Panasonic building 'central control' for real-time aircraft monitoring

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Panasonic Avionics is building a network operations center that will serve as "central control" for real-time data collection and monitoring of in-flight entertainment (IFE) systems and other aircraft parts on every airliner that carries its high-speed connectivity solution.

"We're connecting the aircraft to the maintenance department, but we are also connecting to third parties that would like to get access to data. Engine manufacturers have been saying for the longest time that if they could do real-time monitoring of the engine just imagine the maintenance efficiencies and effectiveness that comes from doing that," says Panasonic Avionics executive director of corporate sales and marketing Neil James.

From an IFE perspective, Panasonic's ability to manage the IFE experience from the ground - being able to perform diagnostics, push software to the aircraft and pull data from the aircraft in real-time - will bring about reduced spares holdings and more efficient maintenance, notes James. "So instead of having labour in place and spares in place just in case you find a problem when you go on board, you're actually in a situation where you know exactly where you need the people and what you need them for."

Panasonic is in the process of bringing its Ku-band satellite-based connectivity solution to market. Former Connexion by Boeing customer Lufthansa is the launch customer for Panasonic's so-called eXConnect offering, and intends to equip its entire long-haul fleet. Turkish Airlines has also signed on as a customer of eXConnect, as have a handful of undisclosed customers.

Excepting certain airlines, the marketing appeal for equipping aircraft with in-flight connectivity has largely been based on "on the passenger side of things", says James. "But in addition to passenger value, we have always felt that the parallel benefit is in operations."

In-flight entertainment and connectivity consultant Michael Planey has long touted the benefit to airlines of seeing their connected aircraft as a node on their IT networks.

He says that while airlines "see the benefit is there, they are not necessarily willing to foot the bill for internal development costs".

Panasonic has not yet disclosed its partners for the netowrk operations center it is creating. However, the firm believes "there are about 50 or 60 airlines" in the world that will benefit from their aircraft being perpetually connected.

"It's an overused term, but we have been saying for a while that we think connecting an aircraft perpetually to the ground will revolutionize airline operations in the same way the Internet has revolutionized how we do work. That's where we think aircraft and airlines will be in the future," says James.