Boeing is opening the Digital Aviation & Analytics Lab Frankfurt

The US aircraft manufacturer, Boeing, has opened the Digital Aviation & Analytics Lab Frankfurt in a large hall, in which navigation charts for aviation were once printed. Here in Neu-Isenburg near Frankfurt, approximately 60 experts are now researching how flight operations can be further digitized, testing new control systems for drones, or are considering how a completely digitized cabin can be brought to the market.

Looking at aeronautical charts printed on paper is a thing of the past for most cockpit crews. The result: The printing shop of the very first aeronautical charts publisher, Jeppesen, was no longer needed and was shut down. Today, Jeppesen, who in the meantime had become a subsidiary of Boeing, is entirely focused on digital navigation and the development of electronic cockpit assistance systems. Jeppesen has been active in Germany for 60 years and with 450 employees, the navigation specialist has remained loyal to the Neu-Isenburg location near the Frankfurt Airport. The airy printing and distribution hall, since emptied, is the only space, for which the company has no use. Boeing quickly realized the potential of the space. And thus, Neu-Isenburg became the newest research and development facility in Boeing’s Digital Aviation & Analytics network with locations in Göteborg, Danzig, Denver and Vancouver.

The aviation company is rapidly transitioning from an aircraft manufacturer to a comprehensive service company in the aviation industry. It was only in July of 2017 that the US company founded the business unit, Boeing Global Services, which aims to bring together the widely diversified service divisions and facilitate exchanges with other research centers.

Together, they opened the new Digital Aviation & Analytics Lab Frankfurt while operations were already ongoing (from left): Jürgen Otte (Managing Director Boeing CAS Holding GmbH), Sir Michael Arthur (President Boeing Europe), Dr. Michael Haidinger (President Boeing Deutschland), Marc Allen (President Boeing International and member of the Boeing Executive Council), Dr. Jens Schiefele (Director Research & Rapid Development) and Bernd Bührmann-Montigny (Managing Director Jeppesen GmbH)

“Aviation is poised on the threshold of a radical change that is being driven by digitization, unmanned aircraft and reduced crew requirements”, Dr. Jens Schiefele explained to guests at the opening ceremony. He is the Director of Research & Rapid Development at Boeing. With this new facility, Boeing wants to offer its customers from the aerospace industry cost-effective and efficient services, as well as support them with digitization, networking and optimization, thus helping to shape the future of the aerospace industry.

The meaning of the term “Rapid Development” in Schiefele’s job title is immediately clear when you look at the converted hall and the working methods of the specialists: As the move into the hall had to go fast, meeting rooms, for example, were only built during ongoing operations, so improvisation was the watchword of the day. Instead of elaborate, professional flight simulators, PC joysticks and Microsoft’s Flight Simulator X can be found on the desks. Even when it comes to implementing projects, speed is at the top of the agenda for the engineers, computer and database experts, interface designers and all of the other employees: The time required for the development of new products is to be dramatically reduced, since this is a lengthy and expensive process for large corporations like Boeing, stressed Schiefele: “After all, it is not the developments themselves that consume so much time, but the rigid processes that slow us down. And that is what we want to change here.”

The current research projects at the “Digital Aviation & Analytics Lab Frankfurt”

  • Analytics: Existing data from flight operations is to be better evaluated and linked.
  • Drones: In order to optimize the control of drones, a test flight operation is set up for the in-house mail.
  • Reduced crew operations: The development of a cockpit with reduced crew or only one active pilot, while the second pilot sleeps in the resting berth.
  • Smart aircraft cabin: A Boeing 787 is being tested in a mock-up to determine how individual components in the cabin can be detected and monitored using the RFID chip. This includes whether all of the life vests are present, and equipped with compressed air cartridges, for example.

Text by Behrend Oldenburg
Photos: Boeing/Patrick Rodwell