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Tech tracking in aviation: building the bases of the future

Smarter Technologies director of sales and marketing Matthew Margetts discusses how technology is improving tracking, asset management and decision-making at airports and airbases.

Although non-essential foreign travel is currently banned in much of the UK, this doesn’t mean the airports and airbases are dormant. In fact, the likes of Virgin Atlantic are even launching new cargo routes and preparing to transport COVID-19 vaccines using passenger planes. Airports around the world continue to operate dynamically, with assets and equipment (including the planes themselves) constantly being moved.

Smart technology is revolutionising the way that airports and air bases operate. In particular, internet of things (IoT) asset tracking is enabling optimised inventory and supply chain management in both commercial and military airbase environments. Advanced software and tracking devices are making airbases more efficient, more resilient and cheaper to run.

In the US, the Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida was decimated by Hurricane Michael in 2019. Instead of rebuilding the base as it was before, leaders set out to create the base of the future, rolling out smart technology that serves as a model for the entire Department of Defence. The foundational capability of the airbase of the future is real-time connectivity, which underlies the potential for future developments.

Smarter Technologies director of sales and marketing Matthew Margetts

The future of tracking technology

Although many airbases invest in some kind of enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, there is potential for greater integration and visibility. And with the sheer volume of high-value assets on airbases, traditional GPS tracking solutions lack the required scalability and efficiency.

Unlike traditional GPS tracking devices, devices that use a combination of radio-frequency identification (RFID), GPS and non-GPS technologies are more suited to the aerospace industry. These tags are available in various shapes and sizes with different sizes of sealed lead acid (SLA) batteries. If operated via a low-power network, these batteries will last for up to three years, making it more feasible to tag as many assets as possible.

RFID also does not rely on a line of sight connection between a tracker and the assets, which means that the real-time asset tracking information can be relayed over both short and long distances, even in remote areas.

Real-time, 24/7 asset management

Smart, real-time aerospace asset tracking and maintenance technology provides complete visibility and control. This allows bases to eliminate manual errors with fully automated asset management processes.

Just as public services and cities are becoming increasingly connected, so airbases can apply the same technologies to support maintenance engineers and operators. Smart IoT devices connected to aircraft, parts, machinery vehicles and buildings can all report into a single management dashboard in real-time to optimise operations across the board.

For example, a connected maintenance system for all products allows operators and managers to track faults, predict future maintenance and even have the necessary spare parts waiting before a plane lands. This results in significant time savings and improved safety.

Enabling data-driven decision-making

‘Digital depots’ that track and connect assets, workers and orders provide a wealth of data with visibility across the entire logistics chain and asset lifecycle. This data can be analysed for enhanced decision-making and the identification of potential optimisations and efficiencies.

With smart technology leading the way, airbases can be prepared for the future and mission ready, ensuring that all critical infrastructure is in place to meet a wide range of needs when required.