Vince Kerr: Using Data to Shift from What to Why

by Vince Kerr on 12/11/2019

Following acquisition, Flight Data Services has recently been integrated into L3Harris unlocking a huge potential to derive value from data captured across the commercial aviation industry. Vince Kerr, VP and GM shares his insight into this rapidly changing world:

It’s a truism in every industry that the ability to capture a huge amount of data in multiple structured and unstructured formats has been a revolutionarily force. However, the challenge is working out how to generate insight and in turn, value. Information, especially in large volumes, is of little to no value unless you can extract the insight.

Within the aviation industry, the important areas such as passenger journey management, customer relationship management, flight operation safety, efficiency, air frame maintenance and engineering provide vast amounts of data needing analysis to deliver value. We have more data in these areas than we can imagine, for example consider a A380, it has roughly 4000 parameters which are recorded every 1-2 seconds; so a 10 hour flight would equate to well over 70 million pieces of data, just from the standard recording. Collecting such data from every airplane on every flight, all year round, brings up the question of ‘How do you make sense of that?’ because everyone is aware that there is value to be gained.

The challenge comes with having information in multiple places and in different formats. Bringing these together may provide insights into how training impacts commercial flights or how preventative maintenance action can save cost impacts to the airframe. However, we have to go about creating an architecture that allows us to share and fuse that information. As an organisation we have one of the largest database of flights with over 14.9 million recorded flights. This resource is invaluable for comparison, allowing accurate benchmarking across a whole range of disciplines including levels of flight safety, predictive maintenance on airframes, fuel efficiency, pilot training and development.

The challenge within data sharing is cultural and regulatory in regards to what information organisations are comfortable sharing. L3Harris are taking action to provide confidence towards the benefits which a large body of anonymised data provides to those who participate in data sharing programs, and why it’s key that all within the industry support to grow it in a protected and secure environment.

Currently, airlines are trying to understand how they can help their operations add value by utilising the data that they capture. We help them by capturing data, analysing it and allowing comparison to the benchmark. We have recently been working with members of the industry to assess data and demonstrate ways of achieving better fuel consumption. Every aircraft has a specific way of flying, with manufacturers providing the range of variables and how much they can vary. If we can demonstrate the most efficient way to fly a plane and share it with airlines it allows them to assess and make changes to their operational procedures. The more insight we can provide them with the better, if we can show to our customer that the change in ascent/descent profile will reduce fuel consumption then they will be able to see the value. We provide them with the insights with possible positive and negative consequences and then the operator has the choice to change their operations.

Historically as an industry we have been very good at analysing the data to establish WHAT has occurred. However, it’s increasingly important for us to now use the data to determine WHY something has occurred, or is occurring. Fusing different data sets along with the ability to quickly and effectively compare against a benchmark allows for anomalies to be identified. In turn, making the contributing factors easier to highlight and discover exactly why the event happened.

Moving forward the management and analysis of unstructured data will be important to the support of the shift within the industry from the what to the why. L3Harris is in a leading position when it comes to understanding data sources and we are now looking at fusing those to unlock additional insight that should lead to improved efficiency, effectiveness and of course safety within operations. As the industry evolves, deciphering and extracting insight of these new data sets will be revolutionary