Hoping for More Hackathons

We are in a time of great change, in the world and in our industry. Tempting though it may be, I’ll not talk about all the changes in the world and stick to our industry. We are in a transition period between the old way and the new way. It is an exciting time. And we have to pick up the ball and run.

I’m of course talking about the digitization of aircraft, connectivity including Ka- or Ku-band, inflight entertainment, Big Data, trend monitoring, predictive maintenance, training and even electronic signatures and documentation and how all of that is impacting aviation maintenance. The technology that we have at our finger tips today would astound Charles Taylor and his colleagues, the Wright Brothers.

In addition to the miracle of flight that allows passengers to “sit in a chair in a metal tube hurtling through the atmosphere,” incredible advances also allow us to communicate with that aircraft and those passengers in numerous ways. Work and entertainment happens as a matter of course aboard those aircraft in the passenger cabin with Internet access, live TV, multiple movie options, games and more. And when denied those luxuries passengers often feel inconvenienced. Up in the cockpit we have navigation systems, ACARS, and sensors throughout the aircraft offering condition monitoring, if not in real time yet, it will be coming soon.

But more than simply nav and IFE, aircraft today are virtual flying computers. We have covered and talked about these technologies here for years, but the time is now. We need to leverage those technologies right now, as quickly as possible. There is no time to waste anymore wondering if all this is good or bad, necessary or not, overkill or too expensive. Technology has spoken – it is ready. We must now embrace it. Like it or not, aircraft today have the ability to produce half a terabyte of data every flight. Now we must leverage that to the good.

In the long run, these technologies are going to improve safety and save operators money. Aircraft operation and maintenance go hand in hand. This technology and the data it produces are going to improve safety and reduce operational costs, especially for maintenance. We have to start planning for the day when aircraft maintenance consists of a simple software download (it is happening in many systems already).

As we move towards this all-connected world, monitoring aircraft systems will provide real-time data so time is not wasted on multiple physical and visual checks by teams of people. One person looking at data will determine whether the brakes need to be changed or whether those brakes are wearing evenly, saving time and money. This type of monitoring will allow for better planning and staging of parts at crucial times and locations.

Yes, we will always need sheet metal workers and those who can tear down an engine and put it back together, but going forward, we also need to acknowledge that there will be less of that and more software downloads, debugging computer systems, coding and the like.

Training must keep pace. We need to integrate these types of technologies into the training of our new generation of maintainers. Perhaps adding that kind of training would help to entice young, tech savvy minds into our field of work. Take a look at the hackathon story on page 10 of our Intelligence section. WestJet held the event, “a sprint-like event that computer programmers and software developers used to collaborate and create solutions” in their hangar. We need more of this type of creative, thought-provoking training and challenges in our world.

We need to keep pushing ahead and demanding the type of training our industry needs to keep pace with technology. Maybe a third rating is called for that covers connectivity, computer systems and data as they relate to aircraft maintenance, in addition to Airframe and Powerplant certificates.

We have some great stories this month to help you keep up with the happenings in our business. First, our cover story, page 30, addresses the military maintenance world’s need to find and retain mechanics to help maintain the safety and security of our world. Find out if they are having the same challenges as the civilian world in finding the next generation of aircraft mechanics.

We take a look, as we do every year at the MRO market in Europe. The area is thriving and growing so much we had to break our story into two parts. In this issue we start with a look at Eastern Europe and that story starts on page 16.

After the Southwest Airlines uncontained engine failure and subsequent inspections, we thought it would be a good time to look at non-destructive inspection technologies such as borescopes, eddy current, ultrasonic, liquid penetrant dye and magnetic particle tests, to see what developments are happening there. That piece starts on page 22.

We also have some interesting info on wiring on page 38 and grease on page 40. Finally, Jason Dickstein addresses electronics records and signatures, a bane of our industry for years, in his Legal Spin column. He offers clear guidance on use of these technologies and the background on why it is such a hard mountain to climb on page 41.

Enjoy your summer everyone – hope to see you at hackathon soon!