How will digitization transform the aerospace industry of tomorrow ?

30 July 2019 The summer notebooks
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"Take a short break with ENAC Alumni summer issue and discover articles from our previous mag"

MS MTA 2016, Pierre-Alain Goujard is the winner of the 2016 first prize of USAIRE Student Award. It is presenting hereby his essay about the theme of digitization that caught the jury's attention to USAIRE (Association of United States and European Aerospace Industry Representatives).


Air traffic will double by 2030. We must boost the means of production and manage the increasingly saturated airspace. To meet this dual challenge, the aeronautics industry is stepping up its digital transformation.

New possibilities arise in the construction, maintenance and implementation of aircraft. The air controller and the pilot get their role evolved. Passengers, always more connected, expect digital services onboard, more personalization, more safety. Defense is at the forefront of transformation, with the integration on the battlefield of a kind of systems combining drones and piloted aircraft.

But within this race to digitizing the aeronautics, how to sort through gadget and real severance ? Between simple buzz and trendency ? Some advances are made to become banal, others will soon be forgotten.

One thing is certain, the impact of digital exceeds the big data and the robots with which it is associated. A simple catalog of the new tools would miss the main challenges of this transformation: finding a real digital strategy, obtaining the support of employees, creating a system that is resilient enough to honor our security imperative. So how will digitization transform the aeronautics industry of tomorrow? By creating end-to-end consistency. By allowing traffic to double without degrading security. By bringing up a subtle change of culture. Always with man at the heart of the system. Here are three cross-cutting ideas to remember in the ongoing changes.

Scanning : threat or opportunity ?

The greatest risk associated with the digitization of our industry is, curiously, not to get prepared for it. It must be thought as a system, not simply applied as fashion. In the short term, investment in training and equipment will be numerous, and failures will be frequent - especially if we make it too fast. But rather than an improbable disruption, we defend the gradual increment of digital, to ensure the proper integration of new ways of working. To open up new horizons in parallel with traditional R & D departments, Airbus Group has created several fablabs (prototyping workshops), a bizlab (start-up accelerator) and even an innovation center in The Silicon Valley, in partnership with Local Motors. These initiatives show a sustained interest in digital innovation methods. The aircraft manufacturer's coaches advise in an atmosphere that reminds of Google's offices... Without designing the next airliner, those breeding ground continuously bring groundbreaking innovations.

Prevalence of the human factor

The unforeseen can not be managed by computers before long : a cyber attack, “a flight of wild geese”, a new combination of breakdowns... Man is not the weak link of the digital transformation. It is its most resilient and adaptable element, a true safety net. It has its place in factories, crews, control towers. As digitized as the processes can become, there will always be a point beyond which they will have to be supervised.

Science fiction and the non-specialized press have long presented robots as human substitutes. They rather are associate. They manage repetitive tasks, while operators concentrate on complex operations, helped by robots (an articulated arm for example) when human force is not enough. Precision work is guided by augmented reality solutions, which prescribe superimposed tasks on physical parts to  monitor gestures.

While accepting that the change is gradual, management must clearly explain its project and support the change of model. In terms of human resources, digital transformation coincides with a historic opportunity. In the United States and Europe, the average age of the sector is 48 years and 28% of current employees will retire before 2020. This is an opportunity to attract new digital-oriented profiles that will integrate easily in the transformation to constitute the lifeblood. To successfully integrate these talents, we must build on the common passion of aeronautics, which has the power to bring together the previous generation and the newcomers.

Resilience of digitized systems

Any digitization creates a cyber-risk. Piracy, corruption, and the appropriation of data by a hacker are possible at all levels (collection, transfer, storage, analysis). All scenarios are conceivable: simple nuisance, terrorism, resale of data to a competitor... Big data imposes a robust cyber defense posture, with a consistent and continuous cost. The danger of cyber attack is particularly noticeable for air traffic control, already hampered with real-time information allowed by free sofware like FlightRadar. There is no shortage of hostile modes of action, especially since 2000€ of investment could be enough to seriously disrupt the activity. The access denial (distributed denial of service) slows or plants Datalink by numerous solicitations of ghost devices. Spoofing creates false GPS signals on the screen controller... The list is still long. Some protocols, however, are encouraging: authentication of the data, verification of the identity of the entrants on the network, ability to return to a degraded mode of operation (in voice). The redundancy of satellite and terrestrial means, and even the aircraft relay for transmission of information (already the case in wireless telegraphy) will increase the reliability and resilience of a multi-link system.

Digitization, when it goes too fast, forces the industry to refocus on its fundamental security imperative. At each link within the digital chain, whether physical or immaterial, the actors must ensure the protection and confidentiality of the data while allowing the sharing of information. Not to mention that the ability to return to a degraded mode - in a cockpit, an assembly line or a control tower - is life insurance for digital processes.


About the author

Saint-Cyr Special Military School graduated in 2004, Pierre-Alain Goujard achieved his dream by becoming a helicopter pilot in the light air force of the Army. Qualified on SA 330 Puma, he carried out numerous assignment and medical flying during deployments abroad, adding 2000 flight hours up. Qualified of the Ecole de Guerre, he is currently taking a Master's Degree in Aeronautics Management at the National Civil Aviation School and then to representing State Aviation in multinational bodies (EASA, Eurocontrol ...).


Find the whole file "Meeting between the sport of excellence and aeronautics" in the Mag#20 of ENAC Alumni

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