Why HUMS makes sense for Utility, Powerline and Construction (UPAC) helicopter operators

June 9 2021
Why HUMS makes sense for Utility, Powerline and Construction (UPAC) helicopter operators

At GPMS, we’re committed to putting HUMS within reach of all operators, no matter their line of business. At the same time, we recognize there are some sectors where the need and value proposition for Foresight MX stands out. Utility is one of those sectors.

Duke Energy and Tennessee Valley Authority are two GPMS customers in the energy space. And, as a recent Avionics Today article makes clear (Avionics International: GPMS Foresight HUMS a Big Benefit for Power Line Inspection Helos, Duke Energy Says), these utility operators have four attributes that make HUMS a ‘no-brainer’: They (1) frequently fly low and slow, (2) they emphasize safety, (3) do a lot of work away from base, and (4) utilize their aircraft to a high degree. 

Low and slow flight leaves no room for unexpected mechanical issues

Powerline inspection activity are characterized by ‘low and slow’ flights. By their very nature, these flights leave little margin for error or time for correction if an unexpected mechanical issue occurs.

Our Foresight MX HUMS monitors and detects trending components. This detection is done via sensors which typically pick up on issues far before they are recognizable to a pilot or mechanic via human senses.  This early detection of, say, a trending #5 bearing, is key to operational safety in this environment. 

Robust SMS/FOQA programs require FDM inputs

We find that most UPAC (Utility, Powerline and Construction) operators are highly safety conscious. While real-time flight following has been standard for most utility operators for years, many are starting to adopt wired, parametric FDM solutions to enable download and replay for FOQA programs. 

Foresight MX, which provides this robust FDM capability as well as RT&B and HUMS (engine and drivetrain machine condition monitoring), is a powerful, all-in-one package for operators looking to operate at the highest standards. By monitoring how the aircraft is being operated (FDM) and how the machine itself is operating (HUMS), Foresight provides both sides of the safety equation.

Activity away from base requires remote monitoring and troubleshooting 

The next driver for HUMS adoption in the utility space has to do with the nature of the missions. Many power line inspection operations take place far from base. If you have a mechanical issue, that can mean downtime and an onsite visit by an A&P mechanic. But with a cloud-based health and usage monitoring system like Foresight, maintainers at base can remotely monitor aircraft in the field and even troubleshoot/diagnose reported problems. 

One utility customer had a low power incident while the aircraft was hundreds of miles from base. Without Foresight MX, that aircraft would have been AOG until a maintenance team arrived on site. With Foresight MX, maintainers back at the hangar were able to pull up the application and diagnose the issue remotely. They got the aircraft flying within hours, saving thousands of dollars. See Case Study: Remote Monitoring

High utilization requires HUMS to prevent downtime, lower maintenance costs, and ensure mission readiness

Duke reports flying four to six and a half hours daily to monitor the safety and performance of 32,000 miles of power lines across Indiana, Ohio, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Florida. They are not alone as most utility-focused helicopter operators fly 400-600 hours a year. 

These levels of utilization raise the risk of mechanical incidents that can impact contract availability and mission readiness rates. HUMS systems like Foresight MX detect these issues early and provide Remaining Useful Like (RUL) estimates to enable maintenance planners to turn unscheduled into scheduled maintenance. At the same time, by catching issues early, HUMS lowers the cost of component and engine failures.

In a HUMS ROI model we developed with Conklin & de Decker, we noticed a stark fact: the greater number of hours flown, the greater the ROI from Foresight MX. 

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In a twist on George Orwell, we might say that ‘All helicopter operators are equal, but some operators (including utility) are more equal than others.’ If you have questions about how Foresight might improve your utility operation’s safety, availability, and maintenance efficiency, please get in touch.