Will blockchain change the aerospace industry?

April 17, 2019

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By Scott Thompson and Rachel Parker Sealy

The complexity of modern aircraft can be staggering. A typical single-aisle commercial jet is made up of several hundred thousand parts while a superjumbo can contain one million or more. With 40,000 commercial aircraft projected to enter service over the next 20 years, the total number of components is poised to rise into the tens of billions. And when you take into account all the different ways those planes can be configured, complexity increases exponentially.

This presents a critical challenge for the commercial aerospace industry. Even amid advances in sensor technology, connected devices, data analytics and cloud computing, there’s still very little visibility into which components are on which planes in which configuration, when they were last serviced and by whom. In fact, getting a holistic picture across an entire fleet of aircraft — regardless of whether you’re the airframer, the airline, or a key supplier — is all but impossible.

Data for the life of the aircraft

Blockchain technology can provide the solution. Not only can it track the provenance of individual components but, by giving a snapshot of all the parts on a plane, it has the ability to seamlessly record its configuration for every flight of its 30-year operating life.

The key is blockchain’s ability to generate a digital birth certificate for every part that’s installed in a plane and updated every time it’s serviced or inspected by a technician. The data collected could include the aircraft’s tail number, the component’s manufacturer, the identity of the technician and the location in which the service was performed.

And a blockchain-powered solution can give the right stakeholders a view of that birth certificate, while withholding data from others when it would reveal proprietary information or trade secrets. For example, an airframer or airline implementing such a system might be able to see the condition, usage, installer and manufacturer of all parts on each of its planes, while a parts manufacturer could only see which aircraft its products are installed on, but not those with a competitor’s component.

More time in the sky

Blockchain technology may be new, but the benefits of increased transparency into the provenance of components and the configuration of aircraft are far from theoretical. In fact, substantial gains in efficiency and safety are possible:

  • Increase asset utilization. A real-time, continuously updated ledger of each part’s condition and usage could help reduce time spent on routine inspection and maintenance of aircraft. It can also reduce airlines’ needed inventory of spares.
  • Improve the aftermarket value of planes. Jet engines maintained to the standards of their manufacturer and which include only verified authentic parts fetch premium prices on the secondary market. The verifiability offered by blockchain could likewise boost the resale value of used aircraft.
  • Fight counterfeiting. Recording the provenance of each part on a distributed ledger would ensure that counterfeit components with duplicate serial numbers can’t be installed on aircraft without triggering an alarm. Likewise, the reintroduction of red-tagged parts would become more difficult.

Blockchain has the power to foster trust among parties who may be competitors in the marketplace but must cooperate within the common ecosystem of the airplane by balancing transparency and privacy on a shared ledger. But adopting a blockchain solution that can deliver these benefits isn’t just a technological challenge. Successful implementation requires winning buy-in from parties at every level of the aerospace ecosystem, including aircraft manufacturers, maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) providers and airlines.

Lack of trust among users was cited as a top barrier to blockchain adoption by 45% of respondents in PwC’s Global Blockchain Survey. That’s understandable when companies that are usually locked in competition face the prospect of having to cooperate — especially when sensitive data is involved. But because the value of blockchain solutions like the one outlined above rises immensely as more parties participate, building trust is essential. By focusing early in their efforts on the key areas we identified as part of the Global Blockchain Survey, companies can set themselves on a path toward successful execution.

©2019 PwC. All rights reserved. PwC refers to the US member firm or one of its subsidiaries or affiliates, and may sometimes refer to the PwC network. Each member firm is a separate legal entity. Please see www.pwc.com/structure for further details. This content is for general information purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional advisors.

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