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IoT in aviation
is taking off
and climbing fast

Author: Paul Gillin

Given the complex inner workings of aircraft and the enormous cost of operation, applications for IoT in aviation seem abundant. In reality, though, the Internet of Things (IoT) aerospace transition has proceeded at a measured pace.

Regulation is one reason for the slower adoption of aircraft IoT solutions. Adoption of any technology, particularly one that impacts in-flight operations, is subject to extensive testing and regulatory review. Airlines are also conservative by nature, given the consequences of failure. Finally, the industry is well aware that connected devices could be the target of attackers, with potentially disastrous results.

Applications of IoT in aviation

Despite those concerns, several notable applications of IoT in aviation are underway, transforming the way aircraft are maintained, saving fuel and enhancing the customer experience. Airline executives are excited about the future: A Deloitte study found 86% expect to see tangible benefits of IoT within the next three years, and 37% have already started experimenting.

Onboard networks

One of the most notable aircraft IoT initiatives is Airbus' Connected Experience, an onboard network that links sensors in overhead bins, passenger seats, lavatories, cargo, galleys and emergency equipment in an integrated platform that gathers preflight and real-time data in one place.

This allows airlines, for example, to aggregate cabin equipment usage trends to perform predictive maintenance based on the actual condition of the cabin—a more efficient approach than performing scheduled maintenance on equipment that may not need it.

Travelers in an Airbus plane can benefit from a connected galley that allows them to preorder food and beverages to reduce waste and overstocking. Connected seat technology provides personalized positioning and custom entertainment based upon topics defined by passengers. A "smart bin" monitors overhead storage to enable faster boarding and even let passengers book space for their carry-on bags in advance.

Smaller maintenance windows

AVIATAR is an open platform developed by Lufthansa for predictive maintenance. Equipment failure is a major headache for airlines, since grounded aircraft can't generate revenue and create inconveniences for passengers in addition to potential penalties that could be incurred due to the failure to meet on-time departure quotas.

This aircraft IoT solution allows airlines to continually monitor performance via sensors installed throughout the aircraft. If the system detects that a part is malfunctioning during flight, a message can be relayed to ground crews to have the necessary equipment for repair or replacement ready upon arrival. Airlines even see the potential to use 3D printing to produce some parts on demand and reduce the need for equipment inventory. They're also investigating the use of augmented reality in making repairs, equipping technicians with wearable headsets that project context-sensitive repair instructions onto glasses or connect with an engineer who can direct repairs remotely.

IoT in aviation is also occurring at the individual airline level. For example, low-cost Malaysian carrier AirAsia partnered with GE Digital on an aviation flight analytics dashboard that helped improve fuel efficiency by optimizing factors such as route and altitude. The result was a savings of 14 million kilograms of fuel annually and a reduction of 250 kilograms of fuel and 750 kilograms of carbon emissions per hour-long flight due to process improvement.

Virgin Atlantic has connected nearly every component of its Boeing 787 fleet to an onboard network that gathers more than 300 gigabytes of data per flight. This data enables the carrier to understand the factors that drive optimal performance and identify poorly performing aircraft in midflight so that repair crews can be ready to investigate when the plane lands.

Passenger comfort

The value of IoT in aviation isn't limited to fuel efficiency and equipment performance. Passengers are seeing differences as well. Airports in Helsinki, Miami and London are among those using sensors to deliver location-based services to passengers location-based services ranging from security line wait times to available restaurants.

Delta is using radio frequency identification technology to address a major source of flyer pain: lost luggage. Passengers can track the location of their bags in real time to ensure that they're in the airport, thereby saving them the time and frustration of filling out lost luggage forms for bags that have simply been misplaced. Lufthansa's Smart bags service lets travelers track the location of their luggage from the moment it's checked until it reaches its destination. Passengers can even check bags from home before leaving for the airport.

Aircraft IoT solutions

The aviation industry is also using IoT outside standard commercial air travel, to help meet security and regulation requirements and to implement cutting-edge flight technology.

As a partner of the Federal Aviation Administration, Verizon's wireless network and IoT solutions play a critical role in air traffic control, helping to secure and optimize the National Airspace System. Through the enterprise drone company Skyward, Verizon is also providing companies with integrated drone software solutions, from training and project planning to accessing controlled airspace and collecting data. And since drones are likely to play an important role in the future of aviation—even in commercial air travel—these cutting-edge capabilities are key.

With the world preparing to fly again, it's encouraging to see that aircraft IoT solutions are on track to make the experience smoother and, above all, safer.

Learn more about how Verizon is supporting a safer future with IoT in aviation.