Airlines are testing a high-capacity wireless service that will allow aircraft to share on-board flight data and maintenance data with the airline's IT systems in real time when planes land at an airport gate.
The service, expected next year, could allow airlines to make significant savings by helping them analyse data to predict maintenance and fuel requirements more accurately, its developers claim.
The technology is undergoing tests at San Diego and Warsaw airports and in Boeing's R&D laboratories.
Although modern aircraft collect gigabytes of data on the performance of aircraft systems, airlines have no quick way of downloading the information when a plane comes in to land, says Sergio Von Borries, managing director for CSC AirSync.
There have been some experiments with Wi-Fi networks, which can transfer limited amounts of data from aircraft. In practice airlines physically remove hard disks to transfer data, he says.
Aircraft IT systems collect gigabytes of information on the performance of engines, aircraft systems and maintenance data.
"The problem is aircraft manufacturers are dependent on operators having access to data on a real-time basis to yield the maximum economic benefits," says Von Borries. "But the operators can't physically transfer the data."
CSC and its partners have developed a Wi-Fi box, which will link into the aircraft's IT systems. The box is capable of broadcasting data from the aircraft on different channels, including cellphone, 4G, Wi-Fi and high-capacity Wimax, depending on the type and volumes of data transferred.
CSC plans to offer the service to airlines on a pay-per-use basis. It aims to install and operate Wi-Fi equipment in major airports and transmit data to the airlines through its secure global network.
The company claims the service could bring significant savings to airlines, by allowing them to plan for maintenance more effectively.
"A non flight-critical item can be deferred to the next stop. But an item that has exceeded its replacement time can cost $40,000 per hour the aircraft is delayed. Passengers get fed up and choose another airline," he says.
Airlines can also use the Wi-Fi system to update airlines' in-flight entertainment systems. It can be set to send data to all aircraft on a gate at once, or to direct data to a single aircraft. It takes a few seconds to upload a film.
CSC is also developing applications that will allow airlines to calculate how much fuel they will need with greater accuracy, by analysing the in-flight performance data.
The company is waiting for regulatory approval for the technology.
In practice, the regulatory requirements for airport radio systems can vary from country to country, and from airport to airport.
Gatesync is designed to recognise where it is, and to adjust to meet the regulatory requirements of each location, he says.
CSC is talking to a number of airlines about deploying the system. It expects to have the first installation in 2011.
Other applications under development include using the technology to monitor airport support vehicles and military vehicles.
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