How Ryanair monitors health of Boeing 737s without ACARS

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As airlines continue to grab news headlines for their adoption of various inflight connectivity solutions it’s easy to forget that, outside of the US, less than 6% of aircraft flying commercially offer some form of passenger connectivity. Even more surprising, perhaps, is the fact that a few airlines have never even installed a basic Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) to report major flight phases or monitor aircraft health.

Ryanair decided early on that, in light of the duration of its flights and how frequently aircraft are back on the ground, it didn’t really need real-time aircraft data transmissions. Secondly, it reasoned that real-time airborne data transmission via ACARS was not worth paying the price of service fees to ARINC or SITA, fees it perceived as being too high.

This makes Ryanair fairly unique even among European LCCs as most of them – e.g. easyJet – do use ACARS for some real-time transmissions to maintenance on the ground.

That’s not to say that Ryanair doesn’t have a system in place for understanding how its Boeing 737 fleet performs. Once its jets are back on the ground, the airline downloads the entire black box recording of flight data (and more) since the last flight – on average 5 or 6 megabytes of flight data.

Ryanair does this with every aircraft, on nearly every landing all over Europe, using a Vodafone connection. The data is automatically processed for Flight Data Monitoring/Flight Operations Quality Assurance (FDM/FOQA) flight safety purposes and in parallel is processed and used to extract the same “health” data that other airlines process in the air with the Aircraft Condition Monitoring System (ACMS) function, which records data and information from aircraft systems and sends the “snapshot” results via ACARS in real-time off the aircraft to maintenance.

Ryanair is consistently recovering over 99.5% of all black box data for FDM/FOQA and its own health monitoring, RGN has learned. This statistic could represent one of the best performance data collections for FDM/FOQA of any airline in the world. What is interesting is this performance almost matches the performance levels required from ACARS data link.

Incidentally, though Ryanair doesn’t use ACARS, it was once a customer of OnAir’s SwiftBroadband-supported inflight mobile connectivity solution for passengers. But OnAir later kicked Ryanair to the curb, with good reason as explained here. It seems that Ryanair doesn’t like to pay for connectivity…period, though the carrier has indicated it is interested in offering Wi-Fi to passengers in the future. Passengers can already use their personal electronic devices (PEDs) – without connectivity – from gate to gate on Ryanair flights.

Meanwhile, the carrier’s recent efforts to reshape itself into a kindler, gentler Ryanair appear to be paying off.

“Ryanair traffic grew by 400,000 to a record 9.4 million customers in August, thanks to our lower fares and our improving customer experience, including our great new website and mobile app, allocated seating, a free 2nd small carry-on bag and PED use on all flights,” says the airline. “The launch of our new family and business products have been extremely successful and have contributed significantly to these highest ever load factors in Ryanair’s history.”

2 Comments

  1. Dan

    One drawback is that Ryanair is losing the opportunity to preemptively avoiding any maintenance repairs/troubleshooting prior to the aircraft landing. Real time health monitoring offers an operator an opportunity to potentially detect problems prior to manifesting in to a failure and causing unscheduled maintenance/delays.

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