Traditional aircraft manufacturers are facing a crisis of public confidence: One that could have been avoided, but fortunately can be rectified.

Traditional aircraft manufacturers are facing a crisis of public confidence: One that could have been avoided, but fortunately can be rectified.

We’ve read the headlines of multiple high-profile incidents involving commercial aircraft malfunctions and maintenance issues. And we heard revelations from last month’s U.S. Congressional hearings with whistleblowers from aviation superpower Boeing that suggest an alarming prioritization of profit over customer safety. The media speculates that years of returning value to shareholders instead of investing in engineering and quality assurance has led to these failures, but it’s much more nuanced than that. 

To understand the issue, we have to examine the aviation industry itself. More specifically, we need to take a deeper look at the stalling innovation in aviation manufacturing, as well as maintenance, repair and operations – or MRO – processes. These are processes that in some cases were established decades, even generations, ago and are ripe for digital transformation.

Building and maintaining an aircraft is extremely complicated, involving many companies in the supply chain, each with thousands of factory workers and field service personnel. From our work with aviation partners, we know that the documentation of these processes for a single aircraft requires hundreds of skilled labor hours and hundreds of forms. The quality of the planes that these manufacturers produce relies heavily on each and every one of these personnel doing their jobs correctly and completely, each and every time. Yet recent examples abound of errors across these systems.  

We also know that the industry is suffering from an aging workforce that is retiring and taking with them years of institutional knowledge; and they are not being replaced. Fewer line workers must handle more, increasingly complex manufacturing processes.

How can the industry recover? By investing in advanced digital technologies that solve for the inevitable issues that arise when organizations require complex, error-free task completion from a transitioning, human workforce. We believe that augmented reality (AR) is ideally suited for this. 

AR is already being employed for enhancing training simulations, improving maintenance procedures, and providing real-time data visualization for engineers and pilots. AR also enables better situational awareness and can streamline complex tasks, ultimately reducing costs and enhancing overall performance. On the safety side, AR can provide significant added value by enhancing installation, adjustment, and inspection procedures.

AR can be integrated with already existing technologies to further enhance productivity: Manufacturers already rely heavily on computer-aided design (CAD) and product lifecycle management (PLM) software to design its planes and simulate human workflows on their factory floors. CAD models can also be used in AR to visually guide workers through the manufacturing process, virtually show anomalies between the CAD design and what was actually produced, and provide a digital, auditable capture of what tasks were performed when, and by whom. 

In essence, AR enables technicians to do their jobs more effectively, and document their work simply by doing it.

Gone are the days when technicians needed to refer to a paper manual – this method is rife with errors. By the time the technicians return to the task at hand, they may be distracted or slightly misunderstand the instruction. And in some cases they may forget to do the task completely! AR solves for all of these potential breaks in the manufacturing and MRO processes due to human error. There is precedent for AR solutions in both the Aviation and Aerospace industries, where it’s used successfully at scale in organizations such as Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Honeywell, and NASA. With the industry at an inflection point and requiring a higher level of standards and best practices, and with AR technology now able to integrate with most enterprise-grade digital solutions, now is the time for all of aviation to embrace it. 

AR will address any technical issue before it turns into a PR crisis, let alone a tragic disaster. Used industry-wide, AR, in concert with existing enterprise tech, would not only improve productivity, efficiency, and quality in the aviation industry, it would support the aviation industry’s efforts in rebuilding public trust.

Scott Montgomerie is Co-founder and CEO of Scope AR

Learn more about how AR is transforming aircraft manufacturing and MRO.

Scope AR Aviation Industry Use Cases

WestJet Demo Day Augmented AME demonstration