When Blockchains Fly

In June 2017, Accenture showcased the promise of blockchain technology in the aerospace industry at the International Paris Air Show. Through a role-playing game on a flat screen TV, the company illustrated how blockchain could improve the accuracy of aircraft configuration management and reduce maintenance costs.

This week, ETHNews spoke with Craig Gottlieb, principal director of Accenture’s Aerospace and Defense Practice. He shared insights into the company’s pending patent on a blockchain service for the aerospace industry. The patent was filed in late 2016.

According to Gottlieb, blockchain integration could reduce overhaul time for an aircraft’s engine by as much as 25 percent. Theoretically, he explained, this could save almost two weeks on a traditionally two-month process. The time and cost savings could be substantial. As Gottlieb put it, “That’s a fair number of shekels."

“Where it starts to get more interesting is if you have multiple airlines pooling all of their information – where an airline, a maintenance organization, and/or a manufacturer can conduct analytics on the broader fleet and understand how it’s performing, where there might be opportunities for operators to get extra flights.”

At present, there are very few databases for information sharing in the aerospace industry. This is critical because stakeholders are often unable to access complete and verifiable profiles of aircraft. This can lead to miscommunications and delays.

Gottlieb attributed the absence of shared databases to two factors. First, it’s expensive to develop Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) infrastructure. The second challenge is purely capitalist. “Particularly from an airline perspective, there’s been a lot of reticence toward pooling performance data for fear of their competitors getting access to it,” said Gottlieb.

The cryptographic element of blockchain technology, he believes, could make an intercompany system more tenable in the future by enabling necessary privacy protocols.

The prospect of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technology also brings enhanced regulatory possibilities into view. Imagine, for a moment, an airplane built with IIoT sensor-equipped components. These sensors could track the origin and age of parts as well as wear and tear. Maybe they could even provide a probability of part failure!

Perhaps one day, the Federal Aviation Administration could use IIoT technology to investigate equipment malfunctions or flight incidents. In a way, this could serve as a second flight recorder, or “black box,” though there’s a host of regulatory hurdles to overcome before this integration is even a possibility. Gottlieb noted that the aerospace industry is somewhat notorious for its “conservative approach to adopting new technologies.”

Nonetheless, for both the primary market and the aftermarket business, blockchain technology could prove disruptive and boost transparency.

In a 2015 report, Accenture concluded that “Production rates in the aerospace and defense industry are increasing dramatically. OEMs [Original Equipment Manufacturers] and Tier 1 suppliers must transform their supply chains so that their operations can catch up with the digitally-enabled aircraft and systems that they are delivering to market.”

For now, Accenture has not selected which blockchain to use for its aerospace services. Gottlieb noted that this decision will depend on client needs. While he declined to provide an estimate, it’s fair to say that there is a tremendous amount of money available through blockchain optimization in the aerospace industry.