Aviation looks to the cloud, global framework in pipeline

  • Aviation and telco industries to implement cloud-based real-time flight monitoring
  • Efforts to develop roadmap and framework to be fast-tracked in the wake of MH370
Aviation looks to the cloud, global framework in pipeline

FOLLOWING a two-day 'Expert Dialogue on Real-time Monitoring of Flight Data' hosted in Kuala Lumpur (KL), members of the global aviation and telecommunications industries reached an agreement to develop a roadmap and initial framework for the implementation of real-time global flight monitoring.
A communiqué issued at the end of the event outlined the roadmap for the way forward in addressing the issues and challenges of implementing and leveraging new technology tools to enhance visibility and insight for the commercial aviation industry.
The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the International Telecommunications Union ITU) will be working closely together with industry players to first estimate the associated cost implications and appropriate business models.
After this, the industry bodies would move to identify necessary standards, policies and regulations that would need to be developed, including the study of requirements on the protection of flight data, information security, privacy, appropriate use of flight data, and data ownership for the use of an 'aviation cloud' for real-time monitoring of flight data.
Nancy Graham, the Air Navigation Bureau director for the ICAO, noted that real-time monitoring is “a new area for aviation,” and that more study is needed to develop the necessary guidelines and frameworks.
“We’re talking about early next year as the timeline for completing some of the preliminary looks and assessments,” she said, adding that it was “not uncommon” for it to take years to come to an agreement to put something on board an aircraft.
ITU Telecommunications Standardisation Bureau director Malcolm Johnson highlighted potential commercial gains for airlines in adopting cloud computing and big data solutions in their operations.
“The challenge is the bring the rapidly advancing  information and communications technology (ICT) to the aviation sector in a coherent and coordinated manner,” he said.
During the KL dialogue, some participants had suggested that if flight data was stored on standards-based aviation clouds, interested parties could apply state-of-the-art data analytics and data-mining techniques in real-time, which could lead to better-informed travellers as well as greater operational and environmental efficiencies of commercial aircraft.
Participants agreed that technology that might facilitate in-flight streaming of such data is possible, but that capacity questions still exist. In addition, before in-flight streaming could be adopted, many institutional issues would need to be addressed.
These revolve around issues such as the type of data to be transmitted, frequency of transmission (continuous streaming or triggered transmission), spectrum requirements, reliability, liability, data security, potential misuse of data, privacy and interoperationability.
A number of satellite operators highlighted recent developments to provide commercial broadband services for passengers and indicated using this for some flight data communications, although safety concerns were raised including implementations on the spectrum allocation.
ITU will also be working with ICAO to determine the necessary telecommunications standards, including spectrum requirements.
While the widespread deployment of real-time monitoring remains a while away, the area of real-time tracking, which is a separate capability, is well on its way in what Graham described as an “unprecedented” move for the aviation industry.
She shared that voluntary and mandatory implementation of global flight tracking is moving in tandem with an expert task force expected to finalise a policy framework for global standards this September.
On May 14, ICAO with the help of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) had set up the Aircraft Tracking Task Force (ATTF) to deal with near-term needs for global flight tracking, in response to the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 on March 8.
Pending the outcome of the ATTF, airlines will be encouraged to use existing equipment and procedures to support flight tracking, which Graham said was a priority to provide early notice and response to abnormal flight behaviour.
“In terms of challenges for real-time tracking today, in some cases the aircraft already has the needed equipment on board while others don’t.
“Traditionally, rule-making requires a long period of time but the industry has agreed to accomplish real-time tracking in parallel with developing that rule ... which is really a first,” she added.
Graham noted that it typically takes two to three years for a global standard to be put in place, but the lessons learnt via the voluntary implementation path would help inform the methodologies involved in the standard’s creation process.
The Expert Dialogue session was organised in collaboration with the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), which followed Malaysia’s Communications and Multimedia Minister Ahmad Shabery mooting the idea of using current ICT capabilities to track aircraft in real-time during the World Telecommunication Development Conference 2014 held in Dubai in April.
Also present at the event were Department of Civil Aviation director-general Azharuddin Abdul Rahman and MCMC chairman Mohamed Sharil Mohamed Tarmiz.

Related Stories:
MH370: Experts meet in KL to discuss ICT in aviation

MH370: A technical look at the missing flight

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