Data and Digital Solutions are Key to Future of GE Aviation

 - March 12, 2019, 6:57 AM

“Your engines have a lot to say, and we are collecting that data to come up with solutions to benefit you,” Mahendra Nair, v-p of Americas sales at GE Aviation, said at the GE Aviation Waypoint conference, held February 19 to 21 in Dallas. Sponsored by GE Aviation’s Digital Solutions team and bringing together more than 600 customers and user representatives from the airlines, business and general aviation, MRO, and leasing entities to discuss and explore digital innovation in aviation, Waypoint 2019 focused on moving forward toward a more digital tomorrow. 

Approximately 500 people comprise the GE Aviation Digital Solutions team, which is “rapidly growing.” according to GE Aviation chief commercial officer Andrew Coleman. “Our [aviation digital] business has observed double-digit growth or greater for nine consecutive quarters.”

A focus point of the conference was customer sharing of engine data and how GE is using that data. While there was some private talk among attendees about reluctance among pilots and pilot unions to share individual flight operation data for fear of reprisal, GE representatives made the case for improving fleet operations through the use of aggregate data. 

Nair used the GE90 commercial aircraft engines, which contain about 23 sensors, as an example. “In 2013, some of our Middle East operators had an operational disruption that was related to GE90 hardware. When we initially looked at the data, our standard response would be to issue service bulletins [to all GE90 operators worldwide]. By using the [then Austin Digital, now GE Aviation Digital] suite of engine management system tools, we were able to issue the first FAA-approved analytic-enabled service bulletin that narrowed down the maintenance burden to a few engines at a few operators.”

Predictive Data for Business Aviation

While Nair’s comments—and most of the conference—were targeted toward the commercial airline market, there were interesting nuggets of information for business and general aircraft operators as well, evidenced by Gulfstream and Bombardier pilots who attended the conference. Though speakers generally mentioned Flight Operation Quality Assurance (FOQA) in an airline context, GE offers a Corporate FOQA digital solution with aggregated data from more than 350,000 corporate flights on more than 500 business aircraft, ranging from Bombardier Learjets to Boeing BBJs.

“Now is the time to look at how to pull data off the aircraft, start analyzing, and do predictive things,” said John Mansfield, chief digital officer for GE Aviation during a general session panel discussion. “We have great domain expertise within aviation: the capabilities, the people, and customers who help us. We have an opportunity to use our capabilities to work directly with our customers and solve some really intriguing problems that we couldn't have afforded to do four or five years ago.”

“From the customer view, the question is, ‘When do I act on my asset and what is the mitigation?’” said Dinakar Deshmukh, v-p of data sciences and analytics at GE Aviation, during one of more than 60 breakout sessions ranging from general trends in digital innovation to specific workings of GE Aviation Digital’s AirVault and Asset Performance Management solutions. “It’s a seemingly simple question, but to arrive at the answer, a lot is working in the background: figuring out root causes, data collection, parameter selection, model building, operationalization, implementation, and all for a particular asset.”

Keywords of the conference included digital, innovation, and partnership. Breakout sessions with titles such as “Partnering Together for Digital Innovation” and “Partnering for Success: Industrial IoT and Rapid Innovation” included presenters from British Airways, Passur Aerospace, MapLarge, Spire Global, Teradata, American Airlines, Microsoft, Oliver Wyman, Forrester, and Emirates, in addition to various representatives from GE. Several of these GE partners exhibited in the conference hall along with FlightAware and Avionica, allowing attendees to explore various digitally-driven aviation products. Private invitation-only user meetings allowed customers to meet on safety and other topics.