A significant part of the Gulfstream value proposition is aircraft availability and reliability. And with a reliability rate for the fleet exceeding 99.80 percent, one wouldn’t think there would be much room for improvement—but there is and Gulfstream’s innovative PlaneConnect™ and Aircraft Health and Trend Monitoring, also known as PlaneConnect HTM™, systems play a key role.
But before delving into PlaneConnect, let’s first understand the differences between aircraft availability and reliability. Availability is a measurement of how often the aircraft is ready to make a flight and reliability measures aircraft functionality. For example, if the aircraft only had a 50 percent availability rate, that would mean that half of the time when you needed the aircraft, it would be out for maintenance and thus not available. A 50 percent reliability rate could mean that out of the times when the aircraft was on line and available for a flight, some issue prevented the flight from occurring and thus impacted reliability.
Gulfstream’s G450 and G550 large-cabin aircraft have a reliability rate of 99.85 percent and 99.91 percent respectively—the best among the entire field of business jets. As a matter of perspective, a 99.90 percent reliability rate means that in five years, only one flight would be missed or delayed. That’s a fairly enviable performance measurement but still Gulfstream strives to do better via the innovative PlaneConnect system.
MONITORING AIRCRAFT HEALTH
Essentially, PlaneConnect is a mechanism by which Gulfstream large-cabin aircraft monitor their own systems’ health and communicate their vital signs to ground-based health care providers.
Here’s how it works: During every flight, PlaneConnect monitors the aircraft’s Crew Advisory System (CAS) and Central Maintenance Computer (CMC). When the aircraft begins its descent, PlaneConnect automatically gathers and prioritizes all the CAS and CMC messages that have occurred during the flight and transmits them via satellite downlink to the aircraft operator’s selected communications services provider. The data is then emailed to the aircraft’s flight department or maintenance facility.
“When the operator receives the email he reviews the messages and can respond accordingly to the level of the message,” explains Charles Spurlock, supervisor, avionics/electrical, Gulfstream Customer Support. “Low priority issues may only require a phone call to the flight crew. But, if the message contains a high priority item, they know the aircraft will require service upon landing before the next flight.
“The real value of the email notification is that the aircraft’s director of maintenance can be anywhere in the world when he receives the message,” Spurlock says. “The directors are often aware of a pending AOG [aircraft on ground] situation before the flight crew.”
Once the priority message is received, the aircraft’s maintainer can set an action plan in motion to get the issue resolved and get the aircraft back in the air as quickly as possible.
“Along with being sent to their maintenance facility, the majority of our customers also have their PlaneConnect system downlink messages sent directly to our Customer Support Call Center,” Spurlock states. “When we see a high-priority message, we immediately contact the Gulfstream field service representative [FSR] who handles that customer. He knows who to go to regardless of the day or time.
“We can use PlaneConnect to work with the aircraft’s maintainers to get a big jump on putting together a plan to get the necessary replacement parts to the aircraft as soon as possible,” Spurlock says.
That solution can range from securing the required parts through the nearest Gulfstream service center to dispatching the company’s dedicated Field and Airborne Support Teams (FAST) aircraft with parts and technicians.
“It’s the customer’s call,” explains Spurlock. “We just want to make all of our support assets available to help minimize the impact of the AOG on the passengers.”
PLANECONNECT AS A PROACTIVE TOOL
While the benefits of using PlaneConnect’s data-collecting capability to maximize uptime are obvious, the fact is high-priority messages are pretty rare. It’s not that parts don’t fail—it’s more due to the fact that so many operators are using PlaneConnect to help spot problems early on to keep a noncritical issue from growing into an AOG.
Clayton Wilson, director of aviation technical services for Altria, says that PlaneConnect has become a valuable tool in helping his fleet of G450s and G550s achieve the high dispatch rates his passengers enjoy today.
“As I see it, PlaneConnect is another, but very important, tool in an operator’s toolbox. It gives the operator the chance to be proactive instead of reactive to maintenance situations,” Wilson explains. “It provides a higher level of situational awareness and insight into the status of your aircraft and it gives you information that would be impossible to gain without it.
“One of the things we look for are possible trends,” says Wilson. “We sometimes see messages on PlaneConnect that come and go so quickly that the crew may not see them on the aircraft’s CAS displays.”
As an example, Wilson recalls when one of his aircraft’s PlaneConnect messages showed a noncritical fault with its Enhanced Vision System (EVS II), but the crew saw no fault message on the CAS display.
“We saw it two or three times and contacted Gulfstream for help. They reviewed the information and saw that we did not have the latest processor update,” he says. “That prompted us to get that done.” Problem solved with no impact on availability or reliability.
Along with making full use of PlaneConnect for maintaining individual aircraft, Wilson stressed the benefits for Gulfstream operators as a whole by sharing their collective data with the company’s product support group.
“I highly recommend that all users share their information with Gulfstream so they can see the data and use it to enhance the support of their aircraft,” Wilson says.
“Gulfstream takes that confidential data and treats it with great respect. We have all the confidence in the world that they will not share it with anyone.”
THE TRANSITION FROM INFORMATION TO DATA
Through many lessons learned from PlaneConnect, Gulfstream invested in the next-generation health monitoring system for the G650 aircraft. Recording almost 10,000 predefined parameters, PlaneConnect HTM provides nearly real-time aircraft condition monitoring for high-priority CAS events and engine health data. Moreover, if supplementary data is required to properly assess an intermittent issue in flight, Gulfstream ground-based personnel have the capability to request additional parametric data from the aircraft without any crew interaction.
“The purpose of the PlaneConnect HTM is to provide an enhanced awareness of the health of the aircraft during and after each flight and to aid in more efficiently resolving issues when they do arise, thus allowing Gulfstream to provide superior support to our customers,” says Robby O’Dell, program manager, G650 Technical Development.
Overall, the goal of aircraft health and trend monitoring is to maintain excellence in product support and provide numerous benefits to customers including minimizing ambiguity over faults displayed, reducing problem diagnosis and troubleshooting time, increasing first-time resolution of issues, increasing dispatch reliability and aircraft availability, and reducing costly disruptions.
“The PlaneConnect HTM system is a great leap forward in providing health and trend monitoring of the aircraft systems and engines,” a G650 operator said. “The system will reduce downtime and increase aircraft availability and reliability when properly analyzed by aircraft maintenance personnel partnering with Gulfstream Technical Support.”
To learn more about PlaneConnect or PlaneConnect HTM and how the service can help your proactive maintenance processes, contact your local Gulfstream field service representative.
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