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New technology is offering the possibility of monitoring cabin systems and passengers to benefit operations, maintenance and onboard wellbeing, says Trevor Lea, joint Managing Director of FliteTrak
 

At the heart of the ViatorAero data collection system from FliteTrak is SpriteAero. Deliberately designed to be less than 50mm² (allowing it to be incorporated into a seat as a minor modification without recertification), it is an information collector that can transmit raw data to the company’s main server for more detailed analysis.


One SpriteAero can handle up to a bank of five economy class seats, with up to eight different channels, but the system uses a building block approach so units can be combined to give greater coverage if required.


As any type of sensor can be connected, the uses in the cabin are wide ranging.


For example, fitting a strain gauge to a seat allows movement in the seat to be measured. This could be the passenger, which might give a warning of agitation (security risk?) or inactivity (health issue?). Movement when the aircraft is not in use could be a sign that seat foam has degraded and is slowly returning to shape.


Basic parameters such as current, voltage or pneumatic pressure can determine whether seat or IFE systems are working properly (trials are already taking place with a seat system).


Confirmation that seat belts are fastened can be supplemented by confirmation that overhead bins are correctly closed. In turbulence or an emergency landing, the bins could be locked while unsafe passengers could be quickly identified and made secure. Locking overhead bins trials are continuing, along with the development of overloaded bin sensors. Other position data could include trays and back rests and be further extended to containers and trolleys in galleys.


More specialised applications are also possible:
 

 

  • a mobile phone signal detector
     
  • a RFID detector to confirm the presence of lifejackets and whether they are in date or need to be changed. This could also apply to seat covers, which can only undergo a certain number of cleaning cycles before they have to be treated to restore fire, smoke, toxicity standards. Other date sensitive items include oxygen bottles, which are usually concealed near the baggage bins. Another suitably located SpriteAero could talk to the seat unit and relay data
     
  • a hygrometer for measuring cabin humidity
     
  • a thermometer (including passenger temperature, another indicator of possible distress)
     
  • a light meter 
     
  • a tricresyl phosphate (TCP) detector, which would warn of engine oil contamination in the cabin air system. This could also apply to deicing fluid, another common contaminant. Cabin crews often report sick after these events but little testing has been done to show that these chemicals are actually involved.


At present, the system can only transmit data when the aircraft is within reach of an appropriate wireless data network, but future development would see it connect to an aircraft’s satcom system for a real time feed, which would open up more possibilities.


It could also make use of wifi to transmit data to an onboard ViatorAero Hub with the information displayed on a tablet or the control panel of a cabin management system, for direct intervention by flight attendants, such as reporting seat and tray damage.


All the data collected is recorded and analysed against key data parameters using iSensePower Pro software. A System & Sensor Health Reporting & Diagnostics function finds exceedances according to customer defined limits and issues automatic alerts. A learning engine uses trend analysis and is used for predicative maintenance of systems and components. In addition to a Traffic Light Health Status there is a Health And Reliability Target system that can detect unusual state changes and launch specific diagnostic tools.

 

Editor’s note: this article is based on a presentation given by Trevor Lea at the Aircraft Cabin Maintenance Conference on 28 November.


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