DALLAS — Fleet managers and technicians can use AI in aircraft maintenance to minimize repair costs, improve airframe performance and streamline maintenance processes.
Today’s AI algorithms are capable of rapid data analytics, computer vision, and robotic process automation. These abilities are invaluable in aircraft maintenance. How can they help fleet managers and aircraft technicians?
1. Maintenance Schedules, Documentation
Operating a commercial aircraft fleet involves keeping track of extensive documentation on aircraft maintenance and safety. This information is vital for ensuring pilots, crew and passengers are safe onboard any aircraft.
Unfortunately, it can be challenging to manage, particularly with a large fleet. It is not uncommon for maintenance technicians to accidentally leave info out of paperwork or forget to submit critical details.
AI makes a great assistant for tracking important maintenance schedules and documentation. Algorithms can automate reminders for regular aircraft inspections and compliance audits. An AI-powered documentation management system can be helpful in the auditing process since it makes it easy to find, collect and analyze maintenance data.
2. Autonomous Performance Monitoring
Performance monitoring is a core part of predictive maintenance, which uses data to detect potential mechanical problems before breakdowns occur. This can be difficult to do manually due to the large volume of data and systems on any aircraft. AI can manage large data sets easily, though, offering an efficient way to keep an eye on aircraft.
If performance fluctuates outside expected parameters, the AI can flag the maintenance team to perform a check-up. This strategy allows maintenance teams to investigate potential mechanical problems sooner while making regular inspections more focused and efficient.
AI performance monitoring is also an excellent way to monitor signs of structural fatigue, such as corrosion, cracks, and bending. As aircraft age, performance issues and malfunctions become more likely. Fleet managers can ensure they retire unsafe aircraft before an accident occurs with automated monitoring.
3. Mechanical Failure Prediction
Aircraft maintenance teams can use AI to predict possible mechanical failures along with monitoring performance. Through predictive maintenance, aircraft fleet managers can minimize costly repairs and the associated downtime. With an AI constantly monitoring every aircraft for signs of mechanical failure, maintenance teams can rest assured their aircraft are flying safely even while minimizing time spent on repairs and inspections.
Predictive maintenance has already gained popularity in the construction industry. It combines the capabilities of IoT devices and AI, feeding data from smart sensors into an algorithm that analyzes it. In the construction industry, experts cite increased productivity and reduced downtime as key results of implementing predictive maintenance. These same benefits can apply to aviation, as well.
IoT sensors integrate into a vehicle’s systems, such as flight controls or brakes. These smart sensors continuously collect performance data on those systems and relay it to an AI hub where the algorithm stores, processes, and reports on it. The AI can keep track of maintenance schedules and flag aircraft needing repairs right when sensors detect anomalies. In contrast, manual inspections might not discover a repair need until it requires major maintenance or a replacement part.
4. AI-Powered Visual Inspections
One of the most valuable applications of AI in aircraft maintenance is automated visual inspections. Using computer vision algorithms, aircraft technicians can scan aircraft for signs of potential maintenance problems. AI computer vision systems can make inspection processes much more efficient, allowing small teams of technicians to get more done on the job.
Today’s smart image processing programs can be useful on a wide variety of aircraft parts, as well. This includes fuel tanks, rotors, and welds, along with electronics and composite components. Once an AI is trained to recognize physical signs of repair needs on a particular aircraft part, the algorithm can detect those issues rapidly.
Scanning an aircraft with a computer vision algorithm allows maintenance technicians to identify components that need repairs much more quickly, making the inspection process more efficient. This gives maintenance teams more time to do essential repairs and get aircraft flying again sooner.
5. Maintenance Data Analysis
Performance and maintenance data can hold invaluable insights about specific aircraft or fleet trends. AI can be used to tap into those insights and use them to improve maintenance and operations processes. Data analytics and pattern recognition are among AI’s greatest strengths. Algorithms can often recognize patterns and trends in data sets much more quickly and intuitively than a human could.
For example, a team of technicians might periodically replace a key component in a fleet. Over time, aircraft begin suffering more maintenance issues. By analyzing maintenance and performance data with AI, the technicians could discover the replacement parts they have been using are causing mechanical problems in the aircraft.
Using AI data analytics here could help the technicians make this connection much sooner than they might have otherwise. Once they have identified the problem, they can shift to a higher-quality replacement part, preventing even more costly maintenance issues.
Tools for AI data analysis are becoming much more easily accessible, as well. For example, the popular AI ChatGPT can analyze data and generate graphs, charts, and other visualizations of input data. Any aircraft maintenance team can readily use this platform and others like it online.
6. Aircraft Performance Optimization
AI is not just good for addressing repair needs. It can also help aircraft technicians get the best performance possible out of their vehicles. By combining AI performance monitoring and data analytics, aircraft technicians can identify critical opportunities for optimization. For instance, an AI might pinpoint a system that could optimize for more efficient energy or fuel use.
With the help of AI in aircraft maintenance, technicians can be proactive about fine-tuning performance. Predictive maintenance allows them to stay ahead of repairs so they can focus on improving an aircraft’s handling, environment, braking, energy consumption, and other vital systems. Performance optimization may even help maintenance teams maximize the safe life span of their aircraft.
Implementing AI in Aircraft Maintenance
Fleet managers and technicians can apply AI in aircraft maintenance in many ways. It is perfect for automating data-based processes such as performance monitoring, optimization, and predictive maintenance.
Aircraft technicians can also use AI to make their maintenance processes more efficient through applications like AI-assisted visual inspections. With the help of AI, aircraft maintenance can be more efficient, cost-effective, and productive.
Featured image: Aircraft Maintenance. Photo: Matthew Calise/Airways