Cranfield University’s DARTeC tackles 5 key challenges for digital aviation

Cranfield University has pinpointed five key research priorities for unlocking the potential of digital aviation for the UK and global aviation industry. We spoke to Professor Iain Gray, Director of Aerospace, Cranfield University, to find out more.

The aerospace industry and academia can learn a lot from one another and move innovation along faster. Cranfield University’s Digital Aviation Research and Technology Centre (DARTeC) is a good example of this in action.

Last month, in a new whitepaper, Cranfield University and its partners in DARTeC (including Thales, Raytheon, Saab, Monarch Aircraft Engineering Limited, Boeing UK and Aveillant ) announced the five primary research challenges that the centre will tackle when it opens in early 2020.

With the pace of air travel growth already causing strains across the sector and UK passenger numbers expected to increase 49% by 2050, solutions other than expansion of airport capacity and ground infrastructure need to be found. DARTeC will look at how digital technologies can help tackle these challenges.

Gray said: “What our whitepaper is talking about is how Cranfield can help bring digital to life, bring digital to that big aviation ecosystem that includes aerospace, airports, airlines and air traffic management.”

The focus areas will be:

  • Connected systems – developing digital systems that will operate at speeds that the current Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) and the Aircraft Condition Monitoring System (ACMS) are not capable of producing.
  • Unmanned traffic management – developing airspace management solutions that will bring higher levels of system resilience, safety and security while adapting to competition from UAVs to operate in the same airspace.
  • Seamless passenger experience – developing a more personalised, intuitive and less stressful passenger experience by using digital integrated technology to examine challenges such as unified security, the elimination of triple waiting areas, optimised passenger flows and baggage separation.
  • Distributed airport and airspace management – developing the next generation of air traffic control in an environment of steadily increasing air traffic density and ‘on-demand’ requests.
  • Conscious aircraft – developing technology and systems that would allow aircraft to monitor its current health, allowing it to reliably predict the useful life of components and systems, while automatically adapting to optimise their remaining life.

Gray commented: “A key challenge will be around airports of the future. We're looking at things like unmanned traffic management, how UAVs and urban air mobility vehicles will integrate with conventional air vehicles. We're looking at things like vehicle life monitoring, through-life engineering, both diagnostics and prognostics  at how we can help airlines and manufacturers to prepare themselves to have more efficient products.”

Talking the same language 

While aerospace and academia clearly have a lot of experience and information to share, the value isn’t necessarily always recognised or easy to harness.

DARTeC aims to create a ‘research ecosystem’ underpinned by Cranfield’s global research airport and the University’s newly opened autonomous vehicle research facility.

Gray added: “Sometimes  too often because there's a slightly different language used within a university and within a business – people are having the same conversations but don't actually realise that.

"Something like Farnborough [Airshow] actually makes things happen between business and universities. People are talking the same language. I can see the opportunities that are out there from a business point of view, and businesses can come to university stand and see some of the great things that are going on."

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