The weather quite commonly causes flight days, but this particular occasion revealed how critical data technologies are to the air travel industry. While storm clouds in the sky can lead to turbulence, cloud computing in aviation businesses can give forward-thinking airlines and industry regulators the means to communicate better, operate more smoothly and use real-time data to scale resources dynamically to meet changing needs.
The FAA in the Cloud
In 2015, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) signed a 10-year, $108 million contract to partner with leading cloud computing service providers. Since then, it’s been rolling out cloud technologies like software as a service (SaaS), platform as a service (PaaS), and other solutions in pursuit of increased innovation and efficiency.
FAA Chief Data Officer Natesh Manikoth is leading the charge to create an “info-centric” national airspace.
“We have to be really robust in our digital infrastructure to support all the innovation the industry wants to do,” Manikoth told Federal News Network in October 2022.
“I think those are the primary benefits — speed of execution on the government side, and operational efficiency and safety for airlines and the public.”
To achieve the desired benefits, the industry must collect an extraordinary amount of data from aircraft and ground sources, which is accomplished using a cloud platform that factors in data from FAA operations from partner agencies and the industry.
With all that data, airlines can leverage next-generation capabilities like predictive analytics. Using AI and machine learning, they can quickly identify dangerous patterns or potential maintenance issues, then intervene in order to prevent delays.
“How long does it take for an aircraft to taxi from its gate to the takeoff point?” Manikoth asked. “That factors into how you actually optimize that whole flight. By having better, more granular [data] and machine learning in AI-driven models for these things, your ability to actually optimize increases substantially.”
Smarter Skies, Smoother Flights
During widespread cancellation events, misinterpretation and miscommunication of data often exacerbate problems. Its multibillion-dollar National Airspace System modernization program — the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen), which will create growth opportunities for cloud computing in the aviation industry — is the FAA’s answer.
One example: SmartSky Networks, GE Aviation, and Mosaic ATM have developed a cloud-based, digital-twin flight management system (FMS) that’s designed to reduce inconsistencies among the ground-based automation systems that support flight operations and air traffic control. Called True-Course, it has a modular architecture that will allow GE to scale capabilities up or down for different aircraft models — including drones — while saving costs with standardized software.