Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Airline Economics: The App Economy for Commercial Aviation (or So, we have this tablet thing, now what?)

The App Economy

Since the advent of the iPhone in 2007 and its associated Software Development Kit (SDK) in 2008, a major technology trend disrupting businesses in almost every industry (and consumer behavior around the globe) has been the introduction of an entire new category of mobile software applications (Apps). This step change in the how/where/when of software usage and the purchase process surrounding app acquisition has been referred to as the “App Economy”. 

As a reader of this blog, you may well be holding a platform for the App Economy in your hand right now.  iOS, Android and Windows Phone devices are busy displacing existing laptop and web-based applications all across the economy and delivery of content to users (whether written like this blog or in audio/visual form as for music and movies) are prime activities being displaced.

Tablet-based EFB Applications as part of the app economy

In the aviation industry, there are several cockpit activities that are ripe for disruption under the content delivery model.  Anything currently paper-based in the cockpit is a prime candidate for displacement since every scrap of paper that can be removed from an aircraft and replaced with electrons represents a potential weight and fuel savings on every flight.  The economic benefits of this are clear and enormous and accordingly the industry is, at its own deliberate pace, moving to displace paper operating documentation, charts, weather briefings, check lists and the other paper contents of a pilot’s flight bag with a suite of applications running on a mobile device and using downloaded data from the cloud, thereby creating an “Electronic Flight Bag” or EFB.

Tablets as sensor platforms

EFB’s in the form of paper replacements however, neglect one of the most important features of this generation of mobile platforms  - their capability as an integrated sensor platform. Think about it, the reason that consumers everywhere have discarded Blackberries or WinCE devices is not that they suddenly became incapable of displaying emails or of surfing the web, but that newer devices offered easier access to a collection of sensors thereby enabling applications that the older devices simply couldn’t match.  Geolocation (GPS and Bluetooth LE), photography (camera sensors), gaming (accelerometers), music recognition (microphones), and a host of other activities suddenly became available to creative app developers along with a simple distribution mechanism that was guaranteed to reach a wide audience. The explosion of available apps that resulted has enormous meaning for aviation - because from the point of view of an app developer, an aircraft is the most incredible sensor platform going.

Tablets as sensor platforms for aircraft

From an app developer's point of view, an aircraft positively bristles with incredibly accurate and reliable sensors that can provide everything from the orientation, position and speed of the aircraft to, as we jokingly say around our office, the temperature of the coffee pot in the galley - plus everything in between.  Radio antennae and radar pick up everything from position of other aircraft to the current images of ground based weather radar. The sensors for all of this already exist on the aircraft, but attaching them to a tablet accomplishes something completely new - huge amounts of data that currently resides in the “cloud” can now be moved onto the aircraft via a mobile device and that data can be integrated with real-time data from the sensors of the aircraft to create completely new applications.  You can imagine easy-to-use suggestive rerouting apps that display weather, flight restrictions and other aircraft in the context of a moving map as just a first example, many more are waiting to be developed.  All that is necessary is a platform which meets regulatory scrutiny and which can listen to the aircraft’s sensors plus  a way for applications to access that system.

Enhancing existing Tablet-based EFB applications with sensor data

One quick hit for improving the existing EFB tablet application experience would be to integrate GPS data from the aircraft itself with current systems.  By accomplishing this benign but technically challenging feat, charting applications can now suddenly provide moving maps with chart centering and track-up display from qualified sensors. Airport moving map display becomes just a basic map-overlay feature. 
It turns out that all of the major tablet platforms provide the ability to do just this when aircraft originating GPS data is fed into them via an external port.  All of the major charting vendors take advantage of this ability - all that’s needed is a way to connect the tablet to FAR Part 25 aircraft in a way that is reliable, latency free and secure.

New applications centered around sensor data

Even better than simply enabling moving maps is the ability to create a whole new classes of applications that improve situational awareness and operational efficiency through enhanced alerting and augmented reality. Today’s “aircraft-aware” applications allow checklist fields to be completed automatically by obtaining and presenting visual statuses of onboard systems and sensors from discrete and numeric data outputs.  G-forces and turbulence are able to be measured and recorded continuously in flight from aircraft accelerometer and gyroscopic data.  Soon, route planning will be automated to a much greater extent as flight and mission planners convey flight plans to pilots in a single digital file, capable of being “burst tuned” or data loaded to aircraft flight management systems.  Enormous amounts of paperwork are becoming electronic, charts and plates are merely the obvious start of this process.  The possibilities for cost savings, reduced crew work load and improved customer service can then go far beyond simply removing the weight of paper from the aircraft.

Economics of sensor-centered applications

Sensor-based applications such as those we are discussing present a very interesting cost analysis.  Unlike existing technology, tablet based EFB deployments, centered upon comparatively low cost and ubiquitous platforms such as the Apple iPad, when coupled with an aircraft integration such as the flyTab system, support a wide array of applications which can be rapidly developed and deployed at very low cost.  Customization for specific needs becomes much more affordable. 

The flight operations and aircraft performance and airworthiness data that become easily and cost effectively accessible and distributable from an aircraft-aware tablet platform poses real challenges for traditional accounting methods used by airlines.  Since the cost savings of an app walks on and off the plane with the pilot, how does one amortize cost of the enabling on-aircraft platform against all of the apps which may be deployed to the aircraft/fleet, many of which have not even been written yet. Traditional accounting analyses are based on fuel or labor savings without consideration of such future opportunities, i.e. those analyses are a trap which precludes operators from achieving efficiencies unless they can look past an initial cost and imagine a different future. 
It may help financial managers to see the future if they also realize that, by a pilot walking on to the aircraft and “docking” his/her tablet EFB equipped with those apps that best support corporate enterprise continuing analysis and surveillance systems, finance will gain access to data for CASS, FDM, and FOQA trend and cost analysis without the need for additional manpower and without the risk of human induced errors that they have grappled with in the past.

Risks of such applications

That last item regarding deployment bears some analysis.  The App Economy described in herein is sui generis in the aviation industry.  Care must be taken to ensure the security of the app and its connection to the aircraft, the security of the tablet itself and the appropriateness of the app for use in a cockpit.  It is incumbent upon hardware/software developers to meet the rigors of commercial aviation standards in both design and function, as well as regulators in ensuring the efficacy, reliability and domain security of these systems from traditional threats associated with the digital landscape.  Nevertheless, time marches on and as these regulatory and operation hurdles are cleared and their technology adopted by CAA’s worldwide, the use of mobile platforms to enhance benefits and cost savings of through applications development are compelling for everyone in the industry.

If your flight operations or finance departments are looking for effective cost justification strategies to aid in the implementation of tablet based EFB solutions, contact ASIG's system integration team or visit us online at www.asigllc.com.  We welcome the opportunity to discuss your Class 2 EFB integration efforts; and, are likely to have STC'd installation solutions for your tablet EFB program that may defer, or all together eliminate, any related certification costs.

Until next time, stay 5x5, mission ready and Wired!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Airline Economics: How Tablet EFBs Enhance Maintenance and Troubleshooting Techniques

Since the release of the very first EFB (Electronic Flight Bag), there has been a rush in the market to further justify EFB adoption ROI through enhanced usage and functionality of these devices. One such example is the use of an EFB to increase airframe reliability.
With the advent of Class 2 devices being interfaced with the avionics and instruments of the aircraft, these systems are becoming a valuable and indispensable maintenance and troubleshooting tool. As the EFB is receiving input data from the on-board aircraft sensors and data collectors, some EFBs  have gained the added capability of capturing, and in some cases recording, many points of interest to maintenance technicians. Aircraft with installed customizable Class 2 EFBs are developing the ability to record occurrences such as hard landings, engine over-temperature events and even the occurrence of a failed coffee heater, if it is so connected to an onboard CMC, and provide these data points to operators, maintenance and fleet management personnel.

By becoming a connected airframe via the emergence of "aircraft-aware" applications, the reliability of the aircraft can be significantly increased, while reducing the down time for various checks associated with the aircraft maintenance program. Operators have the ability to then incorporate this data and findings into their CAMP (Continuous Airworthiness Maintenance Program) in order to accurately track and schedule the aircraft for the appropriate check at the time it is required. Moreover, improvements in onboard diagnostics help identify problems sooner, leading to fewer in-service incidents and shorter out-of-service times when aircraft are down for work. Instead of tearing things down, an operator can use collected data sent via the EFB and get more information, so the amount of time performing a check is reduced.

Preventative and corrective maintenance is also enhanced with data collected and distributed by an EFB. While tracking the required maintenance, using calendar, cycles or flight hours, the use of these devices can also allow an operator to track the need for unscheduled maintenance by recording data and indicating a flight or landing occurrence. This drastically increases aircraft safety and reliability while offering peace of mind along with increasing operational effectiveness to flight and maintenance operations.
Class 2 EFBs also improve fuel burn performance, help to optimize payloads, enhance situational awareness during taxi, and allow more take-offs at lower derates, all of which will reduce maintenance costs. Maintenance costs will be minimized by the reduction of engine hours and by lower engine loads, which in turn reduces wear and tear on critical engine components. By performing enhanced flight operation analysis, operators increase their mean-time-to-failure and mean time between unscheduled repair (MTBUR) for expensive rotable component inventories and power plants.

The flyTab Class 2 EFB solution is a perfect example of a fully connected and operator customizable EFB platform.  flyTab features a modular avionic design which supports forward fit applications and is a low-cost platform built around Apple’s popular iPad COTS tablets.  Best of all, the flyTab EFB solution has an available software developers kit (SDK) that works within the standard Apple Xcode application developer’s tool, allowing operators or their third-party development teams to easily develop their own unique operational solutions in the form of customizable “apps” which are capable of receiving and interpreting data gathered from aircraft systems and sensors.  This means no more recertifying EFB platform software just because an operator wants a custom feature or capability.
This new breed of “aircraft-aware” Class 2 EFBs also eliminates the need for pilot transcription of reports into other enterprise computing systems and reduces the technical schedule interruptions, no-fault-found, inventory, and other line maintenance and administrative labor costs by minimizing “human induced” errors through forms automation and digital data distribution. This all results in a lower out of service cost, increased dispatch reliability, increased regulatory compliance and improved correlation between faults reported and maintenance operations.

The possibilities are endless with a Class 2 EFB and the growing amounts of data collected by aircraft systems support a limitless variety of custom applications bound only by an aircraft operator’s imagination. As the popularity of these systems continues to grow and adoption rates continue to rise in today’s aircraft, the reality of an EFB providing your flight management team with real maintenance savings and increased safety is no longer an idea of the future, but a modern reality of the present, allowing both pilots and corporate fleet managers to be better decision makers from cockpit, to corporate.

Until next time, stay 5x5, mission ready, and Wired!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Airline Economics: MIS Convergence with the Avionics Domain

With the implementation of tablets for the use of an Electronic Flight Bag (EFB's) brings many exciting advantages not just to pilots but a wide range of people in the aviation industry. Now that the cost of introducing an EFB program is lower than ever before, the integration of iPad based EFB’s with both airframe and MIS enterprise intelligence systems lends credence to the reality that the capital gains from investing in this "Paperless Flight Bag solution" can no longer be ignored.
If you are reading this then you more than likely know that today's tablet based EFB's offer pilots the ability to take their 30-40 pound flight bag filled with checklist, flight plans, airport approach procedures and aircraft operations manuals, just to mention a few of  the required necessities,  the ability to trade it all in for a more efficient and convenient 5-10 pound flight bag. When the pilot is in the aircraft, the safety features these systems offer, such as real-time weather overlays, en-route charts, fuel consumption and computation, etc., are all at the pilots fingertips and one swipe away, allowing the pilot to complete pre-flight and post-flight tasks with ease. This allows the pilot to focus on getting the passengers to their destination safely, and just as importantly, on time.

Now that we know what these solutions can do for pilots, it’s important to address the  advantages of integrating this array of aircraft data on a management level. Current tablet based EFB's are presumed by some to be a "light EFB solution" opposed to other pricier solutions. In reality tablet based EFB's are very powerful and very affordable, and widely available at a price point that can easily be recouped by the end users well within 24 months, and in some cases as little as 3 months depending upon the scope of systems integration and saturation of the deployment.  In either case, when any airline business analyst considers the benefits of adding a low-cost, enhanced business intelligence platform capability to their flight operations department, an ROI of less than 2 years is a no-brainer.  Especially when these solutions pull abundant amounts of information from an aircrafts data buses and displays or calculates the information on the tablet for pilots, and/or sends the information to one or more ground locations for detailed parsing and analysis, with no additional ACARS or Satcom fee structures.
The crew here at ASIG has put together a few important virtues of what integrating data bus information with your management can do to help your company run more efficient and cost effective.

Aircraft Maintenance - With the ability to have maintenance personnel connected to real-time aircraft data and logs, they can be ready and prepared to complete the maintenance task for a particular aircraft before it even arrives at the gate. This eliminates a substantial amount of "back and forth" time between the maintenance crew and other personnel creating a faster and more efficient turnaround time. This also correlates to a greater saving because we all know that an aircraft sitting in a hanger does not generate profit.
Flight Monitoring - The ability to collect, store, monitor various aircraft functions, and send this information in-flight is no longer unobtainable. Operators can ensure a more efficient flight by monitoring fuel burn, engine trend monitoring and airframe lifecycles all in one place. Inventory for spare parts and hardware can be drastically cut with the ability to monitor conditions such as hard landings, hot starts, de-rated take-offs and vibration, as well as flight operations tasks.

Documents - The world is ever changing and technology is no different. As we become more aware of how these aircraft operate in flight, manuals, checklists, and other documents are evolving, as human knowledge base does. Making revisions or changes to such documents are as easy as downloading the necessary changes and clicking save. Airframe integration also supports forms automation and enhanced checklists offering flight crew personnel visual statuses of aircraft and systems configurations, minimizing check-and-effect assessments and crew resource management; or, legacy carbon-copy based flight logbooks are easily replaced with XML or other web-based forms media and capable of suggesting PIREP entries based upon on-board CMC codes. Enhancements such as those suggested here not only eliminate the cost of printing, time to ship and distribute the documents, and the hassle of keeping up with them, but also reduces errors resultant from data recording and analysis allowing airlines to automate flight and maintenance training and operational efficacy with less human resource and greater fidelity . These added efficiencies are real benefits that ensure that everyone has the most up to date documents without any human induced error, while adding productivity to the bottom line at a nominal cost of implementation.
Flight Safety- When awareness is not at its best, accidents will ensue. With all of the data bus information able to be right at not just pilots finger tips but also to different departments on the ground, there is no doubt that these EFB solutions show a great virtue for improving flight safety.  These systems make data fully visible throughout the enterprise and allow decision makers from the cockpit-to-corporate to be the most informed of operational realities across the business unit.

As stated previously, these so-called "Light EFB solutions¹” hold a value in the aviation Industry and with the rapid development and release of iOS EFB applications due to platforms like the flyTab Software Developers Kit (SDK), and Apple Xcode project add-in, provides many benefits for not just the pilots but also the management side of a company.  In fact now that the data is in, it is clear that operators are able to introduce fully featured Class 2 iPad EFB systems with greater capability than legacy Class 2 systems at a cost < 20% of an aircraft fuel load. The conclusive impacts of what these EFB's are producing for operators however, are becoming more relevant as they become more immersed in aircraft systems, thus providing a business intelligence force multiplier when available from any number of enterprise MIS resources. At ASIG, we’ve partnered with Apple to take the long look forward to what the future holds for iPad Class 2 EFB’s such as the flyTab Dual Class 2 iPad EFB system, and committed our team and resources to the maturity of these technologies, continuing our legacy of innovation in the aviation industry.
In context to flyTab iPad EFB solution, the only things "light" can refer to is the cost and weight of innovation!

¹Reference: NavAero “Tablet Solutions” and UTC Aerospace “SmartDisplay” product literature.

Friday, October 4, 2013

BYOD in the Aviation Field and the Problems that Ensue

In today’s world, technology is developing faster than businesses could have expected. Having the “latest” and “greatest” is a norm and because of that it seems everyone has their own “smart” device. Today we have the opportunity to do even more on these devices. For example, we can email, pay our bills, locate a restaurant, Google search, or BING, and connect with people halfway across the world all in the comfort of our PJ’s sipping on coffee while reading the morning paper (on a tablet) at the kitchen table. It only makes sense that the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) trend is becoming commonplace in the work environment. The technology is already there so why not use it to your company’s advantage?
In order to keep up with competitors you have to keep up with technology, and the aviation field is no different. Electronic Flight Bags (EFBs) are being utilized more and more these days by pilots in order to achieve a “paperless” cockpit. A pilot’s flight bag holds a variety of papers for flight management, e.g., operating manuals, navigational charts and much more. So it’s no surprise that technology would make the pilot’s job easier and more efficient, and the ROI of tablet EFB adoption will accelerate exponentially when/if an airline converges airworthy systems and sensors with corporate enterprise systems via inexpensive COTS table technologies. This is where EFBs in the form of tablets are introduced. Pilots now have every possible piece of information they need stored on a personal tablet and no longer do they need to lug around a bulky flight bag. Everything the pilots need to know or check is at their fingertips or is just a swipe away.
However, like any technology, these magical devices can be applied properly or improperly, and when operational safety is on the line ensuring the proper application is a moral imperative. Security and safety is the number one challenge concerning the BYOD trend, especially in the aviation field. Since airlines don’t directly control the personal devices used by pilots and passengers, many problems can occur involving personal electronic devices (PEDs). For example, pilots could be using their personal tablet for an EFB. However, if this tablet hasn’t been Rapid Decompression (RD) or EMI tested it could be a safety risk for the pilot and the entire aircraft as well. Or if a rogue passenger wanted to passively or actively attack aircraft subsystems they could do so by hacking the low security computer systems within the tablet! Potentially, they could be as harmless as eavesdropping secure data or as dangerous as message jamming and data changing. Theory suggests actively crashing a plane is possible by hacking into avionic data buses. Hugo Teso, a security consultant from “n.runs” in Germany recently presented Aircraft Hacking: Practical Aero Series at a security conference in Amsterdam. In his presentation he was actually able to hack a Boeing Jet while it was in “autopilot” and was able to change the course of the flight. The only reaction a pilot could take, if he knew the airplane was hacked at all, was to take it out of “autopilot”. Teso simply used his Samsung Galaxy and a specifically created app called PlaneSploit to accomplish this and other hacks. While not a real-world event, this demonstration underscores the risks and reasons for solid mitigation strategies when deploying tablet EFB devices.
So as technology broadens the capabilities of commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) devices being used in the aviation field either by pilots or passengers, it also adds some security and safety challenges along the way as well. The BYOD trend is not likely to fade from the work environment because it’s just too cost effective to avoid for some. In fact, the trend will probably grow as personal electronic devices become more enterprise friendly. Here are a few suggestions our editors, software engineers and consultant DERs within the industry agree are necessary to lessen any real or perceived adverse consequences, while maximizing deployment efficacy and ROI of and COTS tablet EFBs.

1.   Ensure the host operating system of the COTS device take full advantage of hardware and software encryption.

2.   Maximize the use of “closed system” architectures when selecting COTS tablet EFB platforms.

3.   Avoid the implementation of any GNU or other open source software and DataCom standards like 802.11 (Wi-Fi) or Bluetooth.

4.   Ensure all newly introduced installed equipment is adequately rated for the system architecture. (This includes software design assurance levels and TSO ratings which are consistent with existing systems and sensors.)

5.   Keep It Simple and Smart (K.I.S.S.) and don’t try to reinvent the airframe. Allow existing aircraft data concentrators and aggregators to “serve” data to the EFB system with minimal encoding and data merging.

These are just a few key points the team at ASIG suggest in order to keep airline pilots, flight crews and passengers safe and secure.
Until next time, stay 5x5, mission ready, and Wired!