The Internet of 'Aircraft' Things

As we look forward in 2015 to the next generation of aircraft with satellite-based connectivity, the hot topic is higher bandwidth as passengers demand similar levels of connectivity on board an aircraft as they have on the ground for their many devices. The existing connectivity is already rapidly changing the utility of aircraft for passengers, especially in business aviation, enabling an office-in-the-sky experience.

When you look into the origins of the “Internet of Things” as a concept in action, top of the list is a modified drinks machine at Carnegie Mellon University that, in 1982, supposedly became the first internet-connected appliance. It was able to report its inventory and whether newly loaded drinks were cold. This ensured that nobody in the science department had to have a wasted trip to get an ice cold drink. This brilliantly showed a practical application of cutting-edge technology for an immediate benefit to those developers; often it is the little things that make all the difference.

People on board an aircraft are demanding more bandwidth, but this is only one part of the story; the other part is the advanced management of the aircraft as a complex system in the “Internet of Things”.  We may yet be years away from unmanned passenger aircraft, but we are already increasingly managing the aircraft from many places other than the flight deck in real-time.

Two-way air-ground data capability and the onboard aircraft network increase the opportunity for management of aircraft systems in ways that will open new and innovative capabilities and efficiencies, just as connectivity is already doing in other advanced supply chain logistics management. The aircraft of the future ordering its own replacement parts before a system fails based on sophisticated failure anticipation logic.  Huge amounts of atmospheric and weather data could be provided from and to a community of aircraft that will improve the quality of a flight and enable other efficiencies. The famous black box might even become a backup to real time download of aircraft data. Who knows what other information-based ideas may begin to make an incremental difference to a flight operation?

At the forefront of this revolution will be the world’s business jet aircraft fleet with an increasing myriad of sensors to monitor systems and provide real time offload of data over a connection that is increasingly becoming an essential aircraft system. Advanced antenna technology will enable ever higher bandwidths. Already, any issue of internet capability is increasingly affecting the “go or no go” decision for business jet flights.

As always in business aviation, however, the passengers needs are the most important. So while it will be great to improve the anticipation of aircraft critical issues, it will perhaps be just as important to make sure the drinks are the correct temperature in the galley; with the right connection, this may well be managed from somewhere other than the galley.

Did you know?

It could be argued that aviation was already ahead of the scientists at Carnegie-Mellon with the first air ground data link network for aircraft. The engineering department at ARINC introduced the ACARS (Aircraft Communication Addressing Reporting System) system in July 1978, as an automated time clock system for aircraft movements that managed pilots’ pay for flight hours. 

A network of ground stations was deployed to match the airline network of destinations and routes in order to receive the original messages known as OOOIs (Out, Off, On, In). Teledyne Controls produced the avionics and the launch customer was Piedmont Airlines.  Before long this had expanded into two-way communications of different messages that enabled a leap forward in operational control of the aircraft and the efficiency of airline operations.

Now you know,

James Hardie


James HardieJames Hardie is responsible for Rockwell Collins ARINCDirect services in Europe Middle East and Africa (EMEA), based in the UK.  ARINC Direct was established in the USA in 2003 to provide direct access for business jet operators to ARINC communication services.  Additional services such as flight planning, were quickly established and continue to be developed. He took responsibility for the ARINC Direct business development in EMEA in early 2006 and has worked with various flight departments across the region providing and developing products and services to meet their needs.  Now part of Rockwell Collins IMS division, he has worked for ARINC for over 13 years and has been involved in various projects related to airline and business aircraft operations and communications. He also has a background as a pilot with a CPL(A) and military helicopter experience.

Contact James: jhardie@arinc.com

Story posted: May 14, 2015

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