Leave it to the world’s oldest airline to pioneer virtual and extended reality (VR and XR) technologies that help its operations soar. Founded in 1919, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines carries millions of passengers and tons of cargo annually to more than 160 destinations around the world.
Before an aircraft takes to the skies, however, ground crews, the cabin crew, and the pilots review meticulous checklists to ensure its readiness. Thousands of times each week, KLM personnel train on and re-confirm airliner standards using Matterport digital twins of airliners, easily accessible on the go from any mobile device or for remote classroom training on a computer.
Chris Koomen, Virtual Reality Engineer and Specialist at the KLM XR Center of Excellence, uses the immersive imagery of aircraft interiors and exteriors taken with Matterport Pro2 3D cameras to raise the bar in developing staff training that’s both convenient and efficient. A former aircraft mechanic, Koomen started KLM’s first VR team in 2015. Today, the company’s XR Center of Excellence manages a library of 104 digital twins that have been viewed nearly 900,000 times, including multiple versions for each of the 14 types of Boeing, Airbus, and Embraer aircraft that make up KLM’s fleet.
Elevating Avionics Training with Digital Twins
Koomen had just acquired KLM’s first Pro2 camera in 2017 and captured the cabin of a new 787 jet airliner when he flew onboard one of that aircraft’s first flights to the United States the next day. The Minneapolis-based ground crew had never cleaned this particular type of aircraft before, so upon landing, Koomen showed them the digital twin using a tablet, mobile phone, and a VR headset. He explained to them how you can virtually walk down the aisle of the cabin and see in photorealistic detail where the lavatories are located, which compartments are designated for tissue paper storage, where the service trolleys are stowed, and more.
“We came to find out later that the cleaners completed their work 15 minutes faster than normal that evening, without having seen that aircraft layout ever before. And they didn't make any mistakes,” says Koomen. “At first we thought it was a coincidence, but then we saw that every time we used the digital twins to familiarize crews in advance, they were an average of 30% faster. Recognizing the potential, we started to expand the program by capturing a digital twin of every aircraft type we fly.”
A different version of the digital twins is maintained for flight attendants, so they can study where important safety and hospitality items are found on each airliner. Mattertags call out key items such as the drop-down oxygen system, floor-level lighting, photoluminescent escape path strips, the emergency light switch, smoke detectors, and fire extinguishers. Flight attendants navigating the digital twin for training can rotate around to view the various hatches designated for ice, towels, beverages, cutlery, and food. Even a large group of staff can maneuver around the narrow spaces simultaneously when moving through the cabin virtually, which is difficult to do on an airplane in real life.
Improving Work Efficiency
Pilots can refer to the digital twins on an impromptu basis in their daily pre-flight walks around an aircraft. With Matterport technology, a pilot on the tarmac can collaborate remotely with an engineer back in the operations center, launching a web conference and screen sharing a digital twin as a gold standard for comparison, to pinpoint an issue.
Koomen recalls a flight that was preparing for boarding to Basel when the pilot detected what he thought was an unusual sound near an engine. “He got an engineer on the phone to help identify the equipment making the noise. By instantly pulling up the digital twin on his mobile device, the pilot was quickly able to see the avionics cooling system, zooming in for a close-up view with the engineer to help determine and address the concern, mitigating any operational impacts,” says Koomen.
Scheduled training can be more flexibly accommodated when held online using digital twins of airliners. Cockpits captured in 3D complement the flight simulators and other instructional technologies used by pilots. Crew members in training can enhance their classroom work with virtual visits to aircraft at any time of day and walk around as many times as they would like.
Our digital twin archive is great for learning and retention because it enriches what our employees learn on paper. They can visualize being on board and better internalize work processes,” Koomen says.
The approach eliminates ripple effects on the many resources impacted by a physical visit to an aircraft. “With digital twins, groups of trainees or other visitors need not disrupt the maintenance work of a plane in the hangar, for example, enabling it to get back into service faster,” says Koomen.
It also saves on travel for large numbers of staff and stakeholders who would otherwise need to drive or fly to KLM’s base at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. As a result, internal operations-related viewers make up a large part of the 1,000 daily visits to KLM’s online digital twin collection.
Links to the digital twins are included in KLM’s manuals as well as fleet asset management documentation, aiding in keeping technical information up to date. “It’s very helpful for our asset management processes to supplement all the specs and other written information with rich visual data from the airliner digital twins,” Koomen says.
When a team was working to upgrade the Wi-Fi routers KLM uses for one type of aircraft, workers used the digital twin to identify the best locations for installation. “With the measurement tool integrated into Matterport digital twins, the team was able to confirm measurements and optimize the placement decisions remotely, which was especially valuable for keeping the project on track during the COVID era,” says Koomen.
Promoting Seating to Travelers
KLM passengers can also access digital twins of aircraft cabins. Any passenger flying with KLM can tour any section of the cabin to select their ideal seat, evaluate the view out the windows in relation to the aircraft wings, and appreciate the direct access to an aisle from every business class seat. One Dreamliner digital twin has proven particularly popular, with more than 70,000 views to date.
“Our beautiful Dreamliner cabin imagery helps demonstrate the extra value of our cushy business class seating, with its individual privacy partitions, power and USB outlets, and top-of-the-line entertainment systems,” Koomen says. The Dreamliner digital twin even takes the opportunity to show off gourmet business class meals and one of the KLM Delft Blue miniature houses, which are ceramic depictions of real-life, quaint Dutch buildings and filled with Dutch gin. Considered collector’s items, the houses are only given out to KLM’s intercontinental business class passengers.
“The digital twins provide a wonderful sneak peek at the elevated experience our business class guests enjoy, while underscoring what an innovative airline KLM is,” Koomen says. “We hope they motivate more travelers to embark on journeys of inspiration with us.”
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ABOUT KLM ROYAL DUTCH AIRLINES
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, founded in 1919, offers flights to key economic centers worldwide, including more than 90 European cities and 70 intercontinental destinations.
Transportation and Travel
Improve training and access to aircraft for training purposes without tying up the airline’s most expensive assets, airplanes
Matterport Pro2 3D cameras
Make Matterport digital twins of airliners available online in multiple versions for various uses, from ground crew familiarization to pilot training, for ultimate training safety and flexibility while also reducing the company’s carbon footprint
- Reduce carbon footprint and costs with multiple versions of airliner digital twins for many virtual training uses, driving nearly 900,000 views of 104 digital twins due to fewer travel movements of crew
- Mitigate operational impacts with instant mobile access to digital twins during pre-flight pilot walkarounds
- Enhance traveler services by highlighting seating choices, including promoting cabin and hospitality upgrades
- Shorten cleaning crew initial familiarization and clean-up work for a new aircraft by 30%