Why is flying getting safer?

Nurdianah Md Nur | Oct. 27, 2017
Here's how airlines are navigating the tricky airports and poor weather conditions in Asia Pacific, according to Honeywell Aerospace's Brian Davis.

Credit: Storyblocks

Technology is not only helping airlines to reduce operational and maintenance costs, but also enabling air travel to be safer. Brian Davis, vice president, Airlines, Asia Pacific, Honeywell Aerospace, shares more in an exclusive interview with Computerworld Singapore. 

Computerworld Singapore: What are some of the challenges pilots and airports in Asia Pacific face today and in the future that force them to adopt technology?
Brian Davis: While aviation continues to be the safest form of transportation, pilots are confronted with increasingly congested skies, erratic weather and complex terrain that make flying into airports challenging.

In Asia Pacific, the risks are heightened as the region continues to see increased air travel into both mature and developing cities. According to the International Air Transport Association, Asia Pacific is set to become the biggest driver of passenger demand for air travel over the next two decades, giving further rise to air traffic and airport congestion.

These challenges can be safely addressed by deploying new technology to help airports allow more flight departures and arrivals in the same amount of time or airspace, even while new airport infrastructure construction is underway.

Flying in and around mountainous and other complex terrain allows pilots and passengers to reach new and exciting destinations, but pilots may experience challenges like contaminated or slick runways, windshear on approach and more. For example, Indonesia's terrain of over 14,000 official islands, dotted with volcanoes, requires some of the highest attention to operating conditions in the world.

Furthermore, countries like Japan and the Philippines face extreme weather conditions like typhoons and heavy rainfall during certain months. Aside from the inconvenience, flight delays can have a huge economic toll.

Could you share with me some technologies/tools that airlines and airports in APAC have been using and/or exploring?
Honeywell's services and software enhance current avionics and cockpit functionality, creating new possibilities, work streams and opportunities for pilots, engineers and the aircraft.

One of our key software services is the GoDirect Connected Maintenance service for auxiliary power units (APU), which shares data from an APU with maintenance professionals giving them guidance on potential problems before the plane is grounded.

During a trial programme with Cathay Pacific, the service reduced inoperative systems by up to 35 percent, saving the airline several hundred thousand dollars in operations and maintenance costs on a single aircraft system. Both Cathay Pacific and Hainan Airlines have recently signed an agreement with Honeywell to deploy GoDirect Connected Maintenance across their fleets of Airbus A330 aircraft with other fleet types available soon.

By leveraging connectivity, Honeywell's GoDirect Weather provides pilots with updated inflight information through a mobile app and tablet. The information service assists the flight crew in making strategic, inflight decisions by providing up-to- date weather data along an aircraft's projected route.

Honeywell has taken the weather information from GoDirect Weather a step further with connected radar, which collects and aggregates weather data from weather radar systems onboard multiple aircraft. This capability is extremely valuable to pilots who fly over water where ground radar coverage doesn't exist, and in remote and rugged terrain where radar signals are blocked by obstacles.

Another solution is our SmartRunway and SmartLanding, which uses voice advisories and visual messaging to alert pilots of unstable approaches and long landings. This provides pilots positional awareness and timely information, as well as help prevent runway accidents -- we found that 41 percent of aviation accidents worldwide occur in the runway environment.

What obstacles might hinder some airlines from using those technologies?
A modern twin-engine commercial jet can generate up to 844 terabytes of data from 12 hours of flight, which is approximately equivalent to 27,000 32GB iPhone 7 all fully working at the same time.

The key challenge is making sure that the information can be transformed into usable and actionable data. If the data cannot be used to improve operational efficiency and reduce costs, then it is meaningless.

Despite the many benefits of technology, isn't it dangerous for pilots to become too reliant on technology? What happens if, for some unfortunate reason, these tools don't work and pilots must revert to manual control of the aircraft?
All flight systems are built with additional back-ups and, most importantly, the pilot always has control of the airplane and the ability to override flight systems. The mobile and tablet applications mentioned earlier, such as GoDirect Weather and GoDirect Flight Preview, are meant to supplement existing technologies that pilots are already using, not replace them.

We should always focus on three elements: human, technology, and procedure. The technology will work best only when we have the trained pilot and operate in right procedure. That's why Honeywell has proactively participated in pilot training and workshops as well as many pre-design workshops with flight crew, to design our technologies with the pilots in mind.

How do you foresee the aviation space changing in the next 5 years?
Big data analytics and IoT are increasingly becoming a staple for technology companies, and this is no different for the aviation industry. We estimate the potential value of the connected aircraft market to be $7 billion, and predicts that 25,000 planes will be equipped with Wi-Fi by 2025. Valour Consultancy predicts that the number of connected aircraft in APAC will rise to 5,193 by 2025, compared to 333 in 2015.

We also expect to see more aircraft being updated with Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast Out (ADS-B Out) and other types of safety technologies that will meet rising international safety standards.

ADS-B is an air traffic satellite-based surveillance technology that provides more accurate and consistent aircraft positioning and traffic awareness of other nearby aircraft, and is a more cost-effective solution than ground-based radar systems.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has mandated all aircrafts flying in U.S. airspace to be ADS-B compliant with by 2020, or risk being grounded.