The challenge of big data is magnified when confronted by terabytes of data produced in-flight. It demands a combination of rapid and robust connectivity, flexible platforms, APIs and the creative drive of the app community.
A Formula 1 racing car is fitted with as many as 300 sensors. During a two-hour race they will measure up to 1.5 billion samples and produce six gigabytes or more of raw compressed format data, all of it transmitted wirelessly.
Based on analysis of the data, decisions can be taken on the other side of the world in real time that will shave crucial hundredths of seconds off lap times.
Now scale that up to one of the new breed of jets, such as the B787 or A380. They generate up to half a terabyte of data per flight (500 gigabytes).
Some of it will be stored for downloading on the ground. But increasingly, the demand is for real-time interaction, for the aircraft to be connected nose-to-tail throughout the flight.
The challenge is familiar and this time there’s no way of getting round it: how to break down the silos between sales, operational and engineering departments, between OEMs, between the airline and airport?
How to make the two-way flow of information as smooth and useful as that between the F1 car and its engineering teams?
“With everything in our lives becoming digitized, a million and one opportunities are being recognized,” says David Lavorel, CEO of SITAONAIR.
“We can use real-time decision-making, predictive analytics, create new programs, applications and content. We can make far better use of airspace, improve the aircraft turn-round process, take away passenger pain points through a smoother passenger process.
“But this depends on four critical elements. First, establishing the necessary levels of connectivity. Second, enabling everyone involved in a flight – airline, airport, ATC, OEM, crew, pilots, passengers – to have access to the data they need, at the same time.
“Third, dealing with the data management challenges implicit in a mix of legacy fleets. And fourth, building creative, low-cost, easy access apps to bring all of these elements together.”
Connectivity is being dealt with through innovations such as those available through SITA OnAir and the new generation of Inmarsat satellite communications. ‘Aircraft e-enablement’ is underway, as the industry understands the benefits and learns to break out of their silos, making a nose-to-tail approach a reality.
The task of handling multiple sources of data from a range of platforms can be supported by application programming interfaces (APIs) through which app developers are able to unlock masses of available data and channel it into useful and easy-to-use apps.
In handing big data, there’s a pivotal role to be played by cloud computing, as a hugely scalable solution to the headache of processing and storing masses of data. (See: New ways to deliver.)
Combined with the introduction of standards and solutions offered by SITA OnAir, the use of APIs to create apps is an area of enormous potential for thousands of innovators, start-ups and small technology companies worldwide – particularly by linking into the IT ecosystem of passengers, crew and pilots.
The growing availability of APIs is feeding their creativity by providing easy access to airline and other host systems, and encouraging low-cost innovation.
From consumer-style shopping apps for passengers to service enhancement apps for cabin staff, the only limit is the extent of developers’ imagination.
The more big data is made to work, the greater the number of opportunities for improved operational effectiveness, enhanced passenger service, better decision-making and improved profitability.
It's a win-win situation that's there for the taking.