Harnessing Connectivity and Data to Reach Aviation’s Sustainability Goals

In the relentless pursuit of a greener future, industries around the globe are embracing sustainability as a cornerstone of their operations. The aviation sector, with its significant impact on carbon emissions, is no exception. One company at the forefront of this sustainability drive is Honeywell AerospaceIn a recent interview, we had the opportunity to delve into Honeywell’s sustainability goals and explore how connectivity and data analysis are instrumental in achieving these objectives.

Honeywell recently announced that it will supply its 1-megawatt generator for a hybrid-electric VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) airship designed by Flying Whales Airships Quebec.

From optimizing the efficiency of older aircraft to empowering informed decision-making in maintenance practices, the power of connectivity is revolutionizing aviation sustainability. Join us as we unveil the insights shared by Jason Wissink with Honeywell’s Connected Aerospace division, who sheds light on the transformative potential of connected solutions in creating a more efficient and sustainable aviation industry.

Honeywell Aerospace is at the forefront of the aviation industry’s sustainability efforts, utilizing connectivity and data analysis to optimize aircraft efficiency and enable informed decision-making for maintenance practices, ultimately revolutionizing aviation sustainability.

Avionics: What are Honeywell’s sustainability goals?

Jason Wissink: Honeywell is a multinational industrial company. It has four businesses across aerospace, building technologies, performance materials, and performance solutions. As a company, Honeywell has pledged to be carbon neutral in all of our facilities by 2035. 50% or more each year of the investment we make in our products—whether it’s aerospace or any of our other businesses—is really focused on either environmental or social outcomes. A lot of the value in the products that we develop have to do with using less energy, using less fuel, and being more efficient. 

Avionics: How might connectivity be used to achieve goals related to sustainability?

Wissink: Whether we’re talking about an airplane or a home, a worker, or a refinery, we look for opportunities to save energy or be more efficient or sustainable by connecting it something else. [That way] we can get real time data, put analytics around it, and really see how an asset, a vehicle, or a building is performing compared to what we would expect. That’s how you can uncover areas where you can be more efficient and more sustainable.

Connectivity is kind of at the core because if you don’t connect whatever it is you’re trying to measure, then you can’t get real time data, which is what you need when we talk about things that we’re going to do to be more sustainable in the future.

How can solutions related to connectivity help older aircraft in service to operate more efficiently and more sustainably?

As you look at older aircraft that you can retrofit with connectivity, there’s two main areas where we see a lot of opportunity. One is specific to how the aircraft is being flown. If you have, say, better connectivity with satcom [satellite communications] versus relying on an HF radio and you’re in oceanic airspace where connectivity can be somewhat spotty, the ability to speak to air traffic control at any time via satcom…. You can get better routing, you can get better altitudes versus potentially having to wait and flying either at an altitude or on a route that’s not as efficient—because you’re not able to communicate with ATC and get clearance to do something different. Retrofitting the aircraft, especially with satcom, so that you can always communicate immediately with air traffic control, it opens up better routing and better altitudes. And that directly corresponds to saving fuel. 

The other big one relates to telemetry. Aircraft generate a lot of data; they generate fault messages and data that is being recorded about how the systems on the airplane are operating. But in the past, that data gets stored somewhere on the airplane in a recorder (or in some other system) and someone would actually have to go to the airplane and download it. That might happen once a month or once a week, but it certainly wasn’t real time.

So by the time you would get access to the data, and be able to analyze it, the ability to do something that would help with the operation of the aircraft—from a maintenance or an efficiency point of view—may have already passed. The ability to equip those aircraft with more real-time systems that push data off the airplane as soon as the plane lands allows for analysis of the data from a maintenance point of view to see if there are trends that would lead to some type of maintenance recommendation.

If you can catch those things, you can take a maintenance action at a more optimum time versus waiting for a system to completely fail. You’re typically going to save some time and money if you’re able to plan your maintenance actions at optimal times versus just running things to failure.

How does Honeywell address challenges or limitations with retrofitting older aircraft to use the latest connectivity solutions?

There are two things about retrofitting aircraft that we try to keep in mind. If you’re going to upgrade a system so that it can be connected to the outside world, is there a way we can design the product so that it easily fits in where the current product is?

An example would be a recorder that’s going to have connectivity. Can we design it so that it fits into the current tray or uses the same connectors, the same power? We try to take the installation into account ahead of time as we design the product, versus designing something and then trying to figure out how to put it on the airplane. There’s a lot of effort that’s put into that, especially when we’re developing products that we expect will have a significant demand for retrofits—not just for installation on new aircraft. At the front end, we try to take into account the current installation inside the airplane and the current wiring to make retrofitting easier.

When you’re talking about connectivity you usually have to keep antennas in mind as well. Typically, to get good range and good performance, you’re going to need an antenna that’s on the fuselage of the airplane somewhere, whether it’s on the top or on the bottom. Retrofitting antennas takes time and you have to find a spot for them, because the aircraft already has a lot of antennas. installed. Pay attention to antenna design up front and take into account whatever real estate is available on the aircraft. If you think about that ahead of time, it can really save a lot of work on the back end.

You can get into situations where you need to install an antenna, but there’s nowhere to put it because there’s already 10 other antennas that are on the airplane. Those are the main challenges that we try to pay attention to because we’ve seen it trip people up in the past.

Could you share any ongoing or upcoming initiatives to drive sustainability for aviation through technology?

The key with getting more real-time data off the aircraft is once you get that data, do something of value with it. IATA publishes a list of fuel-saving initiatives: things like doing single-engine taxi. It’s not that it’s hard for the airline to do those things. It’s sometimes hard to figure out how well you’re doing or if you are leaving opportunities on the table.

With the ability to get data in more real time—say, right after the flight completes—about the opportunities for fuel savings on that specific flight and what opportunities were actually captured, you can then quantify the gap of what else you you do or what you could do better to save more fuel.

The ability to get the data off the airplane and now most flight crews have EFPs or tablets you know, that have some type of connection. We have an ability now to take data off the aircraft and get it back to the people that need it in near real time, which allows [for] better decisions. 

[With] long-haul flights, there’s always points in the flight where you could fly the aircraft more efficiently via a different route or requesting a different altitude. To get to get the most out of that, you need a fair amount of computing power. We have the ability now to do a lot of that processing on the ground because we can get data from the aircraft to the ground. We can have algorithms running on the ground and we can provide the results to whoever needs them so they can take some action. That’s another thing that we’re working on right now. Most flight crews now have access to a tablet or an EFB that has connectivity during the flight.

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