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Airbus Helicopters is accelerating the gathering of operational data from its operators in a bid to enhance safety, improve helicopter availability, and cut maintenance costs.
In the framework of its renamed Skywise Connected Services offering, the airframer is encouraging customers to digitize, luring them with new possibilities opened by big data analytics. Helicopters from 146 customers are sharing data, the company said.
“In less than two years, we’ve brought the number of helicopters connected to Airbus Helicopters from zero to nearly 550,” said Matthieu Louvot, executive vice president, customer support and services. The goal is to reach 3,000 helicopters, added Stephanie Bonnefoy-Fourie, Airbus Helicopters’ head of connected services.
Airbus engineers had previously tried to extract data from operators’ maintenance information systems (MIS), but it proved ineffective, said Bonnefoy-Fourie. The solution has been to work in collaboration with software publishers. “The publisher and Airbus each make half of the interface for Skywise,” she explained. Such agreements were found with MRX Systems, Ramco, Rusada and Traxxall. Another six are targeted to be signed by year-end. An estimated 85 to 90 percent of the available MIS will then be able to be connect to Airbus systems.
“Through these agreements, we’re paving a two-way digital street between Airbus Helicopters and the companies that manage maintenance data for helicopter operators, facilitating the automatic sharing of data,” said Louvot. In-service data can be transferred to Airbus applications like the Fleet Keeper digital logbook and the FlyScan predictive maintenance program, while MIS and maintenance planning sheets will be fed automatically.
An outcome may be found in benchmarking. An operator may see it replaces a part more frequently than the average, and therefore question its practices, Airbus suggested. In turn, the approach may improve the cost statistics the OEM uses for marketing purposes.
Similarly, analyzing Fleet Keeper data may improve a power-by-the-hour contract, for the operator.
“We are learning together; we are just a little bit ahead of the customer,” said Bonnefoy-Fourie.
Under the new relationship around data sharing, Airbus has an obligation to produce results. “We can make commitments in maintenance cost, logistics cost or fleet availability,” she said. She notes customers are interested in, first, costs; second, safety; and third, availability.
One data source is the health and usage monitoring system (HUMS). It is available on the H225, H175, Dauphin family, H145 and H135 helicopters (being optional on the last two). Thus far, only the “health” part (i.e. vibration analysis to predict a failure) has been used, said Alexandre Diaz, Airbus’s head of HUMS. FlyScan, which has 10 customer operators since its launch early last year, has given tangible results, according to him.
Airbus engineers are now working on using “usage” data – such as control inputs and oil temperature. “We are looking for correlations between usage and failures,” said Diaz. Such features are hoped be ready in one year.