How do you predict an in-flight malfunction before takeoff?


EY Global

Multidisciplinary professional services organization

4 minute read 27 Feb 2019

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The application of IoT technologies will further enhance the reputation of aviation as being a leader in industrializing new concepts.

The major challenges facing the aviation industry arguably span four areas: safety, passenger experience, profitability and environmental sustainability. And many of the answers come in the form of Internet of Things (IoT)-related solutions.


As a mode of transport, flying is remarkably safe — and the few fatalities are generally not a result of technical failure but of the incompetent or malicious actions of people. So it’s logical to conclude that automated solutions could be a ticket to even safer travel.

In fact, it’s already happening: many current aircraft are equipped with fly-by-wire, which introduces a layer of logic between the pilots’ inputs and the control actuators, to translate pilots’ intentions into aircraft behavior while eliminating the risk of overload, damage or loss of control. The GE9x engine has more than 5,000 sensors and is equipped with the ability to autonomously decide on preventive maintenance actions and issue parts order while in-flight. Similarly, the wing of a recent production A380 is fitted with thousands of sensors that continuously monitor its condition and configuration.

Automated solutions could be a ticket to even safer air travel.

Other examples of using IoT technologies include:
  • Automated passenger security checks and passport control, leveraging biometrics, dedicated sensors and advanced analytics using contextual information from multiple sources
  • Streamlined checked-in luggage security checks that cover 100% of bags, thanks to purpose-built sensors (CT, sniffers, MRI) and AI-based threat recognition
  • Replacing mechanical with active systems consisting of sensors, electric actuators and smart materials, allowing for self-repair, intelligent fault management, including repurposing; and reduction of wear through load or vibration compensation — all leading to increased safety and longevity of aircraft

Passenger experience

This is one area that is likely to see the most progress in the near future — arriving three hours in advance at the airport for an expensive two-hour flight in a cramped seat, with a 30% chance of being delayed for at least 15 minutes does not sound reasonable.

The ideal state is for the whole trip — starting from the first contact with the travel agency or airline, through multimodal transport, the airport, the airline and everything in between — to become one connected and highly customized experience.

The ideal state is for the whole trip to become one connected and highly customized experience.

There are many solutions enabled by IoT technologies that will change the way we travel by air — some are already in use:

  • Connected, personal, in-flight entertainment systems with online gaming, live TV, external-view cameras and noise-canceling earphones for a comfortable, entertaining flight
  • High throughput satellite connection providing inflight high-speed Wi-Fi and cell reception
  • Gate delivery of purchases (both airport and in-flight e-commerce)
  • Telemedicine systems to effectively react to in-flight health problems
And others are planned or being tested:
  • Online service with integrated check-in, security and boarding service, leveraging biometrics, smart devices, sensors and tags — shortening the lead times to 30 minutes
  • Autonomous food-dispensing trolleys
  • Virtual personal assistants using passengers’ mobile phones and their sensors to guide them through and assist with transfers and in-flight services using natural language and augmented reality

Profitability and environmental stability

The airline business is a tough one — the average global profit margin in 2016 was just 5%. This is compounded by the growing pressure to minimize environmental impact, in terms of fuel emissions and consumption, and noise. Again, IoT technology can help here.

In addition to helping extend the maintenance windows and working life of an aircraft, smart sensors can, for example, individually configure the aerodynamics of each aircraft based on actual conditions (e.g., retracting a flap by a couple of millimeters can result in saving over 50kg of fuel per flight).

Other IoT applications include:
  • Continuous descent approaches and real-time flight path control enabled by next generation flight management and communication systems that can save tons of fuel per flight while improving safety and comfort of passengers
  • Use of analytics and automated control leveraging GPS and sensors to help manage aircraft and service vehicles, reducing unnecessary apron traffic and saving time and fuel
  • Additive manufacturing (3D metal printing) enabling lighter engines made of much fewer parts, and making parts on demand to improve manufacturing efficiency
  • Augmented reality enabling faster, safer and less error-prone building and maintenance of aircraft

Considering the fact that each pushback and startup sequence of a large aircraft costs thousands of dollars, or that large airports handle more than 10 suitcases every second while delivering a ton of fuel every minute, it is clear that IoT technologies are indispensable to maintain the situational awareness needed to run airport logistics.

Aviation continues to be territory for true innovation, continuing a tradition in aerodynamics, engine design and material science. Many agree that in the future, the most significant advancements will be enabled by IoT technologies — using sensors, omniconnectivity, automation and robotics, AI, virtual and augmented reality.

Let’s get onboard and enjoy the ride.


IoT technologies will change the way we travel by air, improving safety, passenger experience, profitability and environmental stability. 

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EY Global

Multidisciplinary professional services organization