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Motorola on Aviation Adoption of RFID

The aviation industry has long been considered a prime candidate for RFID adoption. RFID Update spoke with Pankaj Shukla, director of RFID business development in aviation for Motorola, about the industry's RFID adoption and where the most popular applications of the technology exist today.
Tags: Aerospace
Sep 03, 2007This article was originally published by RFID Update.

September 3, 2007—The aviation industry has long been considered a prime candidate for RFID adoption. RFID Update spoke with Pankaj Shukla, director of RFID business development in aviation for Motorola, about the industry's RFID adoption and where the most popular applications of the technology exist today.

"Aviation is one of our targeted verticals, and we are seeing a tremendous amount of inquiries," commented Shukla. Seen as a possible panacea to the lost luggage problem that costs the airline industry hundreds of millions of dollars per year, baggage tracking is one of the leading applications of RFID in the sector. High profile deployments include those at the busy international airports of Hong Kong and Las Vegas (Motorola was involved with both). In 2005, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) published a global specification to define exactly what information should be included on a bag's RFID tag, referred to as the luggage "license plate". While such developments speak to rapid progress over the last few years, worldwide RFID-enabled baggage tracking is still in the early stages of deployment. "The nirvana comes when RFID is broadly implemented across multiple airports and airlines," said Shukla.

But baggage tracking is far from the whole story, he noted, as there are numerous other applications of RFID within aviation that the industry is embracing enthusiastically. Shukla cited strong demand for cargo tracking, tracking of assets on the tarmac, and trolley tracking.

Cargo tracking enables the visibility of goods and freight that are shipped by air. In addition to enhanced supply chain efficiency, cargo tracking also offers security benefits, allowing the industry to readily identify shipments whose integrity may have been compromised.

Tracking tarmac assets, such as the trailers that cart luggage from the airport to the loading hull of the plane, expands visibility of tagged luggage beyond the airport. "Now you have a combination of seeing the bags in the underbelly of the airport, onto the tarmac, and all the way to the plane," explained Shukla.

As for tracking trolleys -- the heavy metal carts that flight attendants use to distribute food, duty free goods, etc. -- the goal is to improve asset visibility and inventory management. Airlines' current lack of information about the location of all trolleys at any moment requires them to carry a surplus of the costly items. Leveraging RFID for real-time trolley visibility and locationing will enable airlines to avoid this excess, thereby improving operational efficiency and reducing cost.

In addition to RFID adoption at the airports themselves, the technology is also gaining traction in the supply chains of the world's two largest aircraft manufacturers, Boeing and Airbus. US-based Boeing has been an active RFID evangelist for a few years, whereas France's Airbus more recently made a splash with plans to initiate an aggressive stage of RFID deployment across its supply chain (see Airbus Taps ODIN, Signals Aerospace RFID Adoption).

A final sweet spot for RFID in the aviation industry is in the area of maintenance, repair, and overhaul, or MRO. Managing MRO is a multifaceted, challenging affair for aviation companies, laced with issues of security, safety, inefficiency, and compliance. A typical repair or maintenance job is composed of many sub-processes, including identifying the problem, locating or purchasing the required part, locating the appropriate personnel to execute the repair or replacement, and documenting almost every step. RFID can streamline and facilitate the MRO process, and help aviation companies realize so-called "integrated MRO", which is essentially technology-enabled visibility into the entire MRO process, both within a company's four walls and out into its suppliers' inventories. "The vision is that airplane parts are tagged, and their maintenance history is kept directly on the RFID tags themselves," commented Shukla. "This will result in faster servicing times and improved safety overall."

Still other applications of RFID are predicted for the years ahead, such as improving visibility of airport personnel, travelers, and removable airplane inventory like life vests. All told, the RFID opportunity in aviation is large indeed. The IATA predicts that when the technology is fully implemented for baggage tracking alone, the savings generated for the industry will be more than $700 million annually.

"Aviation RFID adoption is not confined to just a few regions or geographies," Shukla pointed out. "This is truly a global need."
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