How cloud technology can deliver improvements in aerospace testing and development


By Abby Kearns, executive director of the Cloud Foundry Foundation

Aerospace is an industry that captures the imagination of every person on earth. Flying is a challenging and technical endeavor that today requires massive amounts of computing power, security and reliability to achieve.

Aviation literally takes place in the clouds and so too should the testing and development that enables it. In other words, the aerospace sector can benefit from implementing cloud native technologies in testing and development.

US Air Force flies to cloud

US federal agencies are mandated by the US government to speed up cloud deployments to improve efficiency and better serve the public. When the US Air Force adopted agile methodologies and open architecture to process and disseminate data, the agency’s research lab rapidly modernized an expensive and ageing intelligence system.

By embracing cloud native technologies engineers can have an agile environment to test ideas and theories. Cloud technologies can increase the speed at which they can deploy applications at scale in a secure framework. With lower costs and an easier path to upgrade systems based on Cloud Foundry technology, the US Air Force now brings new ideas to fruition quicker.

The branch of military responsible for development of military space research has also moved away from custom-built apps and hardware controlled by outside vendors. This has enabled it to make changes faster and at a lower cost. Within three years of moving key operations to the cloud, the US Air Force estimates it slashed the time needed to implement new ideas by 70% and avoided hundreds of millions of dollars in wasteful expenditures.

Air France-KLM transformation

Commercial companies in the aerospace industry can also adapt their testing and development framework to the cloud. When Air France-KLM wanted to modernize its business for the 21st century, it worked to understand the opportunities presented by running applications in the cloud and sought to evolve its business by embracing practices that would become vital to its objective.

The international airline, which carries around 100 million passengers per year, has been working with Cloud Foundry since 2018 to drive its digitization efforts forward and increase the amount of business it does through partnerships with leading tech partners in the travel market. Ultimately, the organization wants to deploy more than 1,000 applications in the cloud.

As part of that effort, Air France-KLM’s team is adhering to the 12-factor app approach, wherein it searches for code that meets its needs, acquires it and binds services to it. The organization’s development and operations (devops) team is also focused on platform enhancement and operations, as it moves forward on building out a deeper service catalog.

“We are not on an island,” says Nathan Wattimena, an operations specialist at Air France-KLM, who explains the team needs. “To enable self-service and transformation for the company. We are doing this by working to standardize Air France-KLM through a structured platform abstraction and open service brokers, while also reducing technical debt.”

With at least 50 apps in production today, the airline is expanding its devops team and deploying across three on-premises data centers and availability zones. The organization is also embracing what Wattimena describes as the “dojo process,” in which team members are encouraged to build, measure and learn.

Air France-KLM is also taking great care to remove complexities for its developers and empower them to code in any language, using whichever databases and middleware they want without having to worry about managing the infrastructure.

American Airlines pins future to the cloud

American Airlines, the world’s largest airline by fleet size, revenue and passengers carried, is also no stranger to the cloud.

“It’s literally what we do. It’s our job to take you to the clouds and back,” Eric Swanson, principal architect at American Airlines, said in a keynote at Cloud Foundry Summit event in 2019.

American Airlines has embraced a hybrid multi-cloud strategy that allows developers to choose a cloud setup that makes the most sense for their systems. To foster greater development and transition its most critical apps to the cloud, the airline has built multiple private and dedicated public instances.

“The private and dedicated instances allow teams to make small, incremental steps toward cloud and not a binary choice between on-premise and public cloud,” Swanson said. With 130,000 employees and 6,700 flights serving about 500,000 passengers every day, it’s imperative that American Airlines proceeds methodically and with rigor as it moves applications to cloud.

While a cloud strategy seemed like an impossible idea for airlines a decade ago, employee HR benefits and resources, social media activity, and customer bookings are all delivered in the cloud today.

Aerospace organizations must also recognize the benefits of adapting their technical processes and operations to an open source cloud native platform. Cloud technology will help improve processes in aerospace testing and development in a similar way to the examples described above.


Abby Kearns has nearly twenty years of experience in the tech industry and has worked across product marketing, product management and consulting across Fortune 500 companies and startups. As Executive Director of Cloud Foundry Foundation, Abby oversees the ecosystem of developers, users and applications running on Cloud Foundry.

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About Author


Ben has worked as a journalist and editor, covering technology, engineering and industry for the last 20 years. Initially writing about subjects from nuclear submarines to autonomous cars to future design and manufacturing technologies, he was editor of a leading UK-based engineering magazine before becoming editor of Aerospace Testing in 2017.

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