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Rolls-Royce Holdings plc

12/01/2020 | News release | Distributed by Public on 12/01/2020 11:01

Closing the gap: The route to 100% aircraft...

Closing the gap: The route to 100% aircraft availability

We're aiming for 100% of the business aircraft we power to never miss a scheduled trip due to maintenance. Here's how we're doing so far - and what we plan to do next.

Imagine you - the proud owner of a business jet - are flying to Easter Island, a mysterious spot of land in a remote south-eastern corner of the Pacific Ocean. But, two days later, you need to be in Sydney to sign an important contract. En route, a component in the aircraft engine requires attention; you land safely, but it needs repair before you can fly again.

Right now, in business aviation, Rolls-Royce is aiming for 100% 'averted missed trips' - meaning no private aircraft running on Rolls-Royce engines and covered by a CorporateCare® (or CorporateCare Enhanced) agreement is grounded long enough to delay a flight.

At the moment, we average more than 99% 'averted missed trips'.

For business aviation customers, the availability of their aircraft is vital. When it's working, flying on a business aviation jet frees these travellers from the constraints of fixed flight schedules and limited options of destinations. And it endows them with an incredible amount of autonomy. When an aircraft is grounded for maintenance, however, this freedom is quashed and time is lost.

It's an important problem to fix. But it's also a complex one.

'In business aviation, one of the challenges for us is we never know where [our customers] are going to fly,' says Andy Robinson, SVP Customers & Services, Business Aviation at Rolls-Royce.

'In the airline world, we know a flight is going from point A to point B and what time it will depart. But in business aviation, our customers can go wherever, whenever they fancy.'

Andy says that the difficulty here is getting the right parts and right technicians to the right location - as quickly as possible.

'It all depends where the event is. If it's Easter Island, it's really difficult to get to them,' he says. 'And if it's a complex event that takes some significant troubleshooting, that too will make solving the problem more complex.'

Despite these hurdles Rolls-Royce achieved three months of 100% averted missed trips in 2019. But our goal in business aviation is to reach 100% averted missed trips for a full year.

So how do you avoid any delay, every time?

According to Axel Voege, Head of Digital Operations, Germany, for Rolls-Royce, new digital technology will play a big part.

The digital edge of averted missed trips

'What we're really trying to do is recognise and predict need,' he says. 'Enhanced, advanced maintenance - that's what we're looking forward to.'

'Right now, we are working on a new engine health monitoring system,' he adds. 'It includes an EVHMU, which stands for engine vibration health monitoring unit.'

Axel says that this tool detects thousands of data points in an engine's operation that when analysed could give us advance indication of a potential problem. Being able to see problems before they actually occur allows us to proactively change the part thus avoiding any AOG at all.

'When you're asking what to do about that last 1%, part of that equation is going to be our new engine vibration monitoring system. Another thing we are doing is utilising machine learning - otherwise called AI. Effectively, we are learning from past experience and letting computers do this work for us.'

The newest Rolls-Royce engines designed for business aircraft - known as the Pearl family - are already equipped with advanced remote engine diagnostics and bidirectional communications, both of which make it the first IoT-enabled aero engine, with easy to reconfigure engine-monitoring features from the ground. But increasingly more sophisticated and better-performing technology is in development.

In fact, according to Axel, the digital tools he's now honing, from robotics and cloud-based analytics to big data, will continue to play an increasingly large role in delivering exceptional levels of aircraft availability (as well as peace of mind for customers).

For example, Rolls-Royce is now collaborating with Harvard University to create new robotics, which is poised to revolutionise engine maintenance. Measuring 10mm in diameter, the collaborative SWARM robots crawl right down deep into an engine's insides. These robots - which are slithered inside the engine by slinky 'snake' robots - perform a visual inspection. By squeezing into hard-to-reach areas, equipped with small cameras deploying a live feed, SWARM robots provide inspectors with a view of an engine interior without opening it up. (Taking an engine apart is arduous, so this technique will save a lot of time once it's rolled out).

'The SWARM robot and other things similar to that give us new ways of actually getting inside engines so that we can inspect and repair things that we couldn't do traditionally,' says Andrew Robinson, Senior Vice President Services & Customer Support at Rolls-Royce.

'In this way we can prevent any unplanned engine removals by doing as much as we can through those miniature inspection tools.'

According to Robinson, it's all part of Rolls-Royce's IntelligentEngine vision.

'The IntelligentEngine really provides us with a great vision for the future. It gives us an opportunity to develop new techniques and new technologies. So the IntelligentEngine vision - and all the enabling technologies we're creating under its banner - will come together in various different ways to help us service our fleet now and in the future.'

Of course, robots aren't the whole story here.

There's an important human element, too - one that relies on collaboration and integration with highly skilled and adaptive teams around the world.

A global service network

The customer-facing side of this is Rolls-Royce's highly regarded CorporateCare service product. By protecting customers from unforeseen costs - and providing rapid access to any needed parts, anywhere in the world - it plays a big role in assuring aircraft availability.

'Since CorporateCare Enhanced, the upgraded service package that enhances our market-leading CorporateCare service, was launched in 2018, we have seen very strong demand from customers who see how much value the programme provides,' says Andy.

'It was developed with the mindset of, 'if we provide it, we cover it', and our customers simply love that.'

And Andy says it's precisely the level of service that Rolls-Royce offers that will make the difference towards reaching 100% availability.

'We have a fully operational Availability centre that operates around the clock monitoring and responding to customers' needs.'

Moreover, beyond the Availability Centre, there's a global team that's always on-call.

'We have the world's most extensive Service Centre network with over 78 sites. In addition we have our globally dispersed On-Wing Services specialists who are dedicated to business aviation and available to travel to wherever you are to give assistance. We also have a dedicated team of Customer Managers and a global spare parts storage network.'

Andy says that once a problem with an aircraft engine is identified - often by way of remote monitoring and before the customer even notices - this network starts solving the problem.

'We contact the customer to let them know we can deploy parts and people to where the aircraft is - and sometimes we can deploy them before the aircraft has landed. And we can be there, ready to fix the part.'

Yet deploying a part before the aircraft has landed isn't possible without thoughtful planning. So, the path towards reaching 100% availability began as a dialogue - between Rolls-Royce and its customers. This provided valuable information, such as where these customers most like to fly.

As it happens, it's nearly everywhere. But, by looking at the most popular destinations, the Rolls-Royce team identified the best way to use that information - and created a comprehensive number of service outposts around the world.

'When we started on this journey to achieve 100% averted missed trips, we began by engaging our customers,' says Andy. 'We learned from them where they typically fly to. Then we figured out what zones or areas would be the best places for us to port spare parts. So now we have spare parts in multiple places around the world, including China, Singapore, Dubai, Frankfurt, both American coasts, and in some parts of South America.'

Even in light of all the progress that's been achieved in just the past few years, 100% availability may seem ambitious. But both Andy and Axel feel confident that the right technology - alongside an attentive service offering - will make it a reality.

'The next generation of our health monitoring system will give us a boost. We have the capability of interacting with the aircraft, which will help us to minimise downtime,' says Axel.

'We are simply faster,' he says.

'Today, we're at 99.1%, which is the best in the world,' adds Andy.

And both Andy and Axel agree - they won't be satisfied until they reach 100% averted missed trips. The pursuit of perfection continues.

Pioneering the IntelligentEngine

The making of a vision. Our IntelligentEngine takes form.

Business Aviation

Powering the largest, fastest and longest-range business jets.

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