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With more than 10 years of experience in software solutions for aviation, Albert heads up SITA's data and platforms portfolio. The portfolio consists of a group of products and services oriented around data leverage to enable aircraft operators, air traffic controllers, manufacturers, and maintenance entities to keep aviation safe, efficient, sustainable, and profitable. Here Albert discusses tangible ways in which SITA's data and platforms enable the aviation sector to thrive in a competitive operating climate.

Why do you like working in this area?

I’m an Aerospace Engineer but I have always been passionate about IT and software, and I actually started my career as a software developer in the aviation industry. The tech world moves really fast, while aviation needs a slower pace to maintain its high safety standards. This imbalance creates many opportunities to improve and optimize air operations with new solutions, and that's what I like the most about working in this area.

I am also an “avgeek” so I simply love this industry, and I also really like the fact that most of the people working in the area are passionate about aviation as well.

Why is data important for the aviation industry?

The latest aircraft, such as the 787 and A350, generate huge amounts of data – they’re like ‘flying data centers’. Every second, thousands of parameters are recorded on an aircraft. The challenge today is to capture this data, distil it down, and glean insights that can be converted into operational efficiencies for airlines and other aircraft operators – it’s a huge opportunity for the aviation sector. But to crack this challenge we need to be able to extract the informative parts of the data – and not the noise that data also generates – so that relevant insights can be integrated into our products and subsequently delivered to our customers.

What it comes down to is that the only way that you can improve performance is by measuring it first, and the first thing that you need in order to measure it – is data. Data opens up opportunities that can be used in real time operations to detect issues or to communicate with the aircraft at any time – but also for longer term purposes. We can analyze historic data and identify patterns that can help us improve future operations. In a nutshell, there are multiple ways of leveraging data to enhance performance and drive efficiencies.

How does data contribute to decision-making and operational efficiency in the aviation industry?

Data contributes to decision-making in various ways, depending on the user.

For airframers, parts manufacturers, maintenance, repair and overhaul companies alike, data is indispensable for monitoring the health and performance of the aircraft or the aircraft components, engines or other systems, and can help optimize operations. Having predictive maintenance and using data enables the creation of digital twins to forecast when a component needs repair or replacement – and can help determine the right timeframe for that work to be carried out.

For aircraft and engine designers, data is essential for research in order to be able to engineer the next generation engines, aircraft and systems. Data helps identify knowledge gaps and supports the development of new products.

For airlines, data will help find patterns to optimize flight paths or flight profiles and help measure performance.

Can you provide an example of how OEMs and MROs have utilized data to enhance their products and services?

A typical scenario where data is vital is when an aircraft makes a "hard landing" on the runway – a touchdown that’s harder than usual. Airlines will want to know if there's been damage to their aircraft as it may impact safety or affect aircraft scheduling if the damage is enough to take it out of service for repairs. The sooner they know, the better.

Here, we can look at data from the different components such as the landing gear, the tires, and the wheels. Using sensors embedded in these components we can access data that tells us if there's been a sudden reduction of tire pressure on one or several wheels, or if there's a component within the landing gear that has become damaged. These things can be identified immediately by both the operator and the maintenance teams that can then quickly react to such incidents by replacing or repairing a component. If they have this information 30 minutes in advance and also a replacement component is readied, it may be possible to slice half an hour off of the impact and keep the aircraft on schedule. Every minute counts – operationally and financially.

How can flight data be used to make flights more efficient?

Ultimately, optimizing flight operations is mainly about fuel and time savings. Currently, airlines fly along rigidly predefined air corridors – a legacy from an era that predates the availability of satellite-based navigation and the opportunities presented by today’s data-driven communications efficiencies. The data we can extrapolate today from evolving weather systems, and data related to the proximity and trajectories of nearby aircraft, as well as data from aircraft climb performance and engine capabilities – all enable us to fly smarter.

What we're doing at SITA is building tailored models, leveraging real-time and historical flight and weather data that optimize flight profiles and reduce fuel-burn. Our SITA OptiFlight® is the industry’s only machine-learning suite of solutions that provides customized tail-specific direct routing recommendations for cutting fuel-burn and emissions. The SITA OptiFlight® suite is relatively new, but we have several major and regional airlines deploying these solutions because it’s proven to deliver concrete results.

How does data contribute to the NetZero 2050 ambition?

There are various global-scale initiatives being carried out, such as IATA’s Net Zero Roadmaps, to make aviation carbon-neutral by 2050 with sustainable aviation fuel and next generation aircraft. These will bring substantial savings. However these will take years, and in the case of some technologies, over a decade to become a reality. Where we can act today is to optimize current flight operations.

With today’s global fleet and infrastructure, and with conventional jet fuel, we know that we can reduce fuel-burn by about 5%, and cut the corresponding CO2 emissions, just by leveraging data – achieving more by using data to use less resources. This use of data to optimize flight operations will be equally applicable to the next generation of aircraft and sustainable fuels.

What other contributions will data have in the future?

Data supports aviation’s shift toward automation. We're automating many interactions between aircraft and air traffic controllers to bring optimization. For example, instead of using voice messages, more and more flight instructions and data exchanges are transitioning to what we call DataLink – text messages that are automatically sent between the aircraft and the ground. This minimizes communication errors and it's significantly more scalable when it's automated, so we can keep up with the growth in air traffic. Humans will of course stay in the loop, but the idea is to provide them with all the data they need to make informed decisions at the right time.

The last point is “data democratization”. In aviation we have this jungle of data and it can now be made accessible – we have several products that enable data to be shared among industry players for collective working so that we as an industry can optimize. We cannot look at just one part of the equation. We need to look at this holistically and optimize the whole ecosystem to make a real difference. Authorities and regulators are really enforcing this and at SITA we are an enabler of these initiatives by providing the data platforms that the industry needs for all the operators, regulators, air traffic control or air navigation service-providers in order to collaborate. Collaboration and data democratization will play key roles for the rest of this decade.