Connecting the aviation ecosystem

How Raytheon Technologies is bringing greater efficiency to every aspect of flight

It comes from passengers tapping their phones to book flights, choose seats and check in.

It comes from radars watching the weather and transponders telling air traffic controllers which plane is which. It comes from all over the aircraft, with systems and subsystems creating a detailed digital record of the flight – when the brakes come off, when the wheels come up, even every time an engine valve opens or closes.

Within those billions of data points, Raytheon Technologies experts say, are patterns, trend lines and prognostics with untapped and extraordinary value. Bringing that information together, analyzing it and delivering the insights to the right people at the right time is a concept Raytheon Technologies calls the “connected aviation ecosystem,” and the result will be greater efficiency and smoother operations across the industry.

“Through an airport, through air traffic control, on both ends of the plane, if you’re fully connected throughout that journey, there are so many outcomes you can drive that improve reliability and flights being on time, and also the overall enjoyability of the experience,” said Jennifer Schopfer, president of Connected Aviation Solutions at Collins Aerospace, a Raytheon Technologies business. “They layer onto each other, and you make a bigger impact when you look at the total picture. That’s what the connected aviation ecosystem is.”

Here are some of the ways Schopfer and her colleagues across the company are working to bring the connected aviation ecosystem to life – and why they believe it is so important to the future of flight.

Passenger experience

Person face detection

Collins Aerospace has deployed its ARINC SelfPass biometrics system at airports around the world. The system is among many ways data can make air travel more seamless and convenient.

For passengers, the benefits of the connected aviation ecosystem will be noticeable the moment they arrive at the airport.

Biometric technology will allow them to use their facial scan to check in, pass through security and board the plane without having to present an ID. The underlying technology for that feature is already in use; Collins Aerospace has, for example, implemented technologies at airports including Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas that have reduced boarding times by up to 10 minutes.

Just like retailers use consumer data to boost sales and improve the customer experience, airlines and airports could similarly streamline every step of a passenger’s airport journey. They could, for example, direct passengers to alternate security checkpoints if one is becoming too crowded. Vendors in the food court could predict demand and plan accordingly; if a fast-food chain knows it has an unusually high number of frequent customers coming in at a certain time, the manager could staff and stock accordingly.

“We have a vision of helping to enable a walking pace and streamlined airport experience,” Schopfer said. “Envision going right through security, walking straight to your gate, leaving your boarding pass, phone and ID in your pocket the whole time, and getting right onto your aircraft. This is possible through the digital solutions, data analytics and the integration services we provide.”

The advantages of the connected ecosystem continue aboard the aircraft. Newer-generation aircraft are generating more data than ever before, and successful connectivity means all that information needs a way to get from the air to the ground and back.

Collins has more than 90 years of experience in that realm, beginning with voice communications via VHF and HF radios and evolving to a full portfolio of high-speed communications pathways. Today, through the ARINC Global Network – which routes more than 75 million messages a day between aircraft, airline operators, air traffic controllers and ancillary businesses like fuel providers, caterers and ground handlers – Collins is not only moving the data but helping customers figure out what it means and how to act on it. 

To that end, the business is investing across its line of digital offerings, with focus on:

  • Enabling smarter, more connected products. 
  • Next-generation routers, communications and networks to acquire, move and manage increasingly high volumes of data across the industry. 
  • Flight operations and flight deck solutions to streamline operations, improve sustainability and improve the management and efficiency of assets.  
  • Prognostics and health monitoring and predictive maintenance solutions to prevent delays and cancellations. 
  • Streamlining airport operations through systems for airport planning and optimization, and processing of passengers and baggage. 

Better use of data could also allow for improved management of air traffic – even in the face of something as uncontrollable as the weather.


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19.2%

of U.S. and international flights delayed between July 2021 and July 2022, according to FlightAware

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$33 billion

cost of aviation delays in the U.S. in 2019, according to an FAA report

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54%

of flight delays in the U.S. National Airspace System caused by weather from 2016 to 2020

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396K

minutes of U.S. flight delays attributed to equipment from 2016 through 2020, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Air traffic management

Air traffic control

Analyzing air traffic control data will play an important role in what's known as four-dimensional trajectory, which will allow air traffic controllers to manage flights based on where they will be at a certain time – not just where they are at the moment.

The plane sat on the tarmac in Washington, D.C., for three hours, waiting for the weather to clear. Not there, and not in its destination of Chicago, but 180 miles to the southeast in Indianapolis.

Every time Kip Spurio hears that kind of story – his daughter-in-law was on the flight – it reminds him why he and his colleagues are working to make long, frustrating weather delays a thing of the past – or at least far less common.

It’s called four-dimensional trajectory, and its widespread use would fundamentally change the way air traffic management works, according to Spurio, the technical director of air traffic systems for Raytheon Intelligence & Space, a Raytheon Technologies business.

Right now, air traffic controllers use a plane’s real-time altitude, longitude and latitude to keep it a safe distance from bad weather, and from other aircraft. With four-dimensional trajectory, they’ll add the dimension of time into those calculations – enabling them to separate aircraft based not just on where they are, but on where they will be at any point in their flight.

Four-dimensional trajectory, Spurio said, would improve decision-making at places like the FAA’s Air Traffic Control System Command Center in Warrenton, Virginia, where controllers manage the strategic flow of thousands of flights across the U.S. National Airspace System. They monitor and respond to changes in capacity, such as runway closures; airspace restrictions such as an Air Force One flight; equipment outages on the ground, and, of course, weather.

“They have to have all the information – what airports are available, what the landing rate at Chicago is. They have to know all that. But because their systems aren’t set up to do things based on a four-dimensional trajectory, their remedies to problems in the system are fairly coarse,” Spurio said.

That, Spurio said, is why his daughter-in-law’s plane sat on the ground for so long. Without knowing exactly when the plane would reach the weather over Indianapolis, and where the bad weather would be at that time, air traffic control simply kept it on the ground in D.C. until the storm cleared.

“In the future, you should be able to take off from Washington just in time so that the weather is just leaving Indianapolis when you get there,” he said.

Machine learning will be a key factor in bringing four-dimensional trajectory into practice, as will the update of flight-management systems, training for pilots, and the pending overhaul of the FAA’s telecommunications systems. That initiative, known as the FAA Enterprise Network Services Program, or FENS, will replace a 20-year-old system with a commercial-style infrastructure built for handling, analyzing and sharing large volumes of data.

Raytheon Intelligence & Space and Collins Aerospace are teaming to pursue the contract. Raytheon Intelligence & Space has expertise in integrating networks of similar size and importance – namely the GPS Next-Generation Operational Control System and the Joint Polar Satellite System Common Ground System. Collins is the largest private network provider in aviation.

The businesses are also collaborating on air traffic management technologies that will optimize routing, enable more efficient use of the airspace and make air traffic management operations more resilient with greater redundancy. Those technologies will draw on Collins' expertise in airborne weather radar, route optimization and collision avoidance, and Raytheon Intelligence & Space's deep knowledge of ground-based air traffic management systems.

Among those initiatives: Collins will incorporate elements of its Airborne Collision Avoidance Systems to enhance the capabilities of Raytheon Intelligence & Space's Ground Based Detect and Avoid system.

Predictive maintenance

Person checking aircraft base

Data from aircraft systems such as engines can help airline operators predict when their fleet will require maintenance and schedule that maintenance to happen at the best possible times and places.

Car owners know the routine well: You drop your vehicle off for an oil change, then a few hours later, you get a call. The timing belt’s shot. The brake pads are worn. The alternator’s about to go. Fixing it will take a day or two and cost at least a few hundred dollars.

Those same types of calls happen in aviation, only with much higher stakes. One way to minimize them is through predictive maintenance – and one way to predict maintenance is through analysis of engine data.

At Pratt & Whitney, a Raytheon Technologies business, that work falls under the purview of Arun Srinivasan, who leads strategic planning for engine health digital services supporting commercial engines. One of his main duties is to show customers how analyzing data from the assortment of sensors on an engine – Pratt & Whitney’s GTF engine, for example, can generate 4 million data points per flight – can tell them days in advance when they’ll need to fix or replace a part. That kind of notice allows for better planning; operators can even schedule those repairs in the best locations – a major airport with a hangar and plenty of mechanics, rather than a remote outpost.

“Pratt & Whitney prides itself on designing and manufacturing ‘Dependable Engines.’ My team plays a role in supporting that dependability,” Srinivasan said. “My goal is to ensure engines are ready so that pilots and passengers have a good flight.”

The data can come from throughout the flight, or from certain phases – and in either case, it helps paint a strong digital picture of the engine’s health. That picture will become even clearer and more useful in optimizing operations as more data is unlocked from engines, and as adoption grows of technologies such as Pratt & Whitney’s Advanced Diagnostics and Engine Monitoring data analytics platform.

“I aim to avoid inconvenient surprises and provide ample planning time,” Srinivasan said. “Significant notification. Really predictive.”

Similar to the work Pratt is doing with engines, Collins Aerospace is using its Ascentia platform to predict maintenance needs across the aircraft. Through statistical analysis, machine learning and modeling, the platform analyzes flight operations and maintenance data, predicts the health of the aircraft and its components, and prescribes the best course of action for everything it monitors.

Collins data scientists and product engineers then deliver those recommendations and insights to customers, validating the information and helping plan the next steps.

“Turning unscheduled maintenance into scheduled maintenance increases the efficiency of systems and products, and it extends the lifecycle of components,” said Peter Conrardy, senior director of Integrated Digital Solutions for Collins Aerospace. “That helps the customer avoid irregular operations and disruptions in service, and it helps us learn too. When we can feed this knowledge back into our product design, and pair it with our FlightSense maintenance services, we can ensure our products continue to improve and deliver increased value for our customers.”

The business’ acquisition of FlightAware, which operates a popular flight-tracking service and provides analytics and decision-making technologies, has expanded Collins’ offerings in predictive maintenance.

For example, Schopfer said, FlightAware data analysis can help extend the life of wheels and brakes by flagging what’s known as “outlier behavior,” or cases where aircraft are putting those parts under excessive wear – say, with frequent short flights or landings on short runways.

“We have real-time, highly accurate information about landings, taxi estimates and takeoffs at airports all over the world,” Schopfer said, “and we’re making use of it in countless ways.” 

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4 million

data points the GTF engine can generate per flight

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8K+

engines monitored by Pratt & Whitney’s Advanced Diagnostics and Engine Monitoring data analytics platform

Cybersecurity

Datacenter corridor

Cybersecurity experts at Raytheon Technologies are collaborating to protect the data and the networks that underpin the aviation ecosystem.

Underneath all that data analysis and optimization is a lattice of networks and nodes that transmit, receive and store information. As those networks grow, so does what cybersecurity experts call their attack surface, a term describing all the places an intruder could attempt to strike.

At Raytheon Technologies, much of the work to secure those networks and nodes happens at the Cyber Operations, Development and Evaluation Center, also known as the CODE Center. There, cybersecurity experts perform a range of services including code analysis, penetration testing and architectural reviews of the products their colleagues at Raytheon Technologies create.

“We’re very proactive,” said Nora Tgavalekos, a Raytheon Technologies vice president who leads the CODE Center and also serves as chief product security officer. “We’re constantly looking at architecture and operation to make sure we have the best security methods built into our products.”

But there’s more to cybersecuring aviation technology than combing through lines of code, picking apart products and locking them away in echo-proof chambers for radio-frequency testing. There’s also significant work under way to create the standards and practices that guide the industry.

At Raytheon Technologies, that work is happening on two fronts. Collins Aerospace has taken a leadership role with organizations that produce such standards and guidance, including the Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics, the International Air Transport Association and the Aviation Information Sharing and Analysis Center. And the CODE Center is advising U.S. federal agencies on how to set standards and requirements for suppliers, as outlined in a May 2021 U.S. presidential executive order.

“The supply chain touches every crown jewel we have. The idea is to ensure our suppliers are producing with the same level of security we use to develop our own products,” Tgavalekos said. “If we have a consistent level of standards, that’s very helpful.”

Kid looking through plane window

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