We use cookies to provide you with a better experience. If you continue to use this site, we'll assume you're happy with this. Alternatively, click here to find out how to manage these cookies

hide cookie message
Boeing 787s to create half a terabyte of data per flight, says Virgin Atlantic

Boeing 787s to create half a terabyte of data per flight, says Virgin Atlantic

Internet of things will create a wide range of opportunities and challenges for airline

Article comments

Virgin Atlantic is preparing for a significant increase in data as it embraces the internet of things, with a new fleet of highly connected planes each expected to create over half a terabyte of data per flight.

Speaking to Computerworld UK at the Economist Technology Frontiers event, Virgin Atlantic IT director David Bulman said that the airline company is expecting an “explosion” of information generated from a growing number of sources, from employees and customers to cargo containers and planes.

In particular, the introduction of Boeing 787 aircraft – ordered by Virgin Atlantic for delivery in 2014 – is expected to dramatically increase the volume of data the airline will need to deal with.

“The internet of things, in a broad sense, is where we are starting to see everything from planes to cargo devices getting connected,” Bulman said. "The latest planes we are getting, the Boeing 787s, are incredibly connected. Literally every piece of that plane has an internet connection, from the engines, to the flaps, to the landing gear.

He continued: "If there is a problem with one of the engines we will know before it lands to make sure that we have the parts there. It is getting to the point where each different part of the plane is telling us what it is doing as the flight is going on.”

This level of operational insight will involve generating large amounts of data from each 787 aircraft, he explained. “We can get upwards of half a terabyte of data from a single flight from all of the different devices which are internet connected," Bulman said.

The airline is also seeing the internet of things impact on other areas of its business since Bulman took on the IT director role a year ago, with a BYOD scheme also generating masses of data.

Meanwhile, customer-facing initiatives mean passengers can be tracked throughout their journey, with the use of RFID tags embedded in mobile devices.

“There are a whole range of things that are going on in the airline industry,” Bulman explained. “One that is potentially the most interesting - and the Scandinavians are ahead of this - is loading passport information onto devices. We are not taking part in this at the moment because the UK is not yet there, but there are airports such as in Copenhagen where you can get onto a plane without talking to a single person.”

With RFID tags to track cargo and, in the future, baggage, large demands are being placed on the airline’s IT infrastructure. According to Bulman a scalable cloud solutions will be required to deal with the increase in data, which the company has seen double in the past two years, a rate that is likely to quicken in the future.

"The challenge is what do you do with that amount of data when you are getting terabytes of data a day off your various airplanes? We are getting to the stage right now where we cannot deal with that much.”

He added: “If you are talking that level of data you can't just chuck ten disks into your data centre anymore, you have to look at cloud based solutions and how you can store data."



  • GM I dont know how did they calculated 12 Terra byte of data coming of 787 aircraft it does not sound right because total storage capacity on 787 is 100GB and 787 generates approx 5 to 10MB data per hour of flight so it need to fly atleast 524288 hours to generate half aterbyte of data 524288 hours will equal to 598 YEARS of flight time Thats a long time
  • Ellie K THAT makes more sense and is consistent with the article I wondered too just like others did about every piece of the airplane having an internet connection Thank you for explaining
  • JL Planes have had monitoring systems for many many decades tachometers altimeters fuel gauges etc Since planes first began to have flight computers those monitoring systems have been tied into planes computers Since the late 70s planes have been digitally communicating information to ground systems using a system called ACARS Over the years the system has become more and more advanced communicating ever greater amounts of data Boeings system is called Airplane Health Management AHM for short Boeing collects information from aircraft via ACARS which operates through satellite data communication Boeing then processes this information and subsequently makes this information available on its own secure servers which are connected to the internet Thus the planes do not have a direct connection to the internet Boeing is processing the ACARS data and relaying that information via secure servers As far as I know the flow of information on the internet is one way only from Boeings servers out to its customers The purpose is to allow maintenance operations to effectively plan in advance of a plane landing should there be an issue that arises in flight It allows the pilots to concentrate on flying the plane rather than burdening them with relaying information by voice The quantity of data produced by planes has been growing over the years just as it has in every other use of a computer The 787 as Boeings newest plane produces more data than previous planes Its hardly a surprise I remember when jpeg photos used to take one or more minutes to download per photo Now I can stream HD video at 30 framessecondTo attempt to answer your question and to summarize Yes the planes systems are all interconnected on the plane in their own network as part of the flight management computers on the aircraft And yes the information produced is relayed to the the ACARS server on the ground That servers data is processed by another system That information is in turn sent out over the internet through secure servers The statement Literally every piece of that plane has an internet connection is a bit misleading Many parts of the plane produce data and that data is relayed to the internet but the connection is not a direct one Boeings ACARS server on the ground is connected to a Boeing secure internet server but they are not one and the same piece of hardware The ACARS server to which the plane communicates is NOT an internet server
  • Daniel Watkins are incredibly connected Literally every piece of that plane has an internet connection from the engines to the flaps to the landing gearSo is this literal or figurative from the internet of things Meaning the systems of the plane are connected together as a network or that the systems of the plane are each connected to an Earth computer
  • Daniel Watkins Since the plane is full of internet connected computes cant passengers use their internet connected devices during a flight It wont affect the plane
  • David Henry Kings Aguirre Gogo is a little piece of interconnection in this plane in fact that does not come with the plane 787s are flying data centers Theres a lot more to them than internet access
  • Andrew Duncan Dont talk to me about Terabytes and the the cloud Just give me the convenience of not carrying around a 19th century little book called a passport and give me on-board immigration clearance with iris scanning technology or whatever Are you listening Mr Bulman
  • Ron Kulik Ah the power of the un-educated and un-informed
  • Manuel Fernandes The plan is connected to the internet for service like gogo Its just that the internet connection is firewalled off from aircraft control systems for sure
  • JL In this instance the internet of things is a phrase meant to describe the interconnectivity of all the parts on the plane The phrase itself does not imply connectivity to the internet proper Heres a wiki article describing the meaning of this phrase and its origins httpenwikipediaorgwikiI
  • Chuck I REALLY REALLY hope that the claim that everything is connected to the Internet is a misprint If it is true I will never ever fly in a 787
Send to a friend

Email this article to a friend or colleague:

PLEASE NOTE: Your name is used only to let the recipient know who sent the story, and in case of transmission error. Both your name and the recipient's name and address will not be used for any other purpose.

ComputerworldUK Knowledge Vault

* *