5 Ways Aircraft Health Monitoring Systems Are Revolutionizing Aircraft Maintenance


Companies that take care of the Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) of aircraft, including MRO service providers and Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), are focusing more and more on the aftermarket business and looking for opportunities to minimize aircraft downtime. Aircraft Health Monitoring Systems (AHMS), which use real-time data captured through various sensors integrated on aircraft parts to enhance reliability and safety of the aircraft, are emerging as a promising business opportunity for OEMs and airlines. Accordingly, service providers that are working with these stakeholders as a part of their aftermarket and customer support offerings are expected to pitch in for AHMS projects.

AHMS can optimize MRO costs by replacing cost-intensive and invasive maintenance work with non-invasive inspections and testing that report on the aircrafts’ condition and minimize aircraft downtime.

Here are some of the industry-wide activities that are likely to shape the AHMS market in 2019:

  1. Leveraging academia and start-ups for cutting-edge research: Aerospace stakeholders such as Boeing are collaborating with universities to explore technologies that can precisely monitor aircraft health. Aircraft manufacturers are particularly interested in detecting flaws in coatings, surfaces and materials for maintenance assurance, quality control, structural health and product safety. Stakeholders also are interested in disruptive innovations that can be adopted in future AHMS technologies, such as photonics to monitor in real-time the condition, vibration and structural health of the aircraft and its parts.
  2. Using Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting Systems (ACARS) for data transmission: Fast and reliable data transmission is the lifeline of an AHMS application. Several vendors have been offering proprietary data transmission technologies as a service to aircraft manufacturers, which are beginning to use ACARS as a medium to transmit high volumes of data by the integrated suite of software systems to the ground. For example, Bombardier has used Pratt & Whitney’s eFAST data transmission technology for the AHMS functions on its C-Series jets. Pratt & Whitney’s AHMS system downloads data automatically and the crew manually transmits the data to ground sources through the ACARS. For the C-Series aircraft, Bombardier’s FlightLink transmits the data recorded from the aircraft to the ground, and in turn to the customer. The operator uses a web-based interface to analyze the data while the aircraft is airborne, so the team can make the necessary preparations to address the issues as soon as the aircraft lands.
  3. Using open data platforms: Aircraft manufacturers are seeking a standardized approach for AHMS across their global fleet, and open data platforms may be the answer. Airbus plans to evolve its open data platform Skywise as an end-to-end airplane health management solution for Airbus operators. The Skywise platform will enable access to the Airbus Customer Service digital suite in addition to the Airbus flight operations and maintenance exchanger (FOMAX) tool, including sensor data for the A320 and A330 product line.
  4. Involving telecommunication service providers (TSPs): TSPs are gradually getting involved in the AHMS value chain. GE Aviation collaborated with AT&T to connect the onboard and offboard portions of the Aircraft Health and Trend Monitoring System (AHTMS) driven by the aircraft manufacturer Gulfstream, which uses its proprietary PlaneConnectHTM on its G500, G600, G650 and G650ER business jets. AT&T leveraged its connectivity solutions (AT&T Control Center and AT&T Global SIM) to access the AHTMS on landing and transmits the data wirelessly to Gulfstream Technical Operations and Gulfstream Operators. The data is transmitted through AT&T’s secured connection with a custom MPLS/VPN network, seamlessly connecting mobile assets scattered worldwide. The pool of data collected from the global fleet can be leveraged by Gulfstream Technical Operations to deliver enhanced services, such as time-specific data for individual aircraft. The derived insights can then be used to increase transparency and expedite resolution across the global fleet.
  5. Increasing engineering service provider involvement in aerospace: AHMS promises a growing opportunity for service providers that are working in the aviation vertical. Since backlogs in production are one of the major challenges for aircraft manufacturers (Airbus reported an overall backlog of 7,337 aircraft on November 2018 translating to around nine years of production at the current rate), the OEMs are looking to revamp old aircraft and make them functional. An aircraft at the end of its life would necessitate a significant degree of MRO investment before it could fly regularly and then intensive checks between flights. AHMS taps into this service market and presents business propositions for service providers with expertise in software, hardware and embedded systems.

    AHMS also will provide opportunities for service providers with expertise in cloud computing, sensors and big data technologies. The collaboration between Bombardier and Tech Mahindra for the development of the Aircraft Ground Support System (AGSS) for its C-Series product line is an example. The AGSS enable and support real-time monitoring of the aircraft and post-flight recorded data management, diagnostic reporting and fault notification for ground and onboard system components. Tech Mahindra has been responsible for building, hosting, operating and offering AHMS-as-a-service to the customers and operators.

The AHMS domain acts as an umbrella, bringing together several cross-vertical services pertaining to information and communication technologies (ICT), chemical materials, structural and mechanical engineering. It can serve as a launchpad for the next-generation predictive analytics algorithms that will likely translate to quicker maintenance operations and reduced downtime for the aircraft.

As machine learning methodologies evolve and fuel prices rise, aircraft manufacturers are looking to aftermarket services more than ever. The airlines also are looking for retrofit solutions that will allow them to implement AHMS on older fleets. Product engineering specialists with expertise in product obsolescence management can bridge this gap. A number of engineering service providers are focusing on outcome-based, risk-sharing pricing models that may be attractive to the low-margin, capital-intensive commercial aviation market. This will enable service providers and manufacturers to explore innovative options that result in the growth of the AHMS market.

Associated Insights

Momentum MTI 2018 Vertical Report - Aerospace & Defense

About the author

Avimanyu brings around 8 years of experience in market research and consulting. At ISG, Avi has been working on research deliverables directed towards engineering services outsourcing/offshoring markets outlining the digital makeover of industries. Prior to ISG, Avimanyu’ s engagements were focused on providing strategic recommendations to both public and private sector clients across Europe, Middle East and Asia Pacific across commercial aerospace, energy and automotive industries

Research Focus : Software Defined Networks(SDN) and Engineering Services (ES)