I’m predicting the future will be predictive

Oh, if only the famous 16th century seer Nostradamus had written something about the business aviation boom of 2021/2022 in his book Les Prophéties. We could have seen it coming and had the parts, personnel, and fleet prepared for it all.

But, alas, we didn’t anticipate it all and got caught flat-footed. The industry is still trying to catch up.

Of course, neither Nostradamus nor anyone else has been able to predict the future with any degree of accuracy. As much as he’s extolled for his remarkable “future sight,” I’m more of the “If you make enough predictions covering five centuries or so, sooner or later, a couple of them will seem right” side of things.

But that’s not to say we must go around in the dark. Some things are predictable. I, along with a growing number of business aviation practitioners, am extremely excited about the opportunities that predictive maintenance will bring to our industry.

There was a very interesting story in a recent issue of NBAA’s Business Aviation Insider  that highlighted many of the benefits that predictive and proactive maintenance offers.

Just to be clear, predictive is like going to your doctor and learning your cholesterol is way too high. Proactive is taking medication and cutting way back on your fat intake so you don’t have to have open-heart surgery later on.

As Leonard Beauchemin, managing director of AeroTechna Solutions, LLC, said in the story, “Condition-based maintenance and aircraft health monitoring will improve the readiness and reduce technical cost drivers. This process already has regulatory approval provided by FAA AC43-218, Operational Authorization of Integrated Aircraft Health Management Systems.”

Issued in July of 2022, the AC allows for the use of “onboard sensors, data transmission, and data analysis to provide information regarding aircraft performance and structural condition,” according to the document. “The result is then used to make aircraft airworthiness determinations that provide economic efficiencies while maintaining or enhancing operational safety,” Beauchemin said.

I’m predicting shorter aircraft downtimes.

While I’m on the subjects of things Nostradamus didn’t predict, I have to add the incredibly long backlogs the major MROs are experiencing these days. Gone are the days when you could just roll up on the ramp and expect to get anything other than AOG-related service done.

I talk to MRO managers and flight department DOMs every day, who tell me they now need to plan their aircraft’s inspections and maintenance events months in advance. They’re not only vying for the few available slots, but there are also significant lead times to get many required parts and components to do the work.

Shops have shared that they’re having to park aircraft outside for extended periods while they wait for parts to arrive.

Oh yes, on top of all that, there’s also a growing shortage of qualified technicians to do the work. So, having the slot and the parts are just parts of the maintenance scheduling puzzle. This is where predictive maintenance practices can play a positive role. If you keep track of what tasks are on your airplane’s maintenance agenda, you and your DOM can determine what other work can be done while the airplane is down.

Granted, it’s not as big of a problem if the operator has its own in-house maintenance department, but still, the ability to plan inspections and repairs for greater efficiency and cost-savings will benefit everyone.

“Actions can now be taken to minimize or prevent schedule disruptions, and that is hugely beneficial to complex flight operations,” Nick Kershaw, product development lead for Gulfstream

Aerospace Corporation, said, ” successfully implementing predictive maintenance will improve an operator’s ability to plan and optimize maintenance actions on a timeline that suits operational constraints.”

To help create a proactive plan, many MROs are asking for access to their customers’  TRAXXALL or CAMP information. Knowing precisely where the airplane is in its service calendar can help the maintainers with a more predictive plan for what they can accomplish during the next maintenance event.

“Preventative maintenance steps are spelled out by the OEM and FAA based on the estimated failure times of certain components within the aircraft,” explained Jody Kerton, systems specialist for Dassault Falcon. Repetitive inspection and maintenance practices are all based on those guidelines. Every so many months or hours you have to inspect this or replace that.

“We really want to be able to change a component before it fails, but you don’t want to change it too early,” Kerton said. “You want to change it when change is just right. But how can we be sure we know when that is? Operators rely on the OEM to give guidance.”

Looking back to see the future. 

One very effective tool to help maintainers plan for future events is to look back at the aircraft’s maintenance history. It’s not uncommon for a part to have been replaced earlier than scheduled because of an issue, or maybe it just made economic sense at the time.

The problem there is it can take technicians hours and hours to manually leaf through untold numbers of logbook pages looking for specific information about a completed task. And what if they somehow overlook the entry?

There’s a good chance they’d end up buying parts and redoing work that didn’t need doing. And at today’s prices, no operator can afford to do that.

But there is a solution. Having all of the aircraft’s maintenance and operational records digital can be a significant step forward in eliminating all these problems. With just a few taps, a technician can sort through all that information and find all the information they need about a task, part, or whatever.

While it may seem like emerging predictive technologies may be a proverbial silver bullet, promising to cure all business aviation maintenance woes, the fact is, to really benefit from all it can deliver, experts suggest the industry might need to shift the way it looks at intellectual property.

“Communication and collaboration will be keys to success,” Kerton explained. “Data means nothing if it’s not shared with the right people at the right time. The aircraft’s manufacturer, suppliers, and customers need to know what’s happening with each airplane to benefit us all.”

NBAA New Guidelines on Electronic Recordkeeping