Technology’s progress, combined with the massive turnover the global airline fleet is slated to undergo by 2025 will reshape the maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) business. The main development behind the shift: a more data-driven business that powers predictive maintenance to help minimize unplanned work on next-generation aircraft.

Increasingly sophisticated aircraft are setting the stage. The newest, like the Airbus A350, generate several hundred thousand parameters that, with the right software, can be collected, analyzed, and used to spot a problem before it leads to a service disruption.

Airbus is already scratching the surface with its real-time health monitoring service, available for the A380 and A350 and being tested on the A330. Far more than pushing status information to the ground in real-time, Airbus uses onboard communications functionality to query sophisticated computers like Centralized Maintenance Systems and Aircraft Condition Monitoring Systems to obtain specific parameters related to a fault. The data help the manufacturer’s around-the-clock technical support team get to the root of an issue and, working with the carrier’s maintenance control center, determine what to do.

The ability to query specific -datasets combined with the massive amount of data available on the latest aircraft make airplane health monitoring (AHM) a powerful diagnostic tool. The A380 has 250,000 parameters available, while the A350 has more than 400,000, Airbus says. The 1980s-era A320, by contrast, has 20,000.

Over the next decade, Oliver Wyman projects that 43% of the 18,500 new passenger and freighter deliveries will replace existing aircraft, leaving a fleet of about 34,400. This will help shift the fleet profile of 2025 to one in which 45% of the aircraft will have been delivered after 2000, compared to just 10% today.

As more next-generation aircraft enter the fleet and displace older models with less digital capability, airlines and manufacturers will have more opportunity to use data as a primary driver of maintenance programs. MRO providers are eyeing the opportunities, too. 

An Oliver Wyman survey released April 13 at Aviation Week’s MRO Americas conference found that MRO executives foresee AHM and predictive maintenance (PM) as the aftermarket’s most promising new technologies in 2020, ahead of additive manufacturing and composite repair developments.

Most of the benefits will accrue to airlines, says Dave Marcontell, a vice president with Oliver Wyman-owned Cavok, while significant disruptions will occur elsewhere. “We believe these advances could cut or redistribute 15-20% of the total MRO spend,” he says. Cavok puts the  2015 global airline MRO market at $67 billion, rising to $100 billion by 2025.

Manufacturers offering AHM and similar services will surely benefit, while carriers should see reduced maintenance costs. But Marcontell says independent MROs can use data they collect to cash in as well. “MROs out there that don’t even own an airplane can start leveraging the computing power and algorithms being developed to better mine the data they are already collecting and own,” he says.

Engine manufacturers, which have grabbed increasingly larger shares of the aftermarket with guaranteed-service agreements, are paving the way, using AHM to know precisely when engines need work. It is in their best interest to do so, as their service agreements—often structured as flat-fee, power-by-the-hour deals in which all maintenance is covered—shift risk from their customers to themselves.

The airframe side is more complicated. While Airbus and Boeing covet the levels of own-product aftermarket shares that the engine makers have, it will not happen anytime soon. Operators are turning toward service-level agreements for airframe components, but they are being shared among aftermarket players, including traditional MRO providers, suppliers with support programs, and aggregators that put together spares pools and manage repairs. These providers are often more nimble than the airframers, offering more flexible options—such as used parts—that keep operators’ costs down.

Just how this environment will square with one in which airframers have all of the data remains to be seen. Marcontell believes a showdown is possible, with airlines and manufacturers facing off over which side owns the data.

“It has been the OEMs that have been the early movers on data,” Marcontell says. “We believe this creates a potential conflict, as airlines are trusting their parts-removal history and analysis to the very same organizations that are trying to sell them replacement parts and services.”

One possible solution, he says: a trusted third-party “intermediary” to serve as “a fair arbiter of data.”