The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

On The Radar

Inmarsat, Cranfield University Dissect Connectivity Benefits for Aviation

Satellite communications group Inmarsat and Cranfield University this week published a report that explores how so-called digital connectivity will revolutionize aviation in the next decade, fueled largely by the aviation leaders’ changes in priorities brought on my sustainability and passenger behavior since the start of the Covid pandemic. The report, titled Why the future of aviation starts with connectivity, features a Digital Connectivity Timeline, which plots the rate at which the industry will adopt 21 technological innovations over the next five, 10, and 15 years.

For the five-year timeframe, the Inmarsat and Cranfield University researchers explored technologies in advanced stages of development; in the timeframe spanning five to 10 years, it concentrates on technologies now in their pilot phases ahead of market adoption; and, finally, the report examines concepts under consideration for product or service offering development beyond the next decade.

Concepts explored include how the so-called 'Conscious Aircraft' uses sensing and communication technologies to create an integrated aircraft health, maintenance, and performance management system capable of a fully aware state, carrying the ability to either take or suggest appropriate action. For example, it can predict the health of aircraft components and automatically reconfigure them to optimize their lifecycles. It can also sense changes in the external environment, like weather or a volcanic ash cloud. With the reduced need for planned maintenance and anticipation of component failures, the advances could cut maintenance costs by 30 percent, said the report.

Another concept explores how the ‘Connected Journey’ will enhance a passenger’s experience with more efficient and personalized wayfinding through airports, more intelligent and responsive baggage tracking, real-time updates on flight disruptions, and seamless high-speed inflight connectivity.

In the field of air traffic management, the study analyzes how trajectory-based operations will allow more efficient traffic sequencing and routine deployment of so-called fuel-efficient ‘green descents’ to airport terminal areas.

Finally, the report stresses the potential for how artificial intelligence (AI) and digital trust technologies can apply across all aviation sectors. AI can provide intelligent advice on aircraft management issues and make informed decisions under pressure—in cases where a diversion might prove necessary, for example—with camera-based traffic detection, or helping crew to anticipate and prevent critical situations. Machine learning (ML) can improve the accuracy of any application involving optimization, from sensor calibration to fuel tank checks to icing detection, concludes the report.

“Our new report with Cranfield University has considered how the role of digital connectivity, in all its forms, can enable and accelerate meeting the rapidly changing needs of air travelers and of the aviation sector itself,” commented Inmarsat Aviation president Philippe Carette. “It has identified specific challenges and opportunities that, if addressed, will have a direct beneficial effect on the sector’s resilience, its contribution to reducing climate change, and to new customer service offerings that will enhance passengers’ willingness to travel in the post-pandemic world.”