Before talking about the “last mile,” we need a common understanding of our Digital Aviation vision. First, let’s think about what we want from Digital Aviation and then look at how to get there in the last mile. Flying combat missions in a Vietnam-era C-130E provides a good starting point for this discussion. In 2003, my US Air Force Reserve unit was tasked with providing airlift support in Afghanistan with our 1963 C-130E model aircraft. Although capable for the mission, a C-130E definitely lacks the creature comforts and flight deck automation of modern day aircraft. As a Flight Engineer, I found myself, on many occasions, having to respond to inflight emergencies with the help of the information contained in my flight bag. Unlike the modern electronic flight bag, our flight bag was literally a 40-pound leather bag full of technical publications. Don’t get me wrong, the US Air Force did an excellent job training us for the mission. We had all the information we needed to deal with complex inflight emergencies. The challenge was that the information was dispersed across different publications in the bag. So when you were flying NVG missions in the mountains of Afghanistan, quickly retrieving this information during an inflight emergency was a real challenge. Needless to say, situational awareness is quickly lost in this situation. In contrast, when the same inflight emergencies occur in the cockpit of a modern day aircraft, electronic flight bags automatically provide air crew with the information they need to diagnose and respond to the situation. With the click of a button, contextual information appears that directly relates to the system failure along with the applicable system schematics, limitations, troubleshooting guides and emergency procedures needed for resolution.
This flight bag comparison provides a compelling illustration of the real end game for Digital Aviation, in my opinion. Digital Aviation should do what electronic flight bags have done for aircrew over the years, but for other roles on the ground in Maintenance Control, Reliability and Safety departments, and on the flight line. At its core, Digital Aviation should offer the ability to provide the right information, to the right person, at the right time, even without them asking. In other words, act as an enabler for true decision support. It means automatically delivering all the relevant technical and policy-related information, so that the failure can be diagnosed and the remedy executed quickly.
The Power of a Business Network
The Internet of Things (IoT) is defined by Gartner, Inc. as a network of physical objects that contains embedded technology to communicate and interact with internal states or the external environment. While, IoT is not new for aviation, the ability to expand its application beyond the flight deck is. With the hardware, software and connectivity now in place, aviation has crossed the tipping point from a technology point of view.