Volume 05, Issue 1
The e-Enabled 787
What it means to work on most technologically advanced jetliner ever
BY DAN MOORE AND ADAM MORGAN
Electronic documents. High-bandwidth connectivity. Wireless communications. Innovations such as these have changed the workplace and our everyday lives. Boeing is seeking to deploy these same technologies on the world's most technologically advanced commercial airplane: the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. These technologies will help give the 787 a competitive advantage by improving operational efficiencies, reducing maintenance costs and dramatically improving the traveling experience for passengers.
"It wasn't a single specific technology that brought us here; it was the results of a series of advances that gave us an environment the whole world could leverage," said Chris Kettering, e-Enabled program director for Boeing Commercial Airplanes. "We're about to see a similar revolution on board the 787 and other fully e-Enabled airplanes."
The history of e-Enabled airplanes goes back to the 1990s, when Boeing began work on an electronic library system for the 777. The ELS proposed to expand on the 777's onboard maintenance system and maintenance access terminal by offering flight crews and mechanics dual side displays, an electronic library cabinet, connections for portable computers and fiber-optic gatelink connectivity. Despite limited initial airline interest, Boeing continued developing the necessary tools and technology—whose value was eventually recognized by airlines.
The company's investment and the motivation of its employees resulted in a number of product launches through the next decade: the Electronic Flight Bag, Connexion by Boeing, Wireless Ramplink, Jeppesen electronic charts, Boeing Digital Technical Documents, and online support through MyBoeingFleet.com.
Initial e-Enabling products justified their way onto airplanes by providing a service solution. For example, the Connexion by Boeing satellite system delivers Internet access to passengers, providing airlines with a market differentiator and revenue opportunity. Boeing's Electronic Flight Bag, meanwhile, delivers electronic charts, manuals and reference data to flight crews, reducing paper-distribution costs.
The EFB and elements of the Connexion by Boeing system are standard features on the 787. Both products required the development of ground infrastructures and management tools, wireless/satellite ground services, and installation of onboard computers, networks and displays.
The e-Enabling products on the 787 will be highly integrated with the onboard maintenance, dataload and crew information systems, offering airlines maintenance-cost-reduction opportunities.
"The benefit in allowing the airline back-office team to remotely deploy software, parts, data, charts and manuals to airplanes with minimal hands-on mechanic involvement is clear," said Dan Moore, 787 manager of Avionics e-Enabling. "Airline engineers and maintenance planners also seem to like the benefits of directly receiving large data files from every airplane in the fleet without having to send the mechanic out to [download or retrieve] discs."
The 787's e-Enabling advantage goes beyond benefits for mechanics and flight crews. In the cabin, Boeing is deploying a wireless in-flight entertainment (IFE) system that delivers video content to each passenger screen without bulky wiring. This offers substantial benefits to airlines that traditionally need to remove and replace the IFE wiring when reconfiguring cabins. The system saves maintenance and also enables long-term technology growth.
With the crew information system, airlines have the option to include a wireless network for maintenance access. Mechanics on the 787 will use maintenance control displays that are Web-based and portable to access onboard maintenance data, initiate tests and review maintenance documents.
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