Aircraft Engine Monitoring: How It Works

With cost of aircraft acquisition and aviation fuel reaching unprecedented levels coupled with expensive engineering and maintenance cost of each aircraft, it is imperative that we obtain every ounce of performance out of an aircraft engine. Also, from a purely investment point of view, a better performing engine will give better return on investment.

Just as every corporate keeps accounts to track the performance of its business; so also an aircraft engine monitoring systems keeps track of the aircraft engine performance. Doing so helps detect anomalies and detects parts of the aircraft engine that might not be performing at their optimum levels.

In most cases, all that is required is a little synchronized tweaking. But if anomalies are not detected early and corrected, it could not only lead to the aircraft guzzling more aviation fuel than norm. It could lead to expensive repairs and even more expensive part replacements. Aircraft parts for modern wide bodied Jumbos can cost as much as $20 million or more. Also, there’s the down-time to consider. An aircraft that is not flying is obviously not returning anything on the investment and would actually be costing the owners lot of money.

Aircraft Engine monitoring involves placing a lot of sensors at strategic points within the aircraft engine. These sensors send their data in real-time to the aircraft engine monitoring system which these days, is typically a computer loaded with specialized software. The aircraft engine monitoring system tries to make sense of all the numbers that it receives and matches those numbers against a set of pre-fed numbers for each sensor.

For example, the aircraft engine monitoring system will validate the fuel consumption numbers and match those against data pertaining to the amount of power produced. The result is compared to pre-fed range of numbers to determine whether the fuel quantity that is being consumed is within acceptable limits for the power that is being produced. Variances are immediately flagged, stored and is also available for download and study.

Sensors also detect parameters such as heat or vibration at certain points within the engine. Again, when these numbers are compared with those that have been pre-fed and stored in memory, the aircraft engine monitoring system is able to detect if the numbers are near or over the critical level in which case, it might also be programmed to create an audio-visual warning.

Modern passenger jets not only have sophisticated Digital Gauges systems, they go a step further and transmit accumulated data (via satellite feed ) at regular intervals to ground stations that have been setup and monitored by the engine manufacturers. This helps engine manufacturers make appropriate notations and pay special attention to under-performing engine parts during the next maintenance overhaul or, they may even recommend an early overhaul.

The Flight engine instruments systems in a modern jet also sends critical performance related information to the aircraft flight recorder (black box). In the unfortunate event of a crash, such information plays a big hand in helping determine the cause of the crash.