The Whole Package: Why Collins Aerospace is Invested in Nose-to-Tail Connectivity

Illustration by Ricardo Polo.

Bigger is not always better, but for aero systems supplier Collins Aerospace, the ability to monitor, manage and manipulate data from nose to tail brings huge benefits for airlines and passengers alike.

Sensors and systems, data and details. Pulling these all together is the promise of the connected aircraft success story, a tale yet to be truly realized. Norwegian Air is one of many carriers seeking the benefits of such integration. With the installation of Inmarsat’s GX Aviation connectivity – managed by Collins Aerospace – beginning last year on its Boeing 787 and 737 MAX aircraft, the carrier expects some of these operational goals will be delivered quickly.

Norwegian’s vice-president of Business Development, Boris Bubresko, oversees the connectivity solutions on board and is pushing hard to reach these targets. Selecting GX for the latest segment of aircraft deliveries was partly about the satellite connectivity, but largely about getting Collins Aerospace (Rockwell Collins at the time of the contract signing) on board as its integrator, Bubresko says. “We look at this as not only a passenger service, but an aircraft service and connectivity service for the whole value chain. Choosing Collins was an easy pick, knowing that they understand our cockpit and cabin crew environment.”

Getting the data into a useful format across multiple systems is typically a massive endeavor. Having those systems come from a single supplier helps ease the burden, but does not guarantee success. What is now the new Collins Aerospace behemoth is a culmination of various mergers that have occurred over the past several years, and which are being unified into a cohesive service offering.

“We look at this as not only a passenger service, but an aircraft service and connectivity service for the whole value chain.” – Boris Bubresko, Norwegian Air

The heritage Rockwell Collins operation historically flexed its strength in flight deck systems and data processing. When the company acquired B/E Aerospace in 2017, it added cabin parts to the mix. United Technologies’ purchase of Rockwell Collins last year delivered a combination of those systems with engines, brakes and other major components.

LeAnn Ridgeway, Collins’ vice-president of Information Management Services, says the company’s leadership shares a vision to gather those separate entities under one umbrella to “bring value to our airline customers, by improving their passenger experience and safety, but equally, if not more important, their operational efficiencies.”

One early goal is increasing the quality and breadth of sensor monitoring and automation for maintenance issues. Getting the necessary data off aircraft components is a strength of United Technologies: “They know sensors, they know automation,” Ridgeway says. Engine monitoring proved successful in this area, and Collins Aerospace is now ready to extend this capability.

Ridgeway sees a future where the sensors from United Technologies are integrated into cabin components from B/E Aerospace, events are processed on board and critical messages flow off during the flight via the broadband connections. The goal is not a system where crewmembers write up reports and transmit them in flight, but one that truly allows for automated tracking and reporting. The company’s efforts are currently in the embryonic stage. Fortunately, partners like Norwegian are willing to cooperate and experiment with Collins to help develop the programs. Indeed, as Collins works through the integrations and brings different components of the program online, Bubresko is ready to apply them at Norwegian, so long as “it gives us increased efficiency or cost savings.”

Collins’ nose-to-tail plans have one gap, however. Earlier this year, Collins completed the transaction to sell off its in-flight entertainment (IFE) segment to Burrana (formerly known as digEcor). From an operations- and aircraft-efficiency perspective, this may prove a non-issue, though there are user aspects of the IFE system likely worth monitoring.

As the different efforts begin to bear fruit, Collins Aerospace expects to deliver its services as components of a larger solution suite to airlines. Integrating them into a cohesive package is part of the company’s value proposition. According to Ridgeway, a “one size fits all” approach will lead to limited success. “We need to be flexible with these solutions,” she explains, “because as broadband connectivity starts to open up, the appetite will be unlimited. But each airline is going to attack their biggest value-add first, and that’s going to be a different driver for each segment, customer or population.”

“The Whole Package” was originally published in the 9.2 April/May issue of APEX Experience magazine.