Honeywell to wirelessly connect more aircraft mechanical systems

Keen to support airlines’ maintenance operations more fully Honeywell Aerospace has launched a cadre of new “connected aircraft initiatives” that will see it wirelessly connect more mechanical systems to drive better predictive analysis.

The company is working to develop a way to pull data from wirelessly connected aircraft brakes and auxiliary power units (APUs) in addition to weather radar systems under its new ‘Smart Brake Initiative’, ‘Smart APU Initiative’ and ‘Connected Weather Radar Initiative’, respectively, says Honeywell Aerospace VP of marketing and product management Jack Jacobs.

“We make a lot of mechanical systems within Honeywell. We also make a lot of avionics, and now we make a lot of connectivity [hardware]. So when you put all those three together, you now can take things such as for maintenance – that you normally would have to have someone go out and measure with a ruler [on the brakes for instance] – and automate that to send over some pipe. And so you can do forward staging and prognostics. So we’re setting up those applications, that software and that connectivity to do all that,” he says.

“And then the APU as well; it’s very important to know when it’s used, when it’s on, when it’s off and that [data is] not as easy as you think to get. So having some wireless connectivity on our mechanical systems that goes through is also where we’re going.”

Engine manufacturers already provide health monitoring systems for their powerplants. For instance, Rolls-Royce’s Engine Health Management (EHM) system delivers data with details about vibration, pressure and temperature. This information is “transmitted to our operations center in the UK (Derby) and we correlate every single engine – every point in time through the operations center”, Rolls-Royce senior VP, customer strategy & marketing James Barry explained at the recent ISTAT conference in San Diego.

This data can be streamed continuously over current connectivity pipes,”but there is a cost issue to that”, noted Barry.

Honeywell is addressing this issue by developing Ka-band inflight connectivity hardware, which will support a more cost efficient Global Xpress service from Inmarsat. So, in essence, Honeywell is building a broadband connectivity pipe that could ferry data from many wirelessly connected sources on aircraft to the ground to drive operational benefits for airlines.

The connectivity pipe could also help move data for the wave of ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) devices that are sure to present themselves in aviation. Overall, Cisco believes that as many as 50 billion devices will be connected to the Internet by 2020, creating a $14.4 trillion business opportunity, EE Times reports. Without breaking out any figures, Gogo president and CEO Michael Small recently said IoT will have a “massive impact” on the global aviation industry.

“I like to look at it as, there is already a lot of data we have on planes. How do you make it useful so that saves people money, saves the maintenance guys money or make the crews’ life easier for getting information? We have the data; we just need to figure out how to connect it quickly and efficiently. So we’re really like taking the Apollo 13 approach – just make it all work easily, connectivity made easy. That’s what we’re trying to do,” says Honeywell’s Jacobs.