Arizona Native, ASU Grad Leading Connected Aircraft Technology For Honeywell

Published: Thursday, January 24, 2019 - 10:05am
Updated: Thursday, February 28, 2019 - 7:20am
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LAUREN GILGER: So, Mark, have you ever boarded a plane only to sit there on the runway for hours and hours and hours while the crew is performing some kind of unknown maintenance?

MARK BRODIE: I think we all have, right? And like, you're just watching sort of the battery on your iPhone or on your tablet or something to see how much longer you have, hoping that it doesn't die before your plane actually takes off and you get where you're going, right?

GILGER: Basically, basically. Alright. So, rest assured. There is someone in the aerospace world who is working to stop that from happening, and she's right here in the Valley. Kristin Slyker is vice president of Connected Aircraft at Honeywell Aerospace, and she's an ASU grad who grew up right here in the Valley, and she’s leading Honeywell’s efforts of what Bloomberg calls “the burgeoning field of connected aircraft.” So what does that mean, connected aircraft, and how is it going to stop your flight from being delayed? That is where we started our conversation when she came into our studios recently.

KRISTIN SLYKER: Sure. So I get asked that a lot and so I'll think of it, if you're a passenger on an airplane, what a connected aircraft means to you is the ability to have a connected flight if you want it, meaning that you can have a true home or office-like experience on the plane. But what it additionally means is that your flight has a higher likelihood of getting there on time. And the reason for that, what a connected aircraft brings together is three things and you can kind of think of it like a cellular phone. So you have the hardware platform itself, which is the airplane. It has to be connected and we actually connect the airplanes with things like high-speed Wi-Fi antennas. We have a product called Jet Wave that allows for high-speed internet to the airplane. So you have the plane itself, and then you have to have airtime services to allow communication to and from the plane. And then finally you have basically the equivalent of apps. So just like on your cell phone, your apps are what really create the exciting things for you. With the connected aircraft, we do things to reduce maintenance events by 35%. We can predict with 99% accuracy when a part is going to fail before it fails. So three to five days before, we can know that.

GILGER: Wow.

SLYKER: So yeah. So instead of sitting on the ground saying, oh, you know, X Y Z is broken, the airline can already have known that and fixed it before you ever got on the plane.

GILGER: So are you the person who is going to make it possible for us all to talk on our cell phones on the plane?

SLYKER: Well, not everybody wants that. Yeah. No. The way I think about it is I want the option. If I want to do my Christmas shopping on the airplane and I want to get on Amazon to do that, like, I want to have the option to do it. I think at the end of the day, people will have to decide, like, what the social rules are around the ability to actually talk on the plane.

GILGER: Not your role, right?

SLYKER: Exactly, not my role but I want the option, right? I want the option to stay connected because the world kind of demands that now.

GILGER: Yeah, yeah, and it sounds like what you do is you look at a problem and then attack it in terms of, this is something that already exists and how do we solve it? Which sounds probably simpler than it is, but, so, take that example that you mentioned briefly there, of delayed flights of making sure things happen on time. You see that problem, and what goes into it? First of all, what goes into it and how did you kind of backend approach it?

SLYKER: Sure. So these are problems that get solved with data. And so we use the technologies that allow for airtime services, or we also use the technology that we call our “aircraft data gateway” to pull what they call the “quick access recorder data” off the plane, or the “429 data” off the plane, in addition to using other data sources that exist off the airplane. All of that comes together, and it basically gives you information about what's happening, and you use essentially data science or data analytics to figure out, okay, what is this data telling me? You mine, you know, billions of records of information, and you're able to figure out, hey, there's a likelihood that this flight could be impacted by the fact that there's a valve on the auxiliary power unit that could have a potential failure.

GILGER: So it sounds like something that's really simple, but actually, is not at all, right?

SLYKER: No. So there is a fantastic team of data scientists and engineers at Honeywell, for example, because they know these products and they know these parts. They're able to understand how could we employ data analytics to actually mine this type of information, and not only do we do it for maintenance, but we do it for fuel efficiency as well. So for example, the team that we have working on the data science between behind the fuel efficiency can actually help a pilot understand maybe what altitude to fly at differently, how to do their vertical climb out of an airport differently, how to taxi and do taxi procedures differently, also that they can save fuel. And when we see airlines better able to save up to, you know, we have had some airlines save up to $500,000 a year per airplane on fuel.

GILGER: So this connected aircraft thing has become at its own business within Honeywell and you're fronting it. It sounds like this position didn't exist until you created it essentially or until it was created for you. Is this the path you expected to take, I guess?

SLYKER: First of all, I will say that there have been some real pioneers at Honeywell, even beyond myself. So I would never say that I did this by myself. But I do have a responsibility right now to really help bring to market all of these technologies and make it possible for our customers. For me personally, I could have never started my career knowing I would do this. It didn't exist. And, yeah, so I started my career in information technology. I went to ASU and started actually working in oil and gas. But, I had an interest in Honeywell. I had an interest in airplanes locally, and had an opportunity to come here and work. And I've been able to do all kinds of different jobs in my career and now have the really awesome opportunity to bring my I.T. background and my experience with Honeywell Aerospace together into this job.

GILGER: Yeah and planes aren't necessarily new for you, right? You grew up around them.

SLYKER: Yeah. My dad was part of the Arizona Air National Guard. So he would bring us to Family Day when I was a kid and we would crawl around on the air refueling planes. They would let kids do that. So I have pictures of my sister and I sitting in my dad's office. You know, he was a logistics commander for the base and we really enjoyed airplanes. We liked being a part of that. So not normal for a girl, but for me, I grew up this was very much part of life.

GILGER: Yeah. So having been in oil and gas before, is this sort of a full circle moment for you?

SLYKER: It is. I think about the way that I started my career as a programmer, and then going through various roles within Honeywell Aerospace, where I got to be part of what we do with the aftermarket, program management, supply chain, customer support. And so I get in this job an opportunity to bring all of these different skill sets together, and do that doing something that is meaningful to me because of my background.

GILGER: Right. The thing that sounds interesting to me about that is, you coming from a customer service-oriented perspective almost. Like that's probably out of the ordinary in your field. How do you think that's affecting the way you approach this?

SLYKER: Well there's more one way to approach things. And for me, I think that the influence of all that background is that I want to figure out what the problem is we're trying to solve, first and foremost. So technology is just a way to do that. You don't just start with technology and then go figure out, okay, maybe what problem could we solve? Start with what matters to people. Like for us as passengers, sitting there for a two-hour delay when there's a part problem that's, just, it's horrible. And so, for me, I've flown a couple of hundred thousand miles in my lifetime. I would rather have things be on time, so I have a personal passion as well as a career capability to be a part of this.

GILGER: Is this already in practice or are you already seeing the results of this and seeing the experience for people like you on those planes improving at this point?

SLYKER: Yeah, so we now, from a customer perspective, we have a couple thousand airplanes that are using the technology today. Some are using it for fuel efficiency; some are using it for maintenance. This is a really near-term opportunity for passengers to see improvement in airlines actually being on time, and they'll never know what's causing it.

GILGER: Is it a little bit thankless in that sense it's like the behind the scenes kind of work that's like, you're fixing things for people but they don't really know that it's being fixed?

SLYKER: The good news for us is we get to see the removals being predicted, and we get to see the operational improvement for the actual airline. The passengers never know that it was improved for them, but the airlines really do. And so that is incredibly satisfying. Yeah.

GILGER: All right. Kristin Slyker, thank you so much for coming in.

SLYKER: Thank you.

GILGER: Kristin Slyker is the vice president of Connected Aircraft at Honeywell Aerospace.

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