Thinking of buying an A380 or Boeing Dreamliner, here’s 5 gotcha’s to consider before you’ll be ready to fly:
(1) IT Security
eEnabled aircraft IT security must be the first priority for any airline as newer eEnabled aircraft introduce a new level of security that could easily impact an aircraft’s or possibly a fleets operation if not implemented correctly.
Air-framer’s are working together within various industry groups and with Regulatory bodies to provide guidance to airlines, but guidance is all they can give as every airline has different infrastructures and systems for operations and it is accepted that eEnablement security is the sole responsibility of any operating airline.
All airline’s experience daily attempts to breach their security infrastructure’s, eEnabled aircraft will be targets too, unfortunately a successful attack would have a disastrous impact on an airlines brand.
New processes and procedures for new eEnabled aircraft have to run side by side with existing that serve legacy fleets. Take LSAP software updates for example, this is carried out by a mandatory process implementing PKI security. If an airline is new to PKI (CA, certificates etc), this could take a considerable time to implement, in particular the processes for supporting PKI (administration), if these processes are not secure and effective, this will interfere with the aircrafts successful operation and possibly become an air worthiness issue.
It’s important to understand that eEnabled aircraft are nodes on an airlines ground based IT network and should be considered as a potential security risk to the airlines overall IT operations.
Consider this possible scenario of how an IT security incident could impact the airlines operation:
A virus has been detected on-board an eEnabled aircraft computer (say the IFE server), an airline will have to mitigate this risk and this will not be easy …. the following must be addressed to successfully rectify the incident:
(a) Determine how long the computer been infected
(b) Determine where the virus was introduced
(c) Determine if any ground based hardware systems have been infected.
(d) Determine if the virus has infected other eEnabled aircraft fleet(s).
(e) Have any customer devices been infected.
(g) What will be the impact to the airlines brand!!
Dealing with this type of scenario as you can see could be extremely difficult, especially if the airline has a large eEnabled fleet.
Security is the No1 priority and should be at the forefront of any airlines eEnabled strategy.
Integration of aircraft with back office systems has been carried out for many years, via ‘SneakerNet’, an affectionate name for walking up to the aircraft with a USB stick or CD.
However eEnabled aircraft are a totally new challenge, they produce considerably more data than any previous aircraft fleet and this data is intended to help airlines diagnosis and become more proactive in detecting problems.
eEnabled aircraft need to integrate with an airlines back office system(s) and integration is an area that airframers have chosen to approach independently, creating a complicated support infrastructure for airlines who operate different eEnabled aircraft fleets (eg A380, B787,A350), couple this with airframers having different approaches to the uploading or downloading of aircraft data, inevitably the overall eEnablement operation will be more complicated/costly to maintain and support.
WiFi (Gatelink) can be adopted to integrate aircraft to an airlines wider network. However this could be a major headache as its impossible to guarantee signal strength at an airport, there is far too much noise in what is a busy environment, movement of aircraft etc. At best an airline can expect 2-3 Mb per min and the reality is there could be a number of large files to upload and download, from an operation perspective eating into the aircrafts turn around time.
WiMax is a more appropriate robust industry solution, however this has not been taken up widely by airports and would take considerable investment to introduce.
Airlines need to consider how they implement an Integration strategy to get a maximum return on their eenabled aircraft investment.
Introducing an eEnabled fleet into any airline will impact how individual internal departments collaborate.
Collaboration is a required to operate these aircraft successful. Engineering, Flight Ops, IT, Security etc. all have independent interests in aircraft eEnablement. Within some airlines this may be difficult to overcome, combining departmental processes for eEnabled fleet(s) and maintaining existing legacy aircraft operations may require a leap of faith for departments who may lose a level of control.
One of the dangers of poor collaboration is that problems are resolved independently, adding overall cost and complication to an airlines operation. For different departments, it would very easily become too problematic, to the extent that only processes required to satisfy their regulatory and mandatory processes for operation are implemented.
Airlines must collaborate within their own departments to maximise their return on investment.
Investment in employee skills is absolutely critical, eEnablement is new and its important to understand that a new type of hybrid employee is required. An employee that is experienced with an airlines maintenance, operation and has IT administration skills. This hybrid employee would need to support a 24/7, 365 day operation, producing what could be a significant skill gap to fill. For larger airlines possibly dual roles may be required to support the operation.
Flight crews also need to be trained on the use of new on-board applications such as EFB, techlog, moving maps, electronic documents etc. If an airline has chosen to purchase different eEnabled aircraft fleets, this will lead to independent training requirements and make the maintenance, recording and operation even more complicated.
New skills are required and airlines must invest in training.
To reach true eEnablement new processes are required that manage an airline’s eEnablement strategy. When considering an IT infrastructure, there’s a strong argument to start small and grow as the eEnabled fleet grows, walk before running is an approach to consider.
Business continuity must be a considered as there are many possible ways for an eEnablement operation to be impacted (see virus scenario above), without good backup processes it might not be possible for the aircraft to operate efficiently and if mandatory processes are not robust this may impact an aircraft’s air worthiness.
Operation of an airlines legacy fleet(s) have to be maintained so old robust processes need to sit side by side with the new eEnabled operation adding more complexity to the overall airline operation.
Having good robust processes are the only way an airline will realise a true eEnablement operation.