Boeing uses open source to build cloud-based digital aviation platform

By Sooraj Shah
15 Nov 2013 View Comments

The world's largest aerospace company and aircraft manufacturer, Boeing, has used open-source application development software firm WSO2's service-oriented architecture (SOA) to build a cloud-based digital aviation platform.

The platform-as-a-service (PaaS) solution, dubbed the Boeing Edge, has been used to refocus the manufacturer's attempts at connecting with its airline customers, Jim Crabbe, senior product manager at Boeing, told delegates at WSO2's developers' conference in San Francisco.

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Crabbe explained that the aviation industry has changed, with many of its customers having evolved "pain points".

"Many airlines are running very old apps and systems, and the cost of moving to a new estate is large and complex. They want to start leveraging a lot of the new technology out there but they have capital restraints and may not have the staff to do that, and so Boeing is listening to customers to learn about their challenges and is helping them to get free from their data, integrate better with the apps and products we provide them, and create business process workflows and new apps," he said.

Crabbe said the strategy for Boeing is to help push through a "digital airline".

"It's the idea of helping the airlines reach a stage where all of the data from the different entities, and pieces of their business model, are integrated and then can functionally move into the programme to make those real-time decisions about revenues and passengers," he stated.

He used an example of Boeing's new iPad app, which has helped mechanics to speed up their checks of planes, with the aim of getting more journeys out of each plane.

The new platform required an open-source SOA infrastructure, mainly because it had to be able to integrate with older proprietary platforms that the airlines used.

One of the key challenges for Boeing was to recruit the required staff, Crabbe said. "In Seattle we're based right next to Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services, so getting hold of these folks is tough and we had to plan ahead knowing it might take longer to bring the right resources into the team."

Once this was overcome, Boeing was able to integrate its products and services into its backlog of OEM aircraft data with airline back office systems. This has enabled airline operations to be strengthened and for the company to benefit from better decision making through analytics.

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