Would You Trust Your Plane to Take Care of Itself? These Aircraft Soon Will

Conscious aircraft will be able to scan themselves for issues and book repairs

New aircraft for Brazilian operator LATAM
GordZam / Getty Images

Ever find yourself sitting idly on a runway, waiting for plane inspection due to a last-minute technical issue, and think, "Couldn't we have known about this before?" Your wish may soon be a reality, thanks to cutting-edge technology.

Researchers in the U.K. are proposing creating “conscious aircrafts" that will be able to scan themselves and immediately know if any part of its system needs servicing. For the aircraft to completely understand how every part of it is operating, a "digital twin" of the plane would be created by "merging its various monitoring systems and interpreting the results using artificial intelligence," according to reporting by The Economist.

What exactly is a digital twin? In aviation, it could take the form of a virtual, three-dimensional working model of the aircraft. The model would allow engineers to experiment with different outcomes using the plane's digital copy—for example, subjecting the twin to severe weather conditions and assessing good and bad outcomes. Artificial intelligence will then detect issues on the plane from broader measurements, such as "patterns of vibration and temperature changes."

With a digital twin attached to its cockpit, the aircraft would become "conscious" of its needs and have the self-awareness to book maintenance appointments and order any required spare parts in advance. Every day that a passenger jet remains on the ground costs airlines hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost revenue; the ability to predict maintenance ahead of time would help avoid unscheduled delays and inspections.

Currently, airlines monitor each part of their aircraft independently. While some large manufacturers, like Boeing, have incorporated digital twins to monitor aircraft systems, a whole-aircraft digital twin is yet to be seen. Researchers hope to have one operating by 2024 and functioning with "a degree of self-awareness" within an aircraft by 2035.

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  1. The Economist. "Digital Twins in Cockpits Will Help Planes Look After Themselves." May 11, 2022.