Per Hagman from Appear outlines the advantages that handheld computers have delivered to Portugal’s national carrier.
While every business considers its voice and data communication essential, there are some processes – like Maintenance, Repair, Overhaul (MRO) – that can be greatly improved using handheld devices. Recent research showed that airlines strongly believe in the value and benefits mobile devices and handheld connectivity can bring to these processes: more than 50% will have adopted handheld devices for maintenance and engineering within the next two years. Furthermore, statistics from the US Bureau of Transportation showed that 28.8 million minutes of aircraft delays in 2007 were caused by factors within the airlines’ control such as MRO, baggage loading and fuelling.
As a result, because of the impact on cost and aircraft turnaround times, more airlines will use digital handheld devices in the maintenance and engineering area of their operations than in any other.
The opportunity provided by handheld devices is to deliver complete, up-to-date information to maintenance mechanics, direct to the user’s fingertips. This includes immediate access to all data pertaining to a specific aircraft type or tail number, the ability to troubleshoot problems, look up the parts needed, and sign off on the paperwork, all without having to leave the side of the aircraft.
For example, maintenance crews spend a lot of unproductive time researching information on spare parts. The cost of a maintenance task is generally 75 – 80% labour. Therefore, each minute saved is valuable. Research also indicates that mechanics spend 20% to 30% of their time preparing to carry out a task for the current generation of aircraft. Much of that time is dedicated to research and collecting the necessary documentation. A further 10% of the mechanic’s time is spent documenting maintenance activities. The equivalent of several full-time employees may be dedicated to back office data entry.
In order to address such issues and help MRO organizations streamline their operations, SITA (the air transport industry communication solution supplier, headquartered in Geneva) and Appear (a Swedish mobile software specialist) have recently started the deployment of a mobile workforce solution for line maintenance. The solution was piloted with TAP Mainte-nance & Engineering (TAP M&E) in the Lisbon-Portela hub.
TAP Portugal operates a fleet of 68 aircraft, flying to 58 destinations in 25 countries around the world. TAP M&E, in its facilities at Lisbon Airport, employs about 1,950 persons, providing maintenance and engineering services for aircraft, engines and components.
With the introduction of data-centric mobile devices, TAP M&E realized that the line maintenance process could be improved, leading to more efficient and traceable turnaround jobs, fewer delays, better operational efficiency and audit trails.
In a world of quick turnarounds and constant changes to flight schedules, preliminary research showed that 50% of the delays directly caused by line maintenance could be avoided with better communication between sedentary station dispatchers and line maintenance staff.
The current solution deployed by SITA and Appear includes a central management server hosted in SITA Atlanta and a proxy server deployed in each airport (connected to TAP M&E’s backend IT) and client-side software in the handhelds in order to mobile-enable the notification of daily work-schedules, real-time updates and job cards as well as the data-entry of completed checks, and maintenance / parts substitutions.
Electronic registration of all engineering services provided by the MRO provider firstly ensures that compliance regulations are met and that all checks and job-cards are captured for invoicing, even in the case of ad-hoc services. Electronic task lists, electronic time stamps, rule-based alerts and notifications then provide enhanced operational control.
Next, changes in technology create an opportunity for business process reengineering, in order to deliver improved operational efficiency. Here a top priority is to re-engineer the line maintenance procedure, away from radio and pen and paper. Integrating mobile status information directly into a real-time MRO process with just-in-time proactive planning, adding flexibility and efficiency, can deliver 5-10% savings in workforce labour cost alone.
Finally, a data-centric mobile solution improves the audit trail and business intelligence. Electronic registration of all processes allows management to measure KPIs, identify operational bottlenecks and streamline business processes when possible.
However, one of the main challenges, when deploying the mobile solution, is usability. It is known that airline mechanics have very different requirements from sedentary workers: they focus on the field task and not on their computer. They work in a dynamic and distracting environment, not in a quiet, static location. As they are constantly moving from one location to another, they need real-time, instantaneous, on-the-spot information. With no time to browse and search, they need technology that is easy to understand, learn and use, even if mobile devices are not exactly like desktop computers, with their small screens and limited data-entry capabilities.
With context-aware technology, the user’s current situation is analysed in order to decide what services are presented to the user, when services are launched or stopped. This is very different compared to traditional desktop systems where direct user interaction is required (and wanted) for services to start. The user experience is quicker, simpler and more efficient. In practice, context information gives the mechanics instantly updated access to customised services and information.
The notification of daily work-schedules and their real-time updates includes the ability to report and update (in digital format) turnaround sheets, gate changes, ETA changes, flight cancellation and relevant cockpit communication. The scheduled and non-scheduled (ad hoc) job cards include the update of HILs (Hold Item Lists) and the reception of non-routine items (scheduled and non-scheduled).
The data-entry of completed checks, maintenance and parts substitutions includes the preventive maintenance checklists T, T1 and T2, as well as capability to report when a task has been completed and the aircraft can be released.
This is a major improvement to the previous situation, where aircraft mechanics would often have to cope with time-consuming radio-contacts to maintenance control and to dispatch, at a noisy parking stand, before being able to sign the release in the technical log-book.
Handheld devices also allow maintenance crews to receive immediate notifications of potential AOG situations, giving them more time to prepare the correct equipment, parts and support information, ahead of the aircraft’s arrival at the gate.
TAP M&E foresees that the solution – once rolled-out – will replace much of the existing manual paper-work, improve and speed up radio-communication and provide high levels of efficiency and accuracy in work execution, thereby enhancing reliability of the maintenance and ultimately delivering increased customer satisfaction. As a result, workforce efficiency is expected to increase substantially at its four hubs in Lisbon, Porto, Faro and Funchal.
Mobile MRO Solution:
Technical Requirements of a Future-Proof Solution
- Device-agnostic: client implementations based on Windows Mobile, Net CF.
- Network-agnostic: connectivity via multiple channels such as 3G, WiFi and GPRS.
- Application-independent: supports voice, video & data applications.
- Event/workflow logic: Context Engine including open APIs to connect to legacy systems.
- Interfaces to OCR and RFID/Auto-ID systems.
- Real-time locationing via multiple systems such as GPS, Cell-ID or WLAN fingerprinting.
- Standard connectors to MRO back end systems.
- Modular platform including device management, synchronization, notification and OTA push options.