Connecting Assets To Improve Maintenance

Credit: Air Canada

Connecting aircraft to the ground has long been known to bring benefits to maintenance by transmission of inflight performance and fault data.

But connecting other assets, both on aircraft and on the ground, can also improve maintenance, explains Tomal Sohorab, manager of cargo solutions strategy and business development for Air Canada Cargo.

Speaking at a recent webinar on Connecting Cargo to the Internet of Things, Sohorab said Air Canada’s Blue Skies project is embedding OnAsset Intelligence’s Bluetooth-enabled Beacon sensors in the airline’s entire fleet, from regional jets to widebodies.

The OnAsset system, which includes tags and readers, uses aircraft Wi-Fi to communicate with maintenance managers.

One maintenance program these sensors enabled was called 2020 Winter Soldier, which aimed at protecting aircraft from freezing when parked overnight in certain locations—not a trivial concern during Canadian winters.

The danger was that that water lines on Air Canada’s Boeing 787s would freeze, costing major maintenance man-hours and possible loss of revenue if aircraft could not depart on schedule.

So Air Canada installed OnAsset tags in strategic positions in the aircraft with a reader in the cockpits. “If the heater was not on, it triggered an alarm to line maintenance on the danger of freezing,” Sohorab explained. “They could then recover the aircraft quickly.” Line mechanics could either fix or replace diesel heaters or turn on auxiliary power units. 

The OnAsset sentries were set to warn when temperatures went below 24C (75F). When one maintenance team responded to a warning the cockpit was down to 8C (46F), the cabin was at 9-10C (48-50F) and the cargo compartments were almost below freezing.

The benefit of saving just one aircraft from freezing was greater than the cost of installing the sensors on the entire fleet, according to Sohorab.

Winter Soldier was extended as the 2021 Winter Remain Overnight (RON) program. RON was especially important during the winter of 2021, as Air Canada had parked so many aircraft in Arizona that its operating fleet was very lean and the airline could ill afford to lose a single plane. “We didn’t have another aircraft to swap it with,” Sohorab stressed. 

Every single Air Canada plane that was parked overnight in colder cities such as Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Edmonton, Halifax and Ottawa had 1-2 sensors installed. “We had zero aircraft freeze, and the main reason was the OnAsset sentries,” Sohorab said.

The OnAsset sensors do not just report temperature and location. They can also monitor humidity and shocks. When temperature or humidity in warehouses go out of range for part acceptability, MRO managers will know quickly from the sensor reports.

The ability to report shocks to assets can help when important maintenance equipment, such as engine stands, are hit and possibly damaged. Maintenance staff can check for damage before they have to pull damaged stands out of service.

OnAsset tags can also be put on parts that are shipped for AOG situations. Thus, maintenance managers can know how quickly the parts get there and whether they get to the right station and on the right aircraft.

Another candidate for tagging with OnAsset sentries is the yellow box, (often called fly-away kit) of spare parts aircraft always carry on board to help get them in the air if a defect arises.

Sohorab says these kits are generally safe on domestic flights, but in some foreign countries ramp agents may mistakenly take them off aircraft.

However, since Air Canada has installed On Asset devices on these kits, “there have been no issues.”     

Other very important use cases for OnAsset sentries are in cargo operations, and here their benefits are manifold, from tracking the location of cargo to monitoring temperature, humidity and other environmental conditions that can dramatically affect the quality of transport, especially of medicines and perishable foods.

OnAsset CEO Adam Crossno says his company now has its sentries on hundreds of thousands of assets around the world so the data streams from these devices can interconnect with other systems and continue to provide “a common operating picture,”

OnAsset is now launching a 5G service.