An all-too-typical scenario:
It's a late-day flight from New York City to Denver – the last flight of the evening. The northeast corridor is experiencing departure delays due to traffic congestion. Denver is expecting snow.
Thirty minutes late, the flight finally takes off, leaving Manhattan behind. The pilot comes on the intercom. "Hi, folks. Sorry about the delay getting you off the ground tonight. But good news! I've gotten permission from operations to fly at a faster speed, and I can recover most, if not all of the time for an on-time arrival."
Passengers settle back into their seats, relatively confident that all is going to be resolved. Until the plane lands.
It turns out Denver's snow was worse than expected, resulting in departure delays.
As the flight taxis to the terminal, it becomes clear there's no gate for the plane, and it will take half an hour until one will be open. At this point, passengers have gone from unhappy to happy back to unhappy. And the airline just burned a host of extra fuel – all for no gain.
Every day, the commercial aviation ecosystem safely transports millions of passengers to thousands of destinations around the globe, making it among the most complex operations in the world.
But as practiced as that operation is, it's also full of inefficiencies, small and large, like the example above. Information can be incomplete or maddeningly delayed. Different players within the ecosystem – from pilots to air traffic controllers to airline back offices to fueling and catering crews – often operate in silos within a very small island of influence, with goals (e.g., turnaround times or reduced costs) that can conflict with others' and the larger, shared goal of moving those millions of passengers as efficiently and effectively as possible . While there have been advances in optimizing the operational or experiential benefits in each player's limited span of control, those have all too often been incremental changes to primarily manual processes.
Yet, with demand for air travel expected to grow robustly over the next 20 years, existing infrastructures and processes are destined to strain further or break completely without significant change.
A tale of touchpoints
Today, almost every step in the commercial air travel process generates information. Around the globe, from the moment passengers make a reservation in their departure city, to the moment they catch a cab at the airport in their arrival city, they interact with a wide variety of systems. For instance:
- Days before, or on their way to the airport, travelers make airline reservations, confirm boarding passes, request seats and reserve special meals
- At the airport, they check in, check large baggage, pass through security, and sometimes dine and shop before going through the boarding process
- On the aircraft, connectivity enables work and play for passengers, while flight crews file flight plan updates, process credit card transactions and more, and smart products and systems collect health information and other crucial data
- Behind the scenes, a host of activities keeps airlines on schedule and aloft: scheduling, operating and maintaining the fleet; checking fuel supplies; planning crew training; and solving maintenance issues with each aircraft
Each of these interactions, each of these touchpoints, generate data – from a biometric face scan to a fleet's worth of fuel efficiency data on a particular aircraft platform. Sometimes it's immediately used, sometimes it's almost immediately thrown away, and sometimes it's stored somewhere – but for undetermined or unclear purposes.
The one thing the data is likely not? It's likely not connected – to other sources of data, to people or companies who can use the data like OEMs and airlines, and to others who can effectively analyze the data, so our industry can work together to ensure travelers reach their destination safely, comfortably and on time.
That's where Collins Aerospace comes in.
A rich history of connections
The history of Collins is, in large part, a history of connections. Collins equipment connected Admiral Byrd from the South Pole and Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon to Earth. Our ARINC global network rose from the early days of airlines needing to connect within a fleet and between each other. Today, that trusted, high-integrity, secure network delivers more than 60 million messages a day.
We are also investing in the next generation of systems that create that data in the first place. Kiosk-based and cloud-based passenger processing solutions. Self-baggage drops and management. Single-token biometric systems. Airport operations databases and management software. A variety of connectivity solutions – from traditional VHF to broadband solutions – that link passengers and flight crews alike to the ground. And information-enabled products like advanced avionics, power, mechanical and environmental systems – as well as powerful airborne information systems and airborne networks – that generate data, collect it and transmit it efficiently and securely to destinations near and far.
In fact, Collins is among the only companies in our industry able to provide end-to-end enablement – creating systems that generate data; enabling access to that data and data from other systems on the aircraft through on-aircraft network solutions; and through our air-to-ground and ground-to-ground networks, delivering that data to participants across the aviation ecosystem.
What does our broad footprint and deep expertise bring to our customers and the industry? The distinctive pedigree to lead the digital transformation of one of the most complex ecosystems in the world.
Built on our global network and growing information enablement and aviation products, Collins Aerospace is uniquely positioned to link key touchpoints and partners across the commercial aviation ecosystem – from passengers, airlines and airports to aircraft manufacturers, system suppliers and service providers.
Through these connections, partners from across the industry – airlines, airframe manufacturers, system suppliers and software developers – will all be empowered to solve the many and complex challenges of commercial aviation like never before. New insights can deliver improved efficiencies for operators and more seamless and rewarding travel experiences for passengers. Linking data sets across different operations can forge new connections and understandings between now-siloed systems and organizations, offering new opportunities for collaboration, better decision-making and shared growth.
Returning to the example that opened this piece, the delayed flight from Manhattan to Denver: In a connected ecosphere, information about developing weather, traffic patterns, gate availability and more could have been shared with the airline, air traffic controllers, Denver airport operators and more – long before it became a problem – to enhance the precision and ultimate success and passenger experience for that single flight and thousands of others, every day.
What will it take?
We are committed to playing a leadership role in this transformation, but it's a path we can't embark upon alone. Collectively, we will need to embrace a new model of relationships among the industry's many and varied players, defined by:
- Embracing advances in digital technology that open the door to a new age of aviation innovation, in which entire processes will be reimagined and re-engineered to deliver never-before-possible performance improvements;
- Ecosystem-wide innovation driven by enhanced digital connectivity, continuous data collection and intelligent systems; and
- A recognition that no single OEM, airline, supplier or service provider can do this on its own. Instead, many entities will need to engaging collaboratively to design and implement new digitally based solutions that will reshape the aviation industry as a whole.
There is a broad expertise in our industry, ranging from the OEMs that design and produce aircraft to small software vendors around the world with the analytical know-how to help discover new operational insights. All of these entities and their digital innovations will power the future of aviation. Together, we can engage and empower our industry to solve some of the toughest challenges confronting aviation today.