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Aircraft IT Operations - Autumn 2012

Author: Douglas Bernie
This article appears in Issue 7: the Autumn 2012 edition of the Aircraft IT Operations eJournal. For your own free subscription to the eJournal - click on 'SUBSCRIBE FOR FREE' for full details.

Air Canada Case Study: Speaking a Common Language; Improving Communications

Douglas Bernie, Manager of Airline Operations IT at Air Canada overviews the project to achieve better communications: its specification, outcome and the benefits achieved.

Air Canada is Canada's largest full-service airline and the largest provider of scheduled passenger services on the Canadian market, the Canada-U.S. trans-border market and in the international market to and from Canada. The carrier is a founding member of Star Alliance™ and, together with its regional partner, Air Canada Express, serves in excess of 32 million customers annually with direct passenger services delivered through more than 1200 daily flights to over 170 destinations on five continents. Fleet size exceeds 200 airplanes, consisting of mixed Boeing and Airbus wide body aircraft, and mixed Airbus/Embraer narrow body jets, while Air Canada Express operates CRJ and DH-8 regional airliners.

Motivation for changes


Due to the decommissioning of the legacy Ops System, Air Canada was seeking a new solution for alerting and communications. Modern software that could provide a one-stop-shop for the widest possible group of users seemed to be the desired solution. It was also hoped that a high-tech, maintenance-free, web-based solution would be much more cost effective than the legacy mainframe system being replaced. In addition, there was the need for a system that would inform about certain alerts or NOTAMs (notices to airmen) and perform the function of a communicator.

Project summary

Air Canada has achieved a major step towards easing the workload and increasing the efficiency of all divisions in the airline by delivering a complete airline communication solution using Smart COMM from Smart4Aviation. There can be alerts for NOTAMs, weather, operational data, MELs (minimum equipment lists), etc. It is also capable of being developed as the organization evolves. Departments, roles and alerting rules are all fully configurable and can be changed in minutes within the application, providing the flexibility necessary for today’s rapidly changing airline landscape.

The project

After many meetings, both parties (Air Canada and solution provider, Smart4Aviation) presented their requirements and shared ideas of how they would like the system to function, look and feel. The meeting resulted in many valuable ideas for solutions that came out in brainstorming sessions. Afterwards, the analysis and user interface design phase began. The requirements have been gathered, summed up and documented in a series of precise Use Case scenarios.

A mock-up user interface was prepared and made available on Smart4Aviation company servers so that Air Canada’s representatives could make final remarks and the solution’s look and feel could be tuned to the standards desired within the airline. Immediately after the authorities on the customer side had accepted the mock-up version of the Smart COMM and the Use-Case scenarios had been reviewed and approved, development of the solution commenced. The core message passing, routing and communication parts were the first to be coded and tested by the most experienced software engineers. In the meantime the user interface was developed and put into a working state.

The functional side of the project was divided into phases. Phase one was delivery of the functionality to Flight Dispatch department and for the communication with aircraft to be operational. Next step was the introduction of the solution to Load Agents and other operation-critical officers. Then, at the beginning of 2008, Air Canada identified a further need: a tool to maintain the assignments and roles by themselves, so that internal company users could extend the functionality of the product. This resulted in a major extension of Smart COMM by adding a powerful, yet intuitive Assignment Builder to manage and maintain the system functions, access rights, and message routing capabilities.

With implementation of the Assignment Builder, Air Canada could offer its other users the possibility of using the new tool. Airport, Maintenance and Departure Control, as well as System/Station Operations Control users were now able to fully take advantage of the new system’s power. One of the major milestones was not necessarily the day the new system went into production, but the date when the legacy Operations system was decommissioned.

The challenges

Air Canada required a communications solution that would fulfil a number of high-level functional requirements. A peer-to-peer internal communication tool was required with the ability for message prioritizing communication between departments using either the new system’s internal message capability or external SITA, AFTN, email: the airline also wanted to be able to utilize multicast messaging to specific user roles. Other requirements included auto response transaction messages, alerting and intuitive flight information display as well as allowing users to quickly reply to every message (excluding Alerts), forward it or copy its content plus the ability to provide an ACARS or SITA virtual reply-to addresses. Also important was to be able to present actual weather and NOTAM information based on user and to be able to make Responsibility selections.

Key features in the final solution

  • Real-time on-screen messaging and alerting;
  • Peer to Peer communication;
  • Two-way ACARS messaging;
  • Automatic ACARS uplink and downlink transactions;
  • Rule-based alerting (weather, NOTAM, ACARS, load, fuel, operational
  • events, MELs and much more);
  • Fuzzy logic message addressing;
  • Real time flight monitoring of turbulence, winds, and altitude variance;
  • Tight integration with Smart MET, Smart NOTAM MANAGER, Smart BRIEF, Smart FUELING and other Smart4Aviation products;
  • Archiving of all important communication events and operational messages;
  • Detailed history of events;
  • Customizable alerting rules and workloads;
  • Secure internet access;
  • ACARS initialization;
  • Fuel monitoring.

Benefits achieved with the new communications solution

Communications have been improved with the right information being delivered to the right people at the right time and there is also improved flight watch; alerting for en route conditions such as turbulence and altitude variance with shorter response and reactions times in crisis situations. There is now configurable alerting for the operational conditionals that users choose to monitor and the system has flexibility in that all rules and alerts are fully customizable. Information is filtered according to staff responsibilities and duties and the system facilitates improved collaboration on operational problems. Overall, there is increased security of flight operations combined with the efficiency of dealing with difficult or unexpected events by reduction of human workflow.

Product overview

Smart COMM application represents a major advance in streamlining and improving airline communication processes. Efficient communication ensures efficient operations. Flight Dispatch, Operations Control, Weight and Balance, Maintenance, Pilots, Aircraft Routing and Crew Scheduling can now collaborate on operational problems and situations, using a common platform. Users have a common view of the airline’s operation with critical information alerted in real time as changes occur. Communication between ground staff and aircraft via ACARS (Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System) is available with a single mouse click; Smart COMM treats an aircraft as just another user of the system, handling all complex ACARS coded message formatting behind the scenes. Furthermore, the System can respond to ACARS transaction requests issued by aircraft, as well as automatically alerting pilots to any relevant operational information, ensuring regulatory compliance for flight watch. The status of all flights can be monitored by an incorporated real-time Smart OPS module, which may serve as a one-stop-shop for numerous workflows involving communication, alerting and emergency response.

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