The digital challenge
Dr Adrian Cole, progamme manager at Cranfield University, on
why testing needs to embrace the digital world more
// Cranfield’s £65 million
(US$84 million) Digital
Aviation Research and
Technology Centre is due
to open in 2020
AEROSPACETESTINGINTERNATIONAL.COM // DECEMBER 2019 17
The World Economic Forum predicted in 2017 that developments in
digital aviation would lead to a US$700 billion saving by 2025. It
foresees these savings will be manifested in reduced
environmental impacts, higher levels of security, safety and cost
savings for customers. The result would be increased profitability for
the aviation and travel industry of around US$305 billion, it estimates.
Naturally, no-one involved wants to wed themselves to untested
technologies. It may continue to be a boom time in terms of passenger
numbers, but profit margins remain tight and the threat of wasted and
stranded assets is very real. Aviation is also under huge pressure to
adapt its operations to a low carbon future and to increase the use of
airspace using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and personal air
At Cranfield University we are developing a suite of facilities,
programs and research to make the digital revolution viable. At the
heart of this is DARTeC, the Digital Aviation Research and Technology
Centre, which will open its doors next year. Working alongside
Cranfield’s own airport and runway and its new Aerospace Integration
Research Centre, DARTeC is already involved with projects that are
helping to clarify the vision of what the new aviation ecosystem will
look like and what’s involved in making it deliverable in practice.
Research themes include: the enabling of unmanned traffic
management, providing a seamless passenger experience, providing
next generation aircraft maintenance systems, digital air traffic control
and enhancing air traffic connectivity. Ultimately though, DARTeC is
about creating impact for passengers, operations and on improving
the bottom line of the industry.
One example is how we are looking at eliminating the “triple wait”
faced by travellers at airports, while ensuring the highest levels of
security. DARTeC will have its own airport check-in gate and make use
of sample flows of passengers to form a living laboratory. We will test
new wayfinding approaches and interactive digital signage.
Cranfield is also leading work on autonomous maintenance. A
health monitoring system for aircraft has already been trialed at the
University and is awaiting certification for the additive manufacturing
processes that will allow for on-site, immediate repairs.
Meanwhile a 16km “test track in the sky” – the UK’s National Beyond
visual line of sight Experimentation Corridor (NBEC) – has been setup.
The NBEC is being used to examine the realities of integrating
conventional air traffic with new UAV services. It will help develop the
regulations, procedures and guidelines for UAVs to enable the delivery
of goods, to support police and other emergency service operations,
and for the inspection of infrastructure.
Aviation as a whole is under severe stress from demands for new
access and flexibility. The sector also needs to make itself more
environmentally sustainable in the long-term to avoid legislation. The
solutions will only come from an acceleration in creative thinking by
all industry organizations. Most importantly of all, the industry needs
to think holistically to deliver big strides forward with integrated
systems, not piecemeal steps. \\