Helicopter digitization: Sleek and innovative helicopters may dominate the skies

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Helicopter digitization: Sleek and innovative helicopters may dominate the skies

Helicopter digitization: Sleek and innovative helicopters may dominate the skies

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Helicopter manufacturers increasingly embracing digitization can lead to a more sustainable and efficient aviation industry.
    • Author:
    • Author name
      Quantumrun Foresight
    • June 16, 2022

    Original equipment manufacturers (OEM) are aware that to remain competitive within the helicopter industry, they have to build connected helicopters that can benefit from detailed flight and maintenance analytics systems. 

    Helicopter digitization context

    Helicopters are essential forms of transport in many industries, such as defense, mobilization, rescue, and oil and gas exploration. As digitalization takes center stage within the transport industry, several helicopter manufacturers have released models that are changing how helicopters operate. In 2020, aerospace firm Airbus reported that the number of their connected helicopters jumped from 700 to over 1,000 units. The company said that they were on track to build a comprehensive digital ecosystem that uses post-flight data to analyze performance and maintenance through their monitoring tool, Flyscan. 

    Data from health and usage monitoring systems (HUMS) are recorded to check every component on a helicopter—from rotors to gearboxes to brakes. As a result, operators are consistently updated and guided on maintaining their aircraft, leading to fewer incidents and accidents that can cost up to $39,000 per day to rectify. Other aircraft manufacturers such as United States (US) -based Sikorsky and France-based Safran also use HUMS to recommend parts replacements before crossing safety thresholds. 

    Disruptive impact

    Aircraft manufacturers acknowledge that connectivity and machine learning systems are the future of the aviation industry. The next generation of helicopters are expected to have fly-by-wire systems, which are semi-autonomous and artificial intelligence-regulated flight control interfaces. In 2021, US-based Bell Aircraft Corporation announced that it was working through remaining certifications for its first commercial fly-by-wire helicopter, the 525 Relentless. The firm also plans to release the first model to an oil and gas company in 2022.

    Aviation companies are also planning to digitize repetitive, pen-and-paper operational tasks such as log cards that record every part installation and removal on a helicopter. Traditional logbooks will also be digitized to better capture flight details, while flight schedules can be further optimized if many helicopters are operated by a firm daily.

    Implications of helicopters increasingly adopting digital systems

    The implications of helicopters increasingly adopting digital systems may include:

    • Real-time data that records weather and terrain conditions and informs pilots if it is safe to proceed with the flight.
    • Defense and rescue helicopters manufactured and deployed with machine learning software that can change capabilities based on sensor information.
    • Lower demand for parts providers as maintenance systems become more proactive, leading to fewer replacements and lower maintenance costs.
    • The emergence of real-time helicopter data ecosystems as fleets of helicopters wirelessly share weather and safety data that can improve operations across all flights.
    • Significantly reduced incidence rates of accidents or mechanical failures as novel digital systems can proactively detect flight dangers and parts performance issues.
    • The gradual merger of traditional helicopters and human-sized transport drones into an amalgamated VTOL industry, as both transport types increasingly use similar operating systems.

    Questions to comment on

    • How else do you think digital systems could change the helicopter industry?
    • What novel capabilities or applications will helicopters be capable of as they increasingly incorporate digital systems?

    Insight references

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