LHT Chairman Concerned About Digital Transformation for MRO

Airlines need to control their data and be able to choose who uses it. This is the only way to create genuine competition for data-based services.

Digitalization has reached aviation, and it will change our business permanently and irreversibly.

The information generated by thousands of additional sensors and digitalized systems in the latest-generation aircraft presents an exponential leap in data availability and quality. And with the volume of operational data unquestionably multiplying even further with each aircraft generation, the market for technical services is becoming all the more promising. Even so, the advent of new, data-based services for technical operations, fleet planning and beyond leaves airlines with great uncertainty about how their data can and will be used; they are trying to assess individual risks and benefits when it comes to digitalization in maintenance.

Real-time access to data from flights is crucial for operators in fulfilling their responsibility for the airworthiness of their fleets and safe operations. However, the new aircraft types also enable data to be transmitted in encrypted form to the manufacturer, which then ultimately has the power to decide how that data is used. In this digital-knowledge monopoly, aircraft operators no longer will be able to acquire their own operational data easily—independent, free of charge and unencrypted.

This is a threat both to the independence of airlines and the MRO industry—and it has implications for data protection and flight safety. That's why I want to be crystal clear on this point: The operational data belongs to the airlines—not to the airframers, not to MROs and not to anyone else.

Control, Choice and Competition

Platforms that relinquish full control of data to just one organization do not reflect my understanding of independence and data ownership. It is in the interest of the industry that aircraft operators should have open and free access to their operating data at all times—something we break down into control, choice and competition. Airlines must be able to control access to the data produced by their aircraft. They also need to be able to compare offers from different providers of data-based services and choose freely who can use their data for what purpose. This is the only way to generate competition in data-based services. Here, I am also thinking of the OEMs' efforts to create digital tools for better prediction of component failures.

Again, competition produces the best solutions for the airlines. I emphasize that we do not want to prevent competition but to safeguard it. For us, the way to achieve this goal is pooling the industry's strengths beyond the boundaries of competition and establishing a neutral entity in which regulators and key organizations like the International Air Transport Association also have a say. MRO providers, airlines and other market participants thus need to find common ground for the creation of a truly independent, digital, industry platform.

With such an independent and open platform, clear distinctions must be made between the storage of data, its analysis and its use. Airlines must have the freedom to store their data on the platform and decide how to use it. For us, the secure storage of data never has been an issue. As a German company, we are based in a nation that implements the General Data Protection Regulation and thus defends data privacy at a high level.

Ultimately, though, this is not just about storage and provision of data. I am convinced the real value is in how you use the data. This is where competition is needed that is open to ideas, solutions and a breadth of skills that no single company—not even a market leader—can claim to provide alone.

Prediction Needs Fulfillment

The MRO industry is ready to take on the challenge of responsible data use. The cumulative knowledge that comes from an independent shop, from engineers' abilities to assess the condition of a component, spot trends and find solutions, will enable MRO providers to make sustainable predictions that stand firm in the face of the reality of airline operations. What's more, I am convinced the monitoring and forecasting processes for individual components will become so good that their technically feasible life cycles can be used to the fullest extent without incurring additional risks.

In the long run, this will make it possible to move away from the current system of rigid maintenance schedules with their fixed intervals that apply to each individual aircraft type and toward the level of every individual component and the individual airline's operational profile. Integrating the new opportunities offered by digitalization with the proven fulfillment of an MRO provider in this way will enable airlines to have confidence in the greater efficiency, reliability and safety they legitimately demand.