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Last Updated: Friday, 13 February, 2004, 07:42 GMT
Net system monitors plane health
By Pallab Ghosh
BBC science correspondent

The system will save time on the ground
The US plane maker Boeing has developed a new system for identifying potential faults while aircraft are in the air.

It should give engineers early notice of problems and let them start their repairs as soon as a flight has landed.

Airlines would call up their planes on the internet to monitor performance and check indicators against a database held at Boeing's Seattle headquarters.

The company says the system, which will launch in April, should significantly reduce the delays faced by passengers.

With the tight turnaround now demanded of aircraft, Boeing believes its advanced health management (AHM) system will prove a big hit with the airline industry.

Bob Manelski, who helped develop it, told the BBC: "The idea of the system is to make better use of the data that's available; to make better operational decisions and do maintenance in a more proactive fashion; so that we leave on time, you experience fewer delays and you make your connecting flights on time.

Future designs

"If in the first hour of the flight I have that information, I know what that fault is, I know what the capability is at the destination.

"I can prepare people with the right parts and the right equipment, so when the aeroplane arrives I am simply repairing the fault - rather than waiting for the aeroplane to arrive and finding the right people, understanding what the problem is and then going across the airport to the stores department."

Mr Manelski says the system draws on the experience of 9m flights and highlights how particular faults have been best dealt with in the past.

This has been built into a huge historical database which can be mined by engineers.

"With that immense amount of history we can understand what the failure means and what the most effective way would be of correcting that failure.

"In addition the tool has the ability to learn from experience. As parts are upgraded, for example, it tells you the most effective fix changes."

The AHM system has been on trial with three major airlines since November and Boeing says it has unquestionably reduced repair times and flight delays for passengers.

The plan eventually is to gather continuous information from hundreds of aeroplanes.

The system, Boeing says, has the potential to be much more than just a fault diagnosis tool and could eventually be used as a research and development aid on future plane design.

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