What is the difference being “spinning data” and “streaming data”? That was the question posed by Murray Skelton, Senior Director of Aircraft Solution Strategy, Teledyne Controls, at the ‘Connected Aircraft’ event taking place in Munich, Germany.
“Spinning data” means to record aircraft data during a flight before off-loading it in bulk on the ground. “Streaming data” is the process of continuously moving data off an aircraft while it is in flight.
Teledyne Controls has been a leading expert in taking data off an aircraft for many years. Skelton said it manufactures most of the commercial airborne data acquisition units flying around the world.
“We collect and distribute the majority of the world’s airline flight data,” Skelton said. “Real-time data has been in process for 15 years, delivered over an ACARS connection.”
Teledyne Controls’ GroundLink Comm+ unit has traditionally moved data off the aircraft using cellular, internet at the gate, or by using ‘sneakernet’ – what Skelton jokingly calls the process of taking Quick Access Recorder (QAR) data off on a memory stick.
“Flight data taken off this way can be converted surprisingly quickly,” he said. “It can be converted into actionable data for the technical operations team, sometimes in as little as just 7.5 minutes.”
The GroundLink system supports multiple applications across operations, providing real‑time data streaming, cabin/crew connectivity, wireless data distribution and upload, automated Flight Operational Quality Assurance (FOQA) data and more, all through one single unit.
The system’s new GroundLink AID+ feature provides off-board communication, access to aircraft parameters, and data management capability to wired and Wi-Fi-enabled EFBs and other crew devices.
But if you want real-time data streaming you need a satcom solution.
“Real time data streaming over satellite can happen right now,” Skelton said. “By the end of the year we will have 400 e-Enabled aircraft. ACARS-wise it is even more.
“But real-time high bandwidth data via satellites costs thousands. Is it actually worth it? – that depends upon you.”
The trick is to look for potential problems – outliers or measurements that are out of the normal range. Predictive maintenance is a very important tool, but if you can get machine learning or Artificial Intelligence (AI) on board an aircraft you can get smarter data off it.
“This data can be triggered automatically. This is the real growth area for connected aircraft. Not more data, but better data,” he said. “We are looking at AI systems that can process that data while you are in flight.”
But if you have connectivity on the aircraft, what more as an industry should we be using it for?
“Real-time fuel burn optimisation while in flight is a boon. We’ve seen hundreds of thousands of dollars made in fuel savings,” Skelton said.
He said significant cost savings can also be made with ACARS messages that are transferred via 3G/4G/LTE cellular while on the ground or satellite IP-based broadband in all flight phases. This relieves congestion on VHF ACARS networks.
“Connecting your EFBs to receive live weather updates is another option. Live graphical weather is an expensive operation and uses a lot of bandwidth,” he said.
But smart weather, that uses crowd-sourced data from other aircraft, is a potential winner.
“ADS-B will give you positional data of all the aircraft around you. If you link that to weather information received on the ground from those same aircraft you should be able to find out what the weather is like on your flight path,” he said.
“It is cost versus benefit – the airline has to decide. The only real takeaway is that if you don’t have a connected aircraft you are losing out,” Skelton concluded.