Improving an Aircraft’s Fiscal Performance

February 2020

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When an asset as costly as an aircraft lands on a company’s financial books, the fiscal performance of that asset is as important as its operational performance. Often the two go hand in hand, with operational performance directly affecting fiscal results and ultimately the organization’s bottom line.

In its recent Elements of Performance ebook, Honeywell contends that aircraft performance is advancing in four main areas: pilot support and aircraft control; thrust and propulsion; precision, navigation, and maneuverability; and lift and payload.

Advances in Pilot Support and Aircraft Control

The same type of high-speed connectivity equipment that allows consumers to download massive video game or movie files now permits aircraft operators to transfer data to or from their aircraft in flight, prompting the phrase “connected aircraft.” While first used to keep airline and business jet passengers connected to the ground via mobile devices, this equipment can also provide real-time data to the cockpit.

Such data updates—afforded by satellite-based broadband internet coupled with advances in graphical display technology—provide pilots with a holistic view of variables that can affect in-flight aircraft performance, such as weather, air density, air traffic, and hazardous terrain. Using these technologies together, pilots gain better situational awareness, which helps them determine the most efficient path around weather and terrain.

Aircraft health monitoring technologies and the sharing of performance data can also give pilots greater control over airplane performance. They can use the data to see the fuel burned during specific engine settings or phases of flight to tweak fuel usage, as well as monitor systems for any performance issues that may signal a need for maintenance.

Pilot-specific apps such as Honeywell FlightBag Pro and Flight Preview provide additional situational awareness to help pilots fly the most efficient route. Flight Preview, for example, allows pilots to pre-fly any airport approach in the world from their iPad in 3D.

Advances in Engine Performance

A major factor in an aircraft’s fiscal performance is the amount of fuel it burns. Engines, which are responsible for about 70 to 75 percent of an aircraft’s fuel-efficiency factor, generally experience a sharp degradation in performance during their first 30 to 60 cycles and then continue to degrade in efficiency until a major overhaul is performed, according to Arturo Benito and Gustavo Alonso in their 2018 book, Energy Efficiency in Air Transportation.

“[The initial degradation] is the result of the adjustments among the different moveable and static parts of the engine, working for the first times at a wide range of temperatures and mechanical efforts,” the authors wrote. “After this gap, the increase in fuel consumption follows a continuous way. About 80 percent of this degradation by use can be recovered in a major overhaul.”

Sensitive to their customers’ needs for improving fiscal performance as well as flight performance, engine manufacturers try to minimize the impact of maintenance on their customers. Honeywell’s HTF7000 family of engines, which power midsize business jets such as the Bombardier Challenger 300/350 and Cessna Citation Longitude, are designed with advances in engine technology that both improve fuel efficiency and help reduce performance deterioration rate. Such technologies include a wide-chord damperless fan, SLE compressor airfoil technology, advanced abradable shrouds, a durable, low-emissions effusion coordinator, transpiration-cooled high-pressure turbine blades and a dual-channel FADEC. The HTF 7000 product line uses an on-condition maintenance schedule with on-wing periodic inspections and standard maintenance actions. Thirty-nine strategically placed borescope ports provide 360-degree visibility to all gas-path components, and most line-replaceable units (LRUs) can be replaced in as little as 20 minutes.

In addition, Honeywell continues to invest in technologies in its auxiliary power unit (APU) lines. Things like improvements in Rich-Quench-Lean (RQL) combustion which increases fuel burn efficiency with reduced emissions and foil bearings, and reduces the overall complexity while improving reliability and weight. Advances in dual allow radial turbine technologies have yielded substantial improvements in power to weight ratios, SFC, as well as increased life and reliability.

While engine and airframe manufacturers have been including data-gathering sensors in their products for decades, it hasn’t been until recently that advances in satellite-based broadband internet bandwidth and speed have allowed that data to be more readily accessed.

Programs such as Honeywell Forge Connected Maintenance gather and analyze data daily from hundreds or thousands of sensors placed throughout the aircraft, its engines, and its systems to identify impending failures and opportunities to enhance performance. These systems can predict engine degradation based on actual—not theoretical—engine usage and identify the most time- and cost-effective maintenance actions to take to reverse the degradation.

Honeywell has also recently launched an industry first, Usage Based service offering under its MSP engine maintenance program. This new connected service allows operators to earn up to 10% discounts off their maintenance bill based on how they operate their engines. Advanced algorithms have been developed to track critical engine parameters that impact engine life cycle costs, including flight lengths, throttle settings, and environmental impacts. Customers can view a monthly scorecard reflecting their discounts earned, how their engines scored in each performance category,  along with a comparison against the entire fleet for the same engine model.

Advances in Navigation, Precision, and Maneuverability

While global positioning system (GPS) equipment has replaced many radio-based navigational aids, taking advantage of advances in satellite-based systems can increase an aircraft’s navigational performance even more. Honeywell’s SmartRunway and SmartLanding systems incorporate data from the aircraft’s enhanced ground proximity warning system (EGPWS) database with GPS and/or other satellite-based navigation to warn pilots of hazards such as attempting to take off or land on the wrong runway, flying too high or too fast on approach, or landing long. The system can even detect an aircraft lined up to land on a taxiway.

Synthetic vision is another technology that helps pilots improve aircraft performance, as they can fly more precise approaches through weather and often land at airports where they may have had to divert previously. Using flight information from multiple onboard databases, GPS, and inertial reference systems, synthetic vision provides a 3D rendering of the terrain—including airport environments—directly ahead of the aircraft.

With regard to maneuverability, Honeywell cites advances in actuators as a key factor. Found throughout the aircraft, actuators perform such actions as moving flight control surfaces, extending landing gear, and providing aircraft engine and thrust management control. Advances in materials and engineering design are resulting in low-weight, high-efficiency actuators with maximum reliability.

Advances in Lift and Payload

While the overall design of an aircraft is essentially fixed, adding winglets is one way to increase performance. Winglets break up wingtip vortices to decrease aerodynamic drag, increasing speed while reducing fuel burn.

Keeping the aircraft as light as possible also increases performance through either reduced fuel burn or an increase in allowable payload. Recent-generation Honeywell auxiliary power units have been engineered to provide greater fuel efficiency and more power in a lighter yet more reliable package