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Case Study: AirTanker: an MRO/M&E software implementation
Author: Ian Thatcher, Engineering Manager, AirTanker Services Ltd. and Ian Kent, Aviation Consultant, RusadaSubscribe
AirTanker: an MRO/M&E software implementation
Ian Thatcher, Engineering Manager, AirTanker Services Ltd. and Ian Kent, Aviation Consultant, Rusada share the challenges of an Implementation in a complex operational environment
We want to share with readers the case study about an implementation completed in 2016 of a software solution to support maintenance, repair and overhaul as well as maintenance and engineering activities within a complex operational environment. In 2016, AirTanker went live with Envision MRO/M&E solution from Rusada. AirTanker is no ordinary operation and the joint implementation team faced a number of challenges throughout the process, but together delivered a successful project. This case study will share some of those issues and how they were resolved. But first, we’ll introduce you to the main protagonists, AirTanker and Rusada.
AirTanker is responsible for delivering aircraft, infrastructure, service, training and expertise in support of Voyager, the RAF’s new generation multi-role tanker and transport aircraft, the unique nature of the organization, the operation and the aircraft meant an equally unique set of challenges when implementing a new MRO/M&E software system.
The business is a consortium of leading aerospace, defence and facilities management specialists (Airbus Group, Rolls-Royce, Thales, Cobham and Babcock) which were awarded the Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft (FSTA) contract for RAF Voyager by the UK Ministry of Defence in 2008. This is for the supply of an air-to-air refuelling, air transport and aeromedical evacuation capability, plus associated service and infrastructure. The RAF contract includes delivery of a core fleet of nine Voyager A330 aircraft with optional surge capability rights on a further five – a total of 14 aircraft. The service includes operational and planning control; aircraft maintenance and dispatch; a full flight crew and training service; plus two-bay purpose built hangar, operational centre and support personnel to deliver it.
As part of its agreement with the UK MOD, AirTanker assumes all responsibility for ‘wear and tear’, plus associated aircraft maintenance and engineering activity. Irrespective of which aircraft register they fly on, military or civilian, all program aircraft are maintained to civilian EASA/CAA (European Aviation Safety Agency/Civil Aviation Authority) standards. AirTanker Services is a Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) Part M certified continuing airworthiness management organisation (CAMO) and as a Part 145 maintenance organisation. Engineering work is delivered ‘in-house’ by a CAA Part 66 qualified engineering team that includes civilian, Sponsored Reservist and RAF engineers in AirTanker’s purpose-built hangar at RAF Brize Norton.
The aircraft, Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT), is an aerial refuelling tanker aircraft based on the civilian Airbus A330. The Voyager is a variant of the A330 MRTT operated by the RAF in two versions, KC2 (two wing mounted refuelling capabilities) and KC3 (as KC2 plus a further rear fuselage mounted capability). Uniquely, the aircraft have two supplemental type certificates (STCs) which allow for operation in military or civilian configuration.
The aircraft have multi-role capabilities including air-to-air refueling, air transport as a 291 seat passenger jet, air cargo and in an aeromedical role. They can also operate as civilian aircraft and AirTanker offers that service under an ACMI (aircraft, crew, maintenance and insurance) basis to airlines that want to charter additional capacity. On the military side, AirTanker provides QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) as part of the UK airspace defense mechanism with aircraft always on standby to refuel RAF fighter jets; scheduled services for military personnel; routine AAR (air-to-air refueling) operations; medical evacuations and supporting special operations. On the civilian side, one aircraft is in civilian mode for a twice-weekly scheduled service between the UK and the Falkland Islands. AirTanker’s leasing capability is a significant part of the business which provides ACMI commercial leasing using the ‘surge’ aircraft and has the potential to lease aircraft within the Defense sector.
Rusada has been providing MRO / M&E IT solutions to the aviation industry since 1987. It’s a global company with over 100 employees operating worldwide with offices in North America, UK, Switzerland, Dubai, India, and Singapore. Their solution, Envision, is used by airlines, helicopter operators, VIP fleet, MRO, and line maintenance facilities with more than 100 implementations worldwide. Envision is both integrated and modular covering the full suite of MRO/M&E functional requirements
MRO/M&E IT LANDSCAPE PRIOR TO IMPLEMENTATION
AirTanker’s previous situation included an ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system that had been there since the commencement of operations but was a standard ERP with a modified layer designed to suit specific maintenance and engineering requirements. In addition to that, even in the short time since operations commenced in 2011, the business had acquired a plethora of end user developed applications, working either as a bolt-on to that core ERP system or as stand-alone systems, to overcome perceived deficiencies with the core ERP application.
As a result, there were a number of issues including:
- High cost of ownership;
- Many versions of the truth (different systems all telling the organization different things);
- The system was inefficient in managing the complexity of the aircraft;
- Lack of clear visibility and easy access to business critical information which was hindering business growth and development;
- Reliance on external suppliers and services for support leading to long turn arounds, adding further to the high cost of ownership;
- Lack of trust in the core application data causing divisions within the organisation and reducing cohesiveness, thereby hindering progress.
SELECTING A SOLUTION AND PROVIDER
Bearing all that in mind, AirTanker went to the market with a view to replacing their ERP system with something more MRO/M&E capable. They went through a standard selection process defining their requirements and going to market with an RFP (request for proposal) from which they evaluated responses and shortlisted two suppliers. There were then on-site demonstrations and customer site reference visits as a result of which, AirTanker contracted with Rusada to deliver the Envision solution. The project was initiated and implementation teams formed with specialists from AirTanker, Babcock (the consortium member responsible for the provision of IT), Rusada and external consultants. This project was also undertaken as part of a larger IT transformation programme within AirTanker to address IT infrastructure, HR systems finance, and flight operations, so the MRO/M&E aspect was just a sub-set of the larger program. Go-Live was in July 2016.
We’ve already referred to the unique nature of AirTanker’s operation and aircraft and that did create a number of challenges.
Challenges – Asset Management
- The aircraft’s multi-role / multi configuration capability gave rise to a need to be able to manage that complex and ever-changing configuration. The ability to re-role the aircraft very quickly (sometimes in a matter of hours) meant that the M&E business had to quickly be able to match that. Even on the large scale where, theoretically, they can take an aircraft that is in military configuration and be requested to do a conversion to a civilian configuration or vice-versa in a very short time, the software had to be able to deal with that.
- A complex, developing maintenance schedule with role and configuration based task dependencies. Although the aircraft is based on a standard A330, the additional elements of military equipment and refuelling equipment meant that the maintenance program itself was fairly immature, and constantly changing and developing. The software solution had to be able to adapt to that.
- The aircraft has multiple life code requirements so, in addition to standard life counts such as airframe hours, cycles, engine hour cycles, APU, there are a number of components on the aircraft which are tracked in different life counts. For instance, refuelling equipment is measured in fuelling cycles of the hose units that are part of that system.
These were all challenges so Rusada spent significant time (several months) with SMEs (subject matter experts) from the organization in looking at the aircraft itself and helping AirTanker understand the best way to build the configurations within the system to make it administratively less burdensome going forward. This was probably one of the largest critical path items on the implementation plan. It was also necessary to enhance and develop functionality to aid the transfer from one model to another. There is the ability within the application to manage the configuration but it was necessary also to be able to very quickly switch between models. Process changes were made to capture non airframe related utilization. One of the problems identified was that, for some of the equipment, the utilization was unpredictable and recording of actual utilization was not being done frequently enough which led to planning problems. The process was changed as part of the implementation effort to optimize that so that some benefits were generated. Rusada also developed capability to manage engine factorization: one problem with the aircraft is that it doesn’t generally operate like a standard civilian airliner and might take-off, climb, descend, climb again and descend again several times as part of a sortie profile. That gives rise to limitation factors on an engine which needed to be dealt with and so a mechanism was developed to help manage that issue.
Challenges – Operation
There were a huge number of challenges in this area. The Royal Air Force does not operate like a civilian airline in terms of having future plans, flying plans going out 18 months or longer; in fact they would be unlikely to know what they would be doing three months in advance. And even when a schedule was put in place, it would be subject to frequent changes on a scale greater than would be the case in the civilian operation. With varying utilization, aircraft can go from sitting on the ground operating in a quick reaction alert mode with no or very minimal flying to operating in theatre at utilization levels that are matching as much as you would see in a typical civilian operation. And those aircraft could see such changes every day causing problems with planning going forward. Aircraft in this fleet need to maintain a very high state of operational readiness for defense purposes and they also have multiple customers; not only the RAF but the ACMI customers, all with different requirements and priorities.
To overcome these challenges, Rusada developed an interface to AirTanker’s flight operations system and refined their operational planning process to deliver much better control over managing maintenance in the short term. It’s difficult to do so in the long term when you don’t know what the long term flying planning is, but it was certainly possible to get some benefits in the short term. Also, AirTanker was given better access to real time maintenance information and aircraft status reports which offers much better support for decision making when reacting to operational changes. There’s also better long term maintenance planning, avoiding conflicts with maintenance schedules. There was a particular problem with each customer placing heavy demands on base maintenance resources without consideration for what else was going on within the program. So Rusada did a lot of work with helping the client plan that level of maintenance.
Challenges – Organization
AirTanker had an evolving and changing business model with a complex organisational structure. Each partner in the consortium is both a shareholder and a supplier which can cause conflicts of opinion. In a similar way, AirTanker has complex contractual requirements – a complex contract with the Royal Air Force which results in a heavy reliance on performance reporting – and security restrictions both in dealing with aircraft data and with access to premises. There is mixed manning with people who work for AirTanker and who work for the Royal Air Force but both within the same organization. The MRO/M&E IT project was part of a bigger transformation program and there was a high reliance on governance with Rusada having to deal a lot more with external auditors than had been their previous experience. And finally, there was complex external oversight, not only the Civil Aviation Authority, Military Aviation Authority and EASA but also project teams within the Ministry of Defence who are overseeing the contract and dealing with military, CAMO, and INTA (Spanish military regulator) as well.
This set of challenges were overcome mainly by putting in a dedicated implementation team from Rusada, who were consistent throughout the implementation, as well as a senior management team holding regular project reviews. It was also important to have a flexible implementation approach with the priorities changing quickly and significantly throughout the implementation so that the team could be ready to adapt to those changing priorities mentioned above, and evolving requirements. Rusada delivered a high degree of support during the training phase to deal with the different bases of users.
One thing that was consistent throughout the organization was the need to access information. It was a major issue largely driven by their contractual requirements which included a high burden of providing information not only to their primary customers but also to the regulatory authorities and various interested parties. Maintenance control, which Ian headed up at the time of this project and implementation, is a conduit for information flow throughout the organization so Rusada put in a lot of effort to help them overcome their particular issues.
The program made extensive use of Microsoft Reporting Services as a standard way to access information within the application which enabled them to develop a large quantity of highly configured and customized reports that dealt with Airtankers specific requirements. And extensive use was also made of automated tools that manage the production and distribution of that information, again, throughout the organization, both internally and externally. That particular effort has resulted in a significant reduction in administration within the Maintenance Control department.
A handover functionality was developed so that departments within the organization who were working on a shift basis can help each oncoming shift understand the current situation and that enables them to better manage the status of the aircraft. There is also a lot of use of custom fields and forms, a capability within the application but it’s been used extensively in this case to help AirTanker manage the unique sets of data that they have which are to do with the type of operation or the fact that these are military aircraft.
A lot of reports have been developed that support daily operational decision making: there’s a lot of regular review of the operational program and the status of the aircraft which, prior to the implementation of the system, was being done using either no data or out-of-date data. That has now been significantly improved and the day-to-day situational awareness is much greater than it was before.
CURRENT STATUS AND NEXT STEPS
The implementation is twelve months in and many benefits have been realized for AirTanker:
- A truly integrated solution;
- A reduction in the number of standalone and bolt-on systems;
- A reduced administrative burden on technical resources, freeing those resources to better get on with the job they are employed to do;
- Just one version of the truth;
- A better awareness of overall workload;
- Better situational awareness regarding the status of the fleet;
- Faster analysis and distribution of information;
- A clear improvement in the trust and cooperation between departments.
The project is now in a review and consolidation phase – not every decision was right first time, one example being ADD (acceptable deferred defects) management where AirTanker implemented a process that through experience has shown that was not the right decision so efforts are being made to revise that and make changes.
AirTanker, supported by the Rusada implementation team, have continued project activity to continually review progress and deal with issues. This includes weekly reviews with SME’s, bi-monthly focus groups and dedicated working groups set up with the aim of resolving issues and introducing improvements. The focus in the last year has been on operational support and now moving towards developing and exploiting the enhanced level of information available, and turning that into information that can help to better manage the business. There is a plan to move to the latest release of Envision, Envison nGen, to exploit improved user interface, data warehouse and enhanced workflow capabilities.
Some key messages to come out of this project include:
- Not every organisation is the same;
- One size doesn’t fit all;
- Accept best practice where possible and beneficial;
- Look for a software solution that is flexible and adaptable enough to meet your business needs;
- It’s all about finding the right balance;
- Look for an implementation partner that can truly understand your business, your issues and someone that can really add value by delivering a solution optimised for your needs;
- Accept that project goals and priorities will change during an implementation and be ready to adapt;
- Recognise that the project is not finished at Go-Live; there will always be a period for consolidation, a time for review, and a chance to do continuous change and improvement.
AirTanker has successfully deployed the Envision solution and share their experience, best practice and need for adaptability and flexibility in both the software solution and the implementation strategy, as no two implementations are ever the same.
Ian Thatcher a B1/B2/C EASA authorised engineer, having worked as a Line Engineer, Maintenance Control Engineer and Engineering Manager, currently responsible for the Continuing Airworthiness at an Airline operating 14 A330 -200 / Voyager Aircraft in multiple roles. The core customer utilises 11 aircraft with 3 Aircraft leased out to UK leisure airlines.
Ian Kent is a business consultant for Rusada with over thirty years’ experience gained primarily within aircraft maintenance and continued airworthiness management organisations plus significant expertise in computerized MRO systems. He has been involved in system developments and implementations with several Airlines and MROs. Ian is a qualified Aeronautical engineer and skilled in project management and business process analysis and improvement. Prior to Rusada, Ian worked for AirTanker as Maintenance Planning manager on the Voyager fleet.
AirTanker has responsibility for delivering, maintaining and supporting the tasking of Voyager to provide a cutting-edge air-to-air refuelling operational capability to the RAF. AirTanker Services is a Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) Part M certified continuing airworthiness management organisation and as a Part 145 maintenance organisation.
Rusada is a provider of MRO IT solutions to the aviation industry since 1987 and a global company with around 100 employees operating worldwide with offices in North America, UK, Switzerland, Dubai, India, and Singapore. ENVISION, is used by airlines, helicopter operators, VIP fleet, MRO and line maintenance facilities in more than 100 implementations worldwide.