Qantas and GE hunt for cost and carbon reduction in big data

Australian airline Qantas will be leveraging data to improve flight efficiency thanks to a new partnership with engine supplier GE Aviation.
Written by Tas Bindi, Contributor

GE Aviation launched its fourth digital collaboration centre in its Digital Solutions headquarters in Austin, Texas today, with Qantas as its launch customer.

GE has had a long-standing relationship with Qantas, supplying and supporting around two-thirds of the engines in Qantas Group's fleet.

The launch of the new digital collaboration centre follows an agreement made last year by the companies to explore engine data analytics.

Data scientists, engineers, and software designers from Qantas and GE will analyse some of the 10 billion data points produced by the aviation sector annually to help the Australian carrier cut fuel costs and carbon emissions. This includes analysis of flight paths, replacement cycles, and engine optimisation.

Alan Milne, head of fuel and environment for Qantas, said small gains in fuel efficiency can add up to big benefits when you multiply them across the hundreds of aircraft in the Qantas fleet.

"The work we're doing with GE is giving us more insight than we've ever had before into the way our aircraft operate, helping us find ways of flying smarter -- and this is the next step in the partnership," said Milne.

According to GE's Power of One Percent report, the global commercial airline business is spending an estimated US$170 billion per year on jet fuel. If industrial internet technologies can achieve 1 percent in cost reduction, this would represent nearly US$2 billion per year.

Qantas' fuel bill peaked at AU$4.5 billion in 2013/14, representing 25 percent of its operating costs. At the time, the oil price was around AU$170 per barrel, significantly higher than the current rate of just over AU$50 a barrel.

GE's latest digital collaboration centre will operate in much the same way as its other centres in Dubai, Shanghai, and Paris, which connect data, developers, and Predix, GE's cloud-based software platform for industrial applications. GE has already spent about US$2 billion developing Predix.

Currently in the works is an app that monitors the GE engines that power Qantas planes, and feeds that data through Predix. One of the purposes of the app is to inform pilots of the most fuel-efficient way to fly around the world.

Among the potential benefits of this app are more efficient take-offs and landings -- for example, pilots will be able to see the most efficient launch and landing angle -- and better forecasting of weather impacts. The app will also be able to provide information like the most appropriate speed and altitude for specific weather conditions.

Qantas announced strong financial results for 2015-16 financial year, with profits increasing by 57 percent to AU$1.53 billion from the previous year. The airline said it would continue investing in new technology to drive new opportunities for the 2016-17 financial year.

Earlier this year, Qantas partnered with satellite communication service provider ViaSat to deliver free Wi-Fi using the National Broadband Network across its domestic fleets from next year.

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