4 WAYS FAST™ HELPS AG AIRCRAFT OPERATORS GROW THEIR BUSINESS
Owners of aerial application aircraft worldwide can now request P&WC’s FAST™ engine prognostic and diagnostic solution as an add-on when buying a new PT6A-powered Air Tractor aircraft. Here's why it's an investment worth making.
1. ENABLING PLANNED MAINTENANCE
Many aerial application operators in the agricultural (Ag) sector run small businesses with tight margins. At the busiest times of the year, like the crop spraying season, it’s essential that their planes are able to fly when called on. During these peak periods, any disruption to their operations because of an unscheduled maintenance event could mean a significant loss of revenue.
P&WC’s FAST solution can help these operators avoid the unexpected and ensure their aircraft are available when it matters the most. This system collects data on a host of key engine parameters and transmits it wirelessly for analysis. The results are then shared with the operator. The entire process happens within minutes of the pilot shutting down the engine. By comparing trends over time with baseline engine data, it’s possible to track the engine’s health and provide suitable maintenance recommendations whenever needed.
As Michael Ellbogen, Sales & Marketing Manager, Digital Engine Services, explains, this enables operators to identify their needs in advance and plan around them. “Whether it’s for the spraying season or for other aerial applications, Ag operators rely on the availability of their aircraft to make a living. They count on this asset as their main source of income, but they don’t necessarily have visibility into the health of their engines,” he notes.
“What the FAST solution does is give these operators advanced insights, allowing them to create more of a planned maintenance environment for their business. This approach is instrumental in helping our customers achieve cost efficiency and aircraft availability.” – Michael Ellbogen, Sales & Marketing Manager, Digital Engine Services.
Thanks to the in-depth understanding of engine health provided by the FAST solution, Ag operators can also avoid unnecessary maintenance costs. These operators may, for instance, schedule a hot section inspection (HSI) after each spraying season, even though it might not be needed. By consulting FAST-acquired trend signatures, however, experts working with the aerial application industry like Field Air’s Cameron Wright, can optimize their maintenance activities and schedule an HSI or other event only when it's actually required:
Knowing that P&WC’s FAST system is at work enabling consistent engine management further cements our performance confidence. Our ability to monitor and rapidly analyse the health of our engines has reached a pinnacle with the implementation of FAST. It has set the benchmark for engine analysis in our industry, for us it is the Future of Aviation Safety Technology.
2. DATA ACQUISITION DESIGNED FOR AG AVIATION
For most aircraft applications, engine health trend monitoring is done based on data acquired at cruising altitudes. But the mission profile is different for Ag aircraft, since the aircraft does not operate under a typical cruise profile.
FAST for Air Tractor aircraft has therefore been customized for the agricultural sector. Data is captured during takeoff instead of at cruise altitude, enabling high-quality flight-to-flight trending based on takeoff performance. What’s more, customers will receive all the training and support they need to ensure a seamless transition to using the FAST solution.
We have a customer support team that will guide operators through the entire entry into service process, from the time they place the purchase order with us to the time the actual FAST system is installed. Following that, we also coordinate the right training for them.
3. IMPROVING IN-FLIGHT PERFORMANCE AND TROUBLESHOOTING
The FAST system includes an aural alert function that sends a tone to the pilot’s headset if the aircraft is on the verge of exceeding the recommended threshold for torque, interstage turbine temperature (ITT) or the like. The pilot can then take action as needed to avoid going over the limit and keep the engine within its optimum performance range.
Another handy in-flight feature is the event mark button in the cockpit. If the pilot presses this during a flight, the FAST system will send an email notification after the engine has shut down with data covering the three-minute period before the event and the two minutes after it. Following landing, the operator can review this data for insights.
“First, this FAST solution feature allows operators to understand whether an event did in fact take place. It also helps them when it comes to troubleshooting the event,” explains Michael. “They can identify its severity and determine whether they need to perform maintenance on the engine or can dispatch the aircraft back into service.”
4. INNOVATIVE NEW FEATURES THAT LEVERAGE DATA
P&WC is continuing to explore the possibilities for applying data gathered with the FAST solution in order to support customers’ needs and reduce the workload related to specific operating environments. One feature it has introduced already for regional aircraft is propeller vibration trend monitoring, which expands the scope of FAST beyond engine health to the airframe.
As Michael explains, this FAST-based tool gives operators full visibility into the vibration levels of their propellers. Not only does this optimize propeller-related maintenance planning—it also helps make the flying experience more comfortable by allowing operators to consistently maintain lower vibration levels. This is especially appealing to operators in the Ag business given the amount of time they spend in their aircraft.
Operators in the Ag sector spend eight hours a day or more in the cockpit of their aircraft. It’s their office. If we can improve their comfort level on a daily basis by keeping vibration levels to a minimum, that’s definitely an advantage
Along with vibration trend monitoring, P&WC is also working on a solution that allows remote propeller balancing, which will make the process faster and more cost-effective.
Thanks to features like these, the success of several pilot projects with Ag operators in different countries, and the enthusiasm for new data-driven technologies among operators, Michael expects more and more Air Tractor customers will opt to install the FAST solution. Discussions are also under way to introduce it on PT6A-powered Thrush Aircraft platforms.
The system is being embraced in other general aviation sectors too, including the aeromedical field. In July 2018, it also achieved two major milestones, receiving both Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and ANAC Argentina supplemental type certificate (STC) approval. Read our recent feature on how Australia’s Royal Flying Doctor Service is using the FAST system to learn more.