Archive For The “General Category” Category

e-Taxi update

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It has been a while since we last heard about this part of the industry.  Low fuel costs pushed it down people’s consciousness.  Now that fuel prices are rising again, its coming back.   Since the last fuel price spike, the leading contender, WheelTug modified their message to focus on time savings rather than fuel savings.

Meanwhile, the Honeywell/SAFRAN solution has virtually disappeared.  The German TaxiBot has also gone quiet.  It seems that WheelTug is the last one standing.

Today WheelTug announced another customer commitment.  SunExpress, a Lufthansa/Turkish joint venture LCC, announced they “executed a slot option purchase agreement for the SunExpress fleet of Boeing 737NG/MAX aircraft”.  This deal includes 66 WheelTug systems.

In announcing this deal, Wheel Tug now has 1,042 systems reserved by airline customers.   Note that the FAA’s Acceptance of the Certification Plan last year suggests that WheelTug is on the right side of the curve to achieve entry into service.

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Ross Mitchell on the CRJ Market

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Ross Michell, VP of Commercial Operations at Bombardier, speaks about the CRJ in an interview with Addison Schonland in Dublin.

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China to Become Largest Market in World by 2022- IATA

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IATA has published its latest 20 year aviation forecast, and projects that China will overtake the US in terms of passenger traffic by 2022.  The following graphic shows the top 10 markets in 2016 and 2036.  It is clear that traffic growth in Asia will change the landscape of major markets, with China, India, Indonesia and Japan taking 4 of the top 6, and Thailand joining the top 10 by 2036.

source: IATA


Total traffic is expected to nearly double to 7.8 billion passengers in 2036, with the Asia-Pacific region driving more than half of the new passengers.

                                                                        source: IATA

The Bottom Line

IATA confirms the forecasts from Airbus and Boeing that all show massive growth in Asia over the next two decades.  Infrastructure, from airports to air traffic control to trained pilots and mechanics, will challenge the industry over the next two decades.  Understanding the magnitude of travel demand well in advance enables the industry to act in advance to provide the capacity requirements to meet that demand.  We are all a part of a growth industry, with unique challenges and opportunities over the next two decades that will be interesting to watch.

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Aircraft Health Management Systems and Digital Twin Technology

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Today’s new aircraft and engines have integrated data acquisition and transmission systems that can actively monitor and store data on the performance of an engine or airframe component.  This generates tremendous amounts of data for a fleet of aircraft, typically measured in petabytes.  A petabyte is one quadrillion bytes, which is a lot of data.

Collecting and transmitting this data requires a number of sensors on board the aircraft, data storage devices to collect and store the data, and transmission capabilities for either real-time or post-landing download, depending on the criticality of information and the design of the integrated hardware and software on board the aircraft.

The newest aircraft models, including the Bombardier C Series, Embraer E2, Boeing 787, and Airbus A350 have the most advanced health management systems for airframes, while the new technology Pratt & Whitney GTF,  CFM LEAP, and GEnx and GE9X, and Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 and Trent XWB are leading the way in engines.

But what happens next?  A massive amount of data are collected that need to be analyzed and turned into useful information for customers.  It is in the analytics behind big data that will enable the data collection systems to prove their worth.

Big data will tell us when a component is going to fail, and the condition of a number of variables that could impact that component at and leading up to the time of failure.  Analyzing conditions that lead to failure can then lead to a set of “early warning” criteria that a component may soon fail, providing the operator an opportunity to fix the fault before a failure occurs to avoid lost revenue.  Much like monitoring exhaust gas temperatures in an engine can determine when an overhaul is due, the additional data from an engine or airframe can provide new inferences and guidelines for maintenance activities.

How big is big data for an aircraft or engine?  The first health management systems monitored only a few key elements of an engine or airframe.  Today, the technologies that are driving the Internet of Things (IoT) have improved in capabilities at lower cost.  As a result, we may now have 5,000 or more parameters to analyze on an aircraft at any given point in time.

It may take quite some time before the impacts of changes in each parameter are known well enough to develop predictive models that will produce tangible benefits for new aircraft models.

Simulation is one software tool that has been shown promise in this regard and has resulted in “Digital Twin” technology from GE Aviation.  Digital Twin technology is, in its simplest form, a virtual model of a physical product.  By pairing the virtual and physical worlds, analysis of data and monitoring information enable advanced analytics that can predict failures and reduce maintenance costs.

The concept of a digital twin has been around since 2002 but has only recently become feasible with the availability of monitoring data gathered through sensors and connectivity that form Aircraft Health Management Systems and collects tremendous volumes of data for analysis.

Essentially, a digital twin is an advanced simulation of a physical entity, collecting data that mirrors the physical experience of an aircraft in a simulation model, capturing the operational characteristics and conditions to enable prediction of future behavior.  A digital twin for an aircraft engine utilized on an Emirates aircraft based in Dubai may show quite different results than one for the same type of engine used by Delta based in Atlanta.

Operational considerations, including temperatures, pressures, operating in an environment with a lot of sand in the air, or near ocean water, will have a difference on wear and tear on an engine and its components.  Those environmental factors, along with performance data from engine sensors provide a richer database for analysis and refinement of simulations to mirror the performance of a given engine based on its utilization, environment, and operational history.

The ability to accurately predict engine or airframe component behavior is essential to carry out the mission of health management systems, which is to provide maintenance and money-saving ideas.  GE Aviation is leveraging its Predix software suite, which provides an integrated platform for storing, analyzing and creating digital twin simulations across a variety of industrial applications, including Aerospace.  That cloud-based environment includes a number of robust applications and analytics routines for building customized applications, as well as a library of tools to create and deploy machine learning models that detect anomalies, direct controls, and predict maintenance.  The digital twin models created within the Predix environment enable analysts to determine correlations and cross-correlations between variables and to more rapidly understand, predict, and optimize the performance of an engine or aircraft.

The Bottom Line:

Health management systems and the Big Data they gather need to be analyzed and structured into useful information that is actionable to improve performance, reduce downtime, and predict failures before they interrupt operations.  Digital twin technology is a logical approach to the problem, simulating physical operations to predict future maintenance events and helping to optimize engine and aircraft performance.

While collecting the data is important, the ability to quickly and accurately analyze the data and turn data into actionable information that provides a payback is key.  The MRO business is changing, from borescopes and wrench turners to simulation modelers and logistics systems that will determine when a part needs changing and having it at the right place at the right time to minimize costs and downtime.  IT is changing the way we think about MRO.

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Innovative Aerospace Technologies Go Mainstream in 2018

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As we look over the technology landscape, several innovative technologies are moving from concept into production as new aircraft and engine programs reach the market.  Let’s take a look at those that will soon explode in volume and provide intriguing opportunities as they move from R&D to mainstream.

Big Data and Analytics
Virtually every new aircraft and engine program features “health management systems” that enable monitoring of a number of parameters and to predict when maintenance action might be required before an in-service failure.  The benefits of these programs are promising, but require the OEMs to store and analyze petabytes of data to implement these predictive benefits.

This will require massive data storage facilities, new analytical software, and communications capabilities to alert operators around the world to potential problems.  Almost every OEM has a control center with multiple computer monitors tracking their customers and equipment in service in real-time around the world.  These are complex systems, with the massive investment required, to generate the benefits of data for their customers by reducing catastrophic maintenance events and minimizing schedule disruptions.

In the narrow-body world, the C Series and E2 Jets are farther advanced than the A320neo and 737 MAX families in this regard, while the 787 and A350 lead the charge in wide-body aircraft.  In the engine side, GE’s Digital Twin concepts go beyond traditional health management and may be the most advanced application in its class.

Additive Manufacturing goes Mainstream
The new Advanced Turboprop Engine from GE has about 35% of its parts produced using additive manufacturing.  The benefits of additive include the ability to create designs and shapes that would be difficult using conventional techniques, and lighter weight components.  In the ATP, 855 individual parts are replaced with 12, reducing complexity and maintenance cost while providing improved performance.

At the same time, research and development into additive manufacturing technologies will result in faster processing to enable more rapid completion of complex parts, which are relatively slow to build today.  Our projection is for a doubling of speed in 2018 and a redoubling of speeds in 2019 as refinements are made in these technologies.

Innovative technologies using titanium have resulted in Norsk Titanium building a specialized facility in upstate New York to produce additively manufactured components from titanium in a unique, hybrid process.  Their 787 parts can be ordered one day and shipped overnight the next to a customer, perhaps a precursor to the next generation MRO facility that will have high-speed 3D printing capabilities instead of racks of parts inventories.

We’re seeing additive manufactured parts on engines from the GTF and LEAP, with large-scale applications on the ATP.  Additive has arrived.

Out of Autoclave Composite Materials Streamline Manufacturing
The composite materials utilized for most aircraft today are thermoset pre-pregs that require “baking” in a pressurized autoclave to “set” the polymers to form strong but lightweight structures.  Today, the second generation of composites is emerging, with materials that can be produced “out of autoclave” and do not need a pressurized high-temperature manufacturing process.  Speeding the manufacturing process, at lower energy costs, is viewed favorably by aircraft OEMs, who are looking closely at alternative materials  We see the industry gradually moving away from traditional thermoset materials to thermoplastic materials that include PEEK and PEKK materials, and to lower cost thermoset pre-preg materials.   While this transition will not be complete until the next generation of aircraft is introduced, those new materials are being tested and evaluated today for future programs.

Ceramic-Matrix Composites
CMCs are a unique set of composite materials that are formulated with silicon chemistries and have unique high-temperature applications in aircraft engines.  GE is utilizing CMCs in the LEAP engine, which requires a massive ramp-up of CMC production for the first high volume civil application.  With the same weight and strength benefits of composites over metal, plus an additional 400 degrees in temperature resistance, these components will prove valuable as future aircraft engines increase pressure ratios and operating temperatures.

Advanced Avionics for Autonomous Aircraft Operations
While we aren’t quite ready to eliminate pilots from aircraft, the aviation industry has the capability today to take off, navigate, and land aircraft without a pilot.  The drone industry is growing substantially, and the ability to remotely control an aircraft provides the potential for safety improvements.

The aviation industry pioneered autonomous operations and remains well ahead of the auto industry in this leading-edge technology.  Autopilots and flight management systems are complex avionics systems that are becoming more and more sophisticated, and could soon provide the fail-safes that will enable single-pilot plus computer/ground backup operations.  The technology is ready, although passenger and union (not to mention regulatory) acceptance remain in the future.

The Bottom Line
Technology integration into commercial aerospace is accelerating, with a focus on materials, manufacturing process, control systems and IT.  The next generation, currently in R&D, will provide even more advances as nanotechnology and quantum computing bring new possibilities.  We are entering an exciting time of change for our industry.

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GE’s additive journey

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Near the year end, we had an opportunity to visit GE Aviation’s Additive Technology Center in Cincinnati. It was an eye-opening experience. The progress the company has made in developing this technology is remarkable. The visit left us in no doubt that GE will deploy additive wherever it can because its value is so compelling.

The Additive Technology Center is a testbed of sorts for GE Aviation. If a part is appropriate for additive, they figure out how to build the part using the additive process, then they start to work on industrializing the process.

While we were under a strictly “no pictures” visit, GE did share some images with us for this story.

As this chart demonstrates, additive manufacturing is a relatively new technology. It was GE Aviation that saw the advantages of moving into this business. The company bought a local additive leader called Morris Technologies and never looked back. The team at Morris was small but had a culture where experimenting with machines was encouraged to help improve the additive manufacturing process. Truly along the lines of “you need to break eggs to make an omelet,” this small team quickly rose to industry prominence because they did not fear trying new ideas and methods, pushing machines to greater limits and making geometries once thought impossible. GE Aviation was an early customer and readily saw the vast potential for additive manufacturing.

The chart also shows how GE as a company moved up the learning curve. This started with the development of the LEAP fuel nozzle through to the Advanced Turboprop engine, which is comprised of approximately 34% additive parts.

The Additive Technology Center is a testbed of sorts for GE Aviation. If a part is appropriate for additive, they figure out how to build the part using the additive process, then they start to work on industrializing the process.

Based on GE’s experience and success in additive manufacturing, the company launched a new company. GE Additive is dedicated to offering machines, materials and engineering services to companies interested in using additive manufacturing. The chart shows the recent acquisitions of Arcam and Concept Laser – these firms allow GE Additive to sell existing metal-based machines and develop and build machines internally. In addition, through their AddWorks program, GE Additive offers design, materials development, and industrialization services to take advantage of GE’s experience and shorten the learning curve for introducing additive.

GE’s confidence in this group is summed by the next chart. GE has developed a global network with 24 locations. These locations cover R&D, production, and support.
GE Additive’s mission for the new business is outlined below.



These three data points are big numbers. The first two are self-evident. The third is just amazing. All GE businesses see additive manufacturing as an opportunity to reduce the costs of making products and are working toward some lofty cost-out goals.

The disruptive impact of GE’s additive process is moving ahead also with the Arcam and Concept Laser teams developing larger machines – bigger machines allow for bigger parts. GE is reluctant to discuss the impact of these parts in the supply chain. Using a GE engine may end up being cheaper to own and operate because of this technology. The impact from GE’s first experience with Morris Technologies will reverberate for a long time and may change how we understand commercial aero engines.

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