations and enhance the customer experience. “Delta’s latest investment is a multi-year agreement with Airbus to use the Skywise open-data platform and related predictive maintenance services. As the first major US carrier to invest in the tool, Delta will utilise Skywise on its A320 and A330 aircraft to track and analyse operations and performance data, so it can assess the failure probabilities of aircraft parts to anticipate maintenance tasks before they are needed,” says Gary Hammes, Vice President of Engineering, Quality, Planning and Logistics at Delta Airlines.

“With a success rate of over 95%, our predictive maintenance programme is just another way we are building the world’s most reliable airline and providing a new standard of reliability to customers. It is all about continuous improvement at Delta, and Skywise is just another way we will continue to lead the industry in operational reliability. Adding Skywise to our stable of innovative TechOps tools will support our teams in their work to improve Delta’s performance by the fractions needed to reach our ultimate goal of 100% reliability.”

The adoption of Skywise by easyJet builds on a successful trial of the platform. “Initially, the focus was on just three specific technical issues on 85 aircraft in easyJet’s fleet. Skywise predicted 31 technical failures, which enabled easyJet to remove components before a fault occurred. This meant that at least 31 flights – which would have carried more than 4,400 passengers – operated on schedule that would otherwise have been disrupted. Had the fault occurred at a remote airport, the delay could have led to an overnight delay and knock on delays on other flights,” the easyJet spokesperson says.

“Developing from this prototype, Skywise can now analyse data from other components on easyJet’s aircraft thanks to the installation of Airbus’ newly released flight operations and maintenance exchanger FOMAX, which can collect 60 times more data than existing systems. The new equipment will be fitted on easyJet’s fleet over the next few years. This will allow easyJet to recover each year around 800Gb of data from up to 24,000 different parameters.”

Multiple functionalities Skywise offers multiple applications for airlines to use. One such application is Skywise Reliability, which integrates all relevant fleet-wide data – such as part replacements, flight plans and delays, and historical maintenance actions – and automates reliability reporting. “It allows users to ‘drill down’ into trends to truly diagnose root causes so they can allocate resources to mitigate recurring operational interruptions.

Skywise Reliability also complements internal data with worldwide anonymised fleet data, so that airlines can proactively assess reliability performance against industry benchmarks, and understand whether a recurring issue is unique or a more systematic issue,” says Airbus. “The service provides interactive and ready-to-use dashboards to simplify the reliability process and increase its efficiency. It allows users to measure in-service fleet performance, explore operational data and benchmark fleet data (such as data on fleet utilisation, operational interruptions and in-service issues, LRU removals and logbook data) with other operators and the worldwide Airbus fleet.”

Another Skywise application is related to predictive maintenance. It is intended to enable airlines to turn unscheduled maintenance into scheduled maintenance in order to optimise aircraft operations and asset utilisation. “New technology allows the collection of 24,000 data points on an A320 aircraft versus 400 historically. Armed with exponentially higher amounts of data, Skywise aims to build a predictive maintenance capability for airlines,” according to a recent study from Bank of America Merrill Lynch on Skywise. “Today aircraft maintenance is reactive, and relies upon standard rule-of-thumb models such as ‘mean time between failures’. Predictive maintenance has the potential to save airlines money and delays from unnecessary repairs.”

“Skywise Predictive Maintenance utilises real-time data downlinked via a secure VPN at the end of each flight. The data is combined with data science to produce prognostic alerts which are received at Delta via Skywise’s user interface. The actions taken in association with the alerts allow Delta to mitigate operational interruptions, continuing to produce industry-leading operational metrics and positively impacting the customer experience.

Bottom line: Skywise will enable us to track trends on individual aircrafts and address them before they become disruptions,” says Hammes. “For us, if you can prevent just one cancelation and mitigate customer disruption, you are already one step ahead. By deploying Skywise Predictive, we have added valuable tools to increase the mitigation of delays over and above the current mitigation of 1,800+ delays and cancels.”

“Skywise Predictive Maintenance is currently being deployed on Delta’s A320 and A330 fleets. The current predictive modules cover 14 different systems across the A320 and A330 fleets with an additional 27 models scheduled to be released in Phase 2,” says Hammes. “Skywise Predictive models are developed in Agile with releases approximately every 4-6 weeks. Additional user interface, reporting, administrative enhancements and prognostic alerts will be available as SPM matures. Prognostics development is prioritised based on operational interruption and reliability drivers.”

Bank of America Merrill Lynch notes that Skywise’s partnership with big data specialist Palantir Technologies enables it to detect patterns in data over time and determine the root cause of a failure. “Under the old system, the process of manual diagnostics was very time consuming. For example, maintenance teams determined whether a brake repair was necessary through a physical inspection of the brakes. The ability to monitor condition via sensors saves time and money,” reports Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

“What’s more, Palantir technology attempts to find previously undiscovered relationships between seemingly insignificant malfunctions today and more serious failures in the future. For example, the system may determine that a high oil temperature reading detected during flight, which on its own is relatively benign, could be an early sign of a hydraulic pump soon failing based on its past data records. This pattern recognition enables advanced warning of an impending failure, affording an airline critical time to ensure parts arrive in time and reorganise its remaining aircraft fleet to minimise disruption.”

Additional functionalities enabled by Skywise include fuel efficiency optimisation, reliability benchmarking, flight safety investigation, inflight entertainment defect tracking, warranty claims automation, materials forecasting, aircraft on ground management and line planning.

Partnership with suppliers The equipment manufacturers in the supply chain of Airbus are also contributing to and benefitting from Skywise. Since 2017, Airbus has been working with selected suppliers during an early adopter phase to evaluate the features and functionalities. To date here are already 10 ‘early adopters’ suppliers working with Airbus to test and help mature the new supplier-related components of Skywise. The participants represent a broad spectrum of commodities including cabin, propulsion, aerostructures, materials and equipment/systems. Airbus’ suppliers are collaborating with the company on strategic ‘use cases’, encompassing three domains: supply chain, quality and aircraft operability. For each of these domains, Airbus has developed dedicated applications with Palantir Technologies.

The supply chain application is called Skywise Dispatch, and it is intended to increase efficiency and responsiveness to supply chain disruptions. “The application is designed to improve demand management, aircraft assembly configuration, and on-time delivery, notably to prevent line stops. The application aligns supplier production planning and Airbus’ demand to create a single ‘source of truth’. This enables fast and easy root-cause analysis of recurring missing parts and anticipation, notably through a better visibility into production status,” says Airbus.

The quality application is called Skywise Object Explorer, and it has been developed in order to improve the quality of suppliers’ services and commodities by reducing the cost of non-quality incurred by both Airbus and suppliers, reducing the occurrence of quality shortfalls by identifying such trends early and by accelerating resolution, according to Airbus.

The aircraft operability application brings together Airbus and suppliers in a platform where they can collaborate to resolve in-service issues faster and more accurately, by leveraging in-service aircraft data to identify the root causes of operational issues, and exploring how to improve predictive maintenance services for airlines. The pioneering team in this collaboration is the partnership between easyJet, Liebherr Aerospace and Airbus.

Based on the success of the pilot projects to assess the potential of big data through Skywise, Airbus and Liebherr Aerospace are now exploring opportunities to expand to additional fields of investigation. In the pilots, Liebherr Aerospace and Airbus used Skywise to develop deeper and better understanding of the in-service behaviour of on-board systems and components developed, manufactured, certified and serviced by Liebherr.

“This data-backed understanding and enhanced know-how, powered by Skywise, will allow Liebherr Aerospace to issue updated operational recommendations to Airbus and Airbus’ airline customers in order to optimise aircraft operation and significantly reduce operating costs. By leveraging Liebherr Aerospace experts in data analytics and the breadth of data contained in the Skywise platform, this pilot demonstrated how expert analysis could surface previously unknown relationships, and how those relationships can be used to build and operate equipment in a more reliable manner,” says Liebherr Aerospace.