Case Study: Avion Express path to the Paperless Cockpit
Author: Olegs Krisovatijs, Vice President Production, AVION EXPRESSSubscribe
Avion Express path to the Paperless Cockpit
Olegs Krisovatijs, Vice President Production, AVION EXPRESS and Jens Pisarski, COO, International Flight Support outline Avion Express’s iOS based EFB project
Words: Olegs Krisovatijs, Vice President Production, AVION EXPRESS and Jens Pisarski, COO, International Flight Support
It’s always useful to be able to tap into the experience of others when undertaking any program, and it is in this vein that we’d like to share with the readers the experience of Avion Express when implementing an Electronic Flight Bag (EFB). As with any case study, it is always useful for the reader to learn something about the subject of the program being shared, in this case, Avion Express.
As the largest narrow body ACMI (Aircraft, Crew, Maintenance and Insurance) operator in the world, in 2018 Avion Express fleet reached its largest size yet of 18 Airbus A320 family aircraft. These provide services for clients in Europe, South America and Asia-Pacific. The portfolio of customers includes such blue-chip companies as Thomas Cook Group Airlines, Onur Air, SunExpress, Norwegian, Transavia, Vueling: see figure 1 for the full story.
Avion Express has been growing significantly over recent years, and the company strives to maintain its position of the market leader while providing its customers with a consistent high level of service.
In Europe, Avion Express has an extensive network of flights to fifty or sixty destinations. Throughout the summer, the company locates its bases in the UK, Germany, and Turkey. In winter, while maintaining some of the European bases, Avion Express also operates in South America and Asia-Pacific to cover operations during a low season. Nevertheless, some customers prefer a ‘damp’ lease arrangement in which they sometimes supply their own cabin crew. That said, in the peak months Avion Express is able to provide their clients with over 200 flight crew and over 160 cabin crew.
THE EFB PROGRAM AT AVION EXPRESS
For the EFB program itself, we’ll look at why it was needed, what solution the operator selected, how it was implemented and where Avion Express is today.
The need for a new solution – previous practices
Previous practices were based on the printing of all operational flight plans (OFP) and crew briefings which were quite lengthy with all the NOTAMS, weather information and so forth. Often, for a full return flight, the documentation was up to 90 or 100 pages. That was a significant amount of paper and it took time to get reports from the bases to Avion Express headquarters in Vilnius.
With the aircraft operating away from headquarters, it was hard to get the reports filed with a reliance on stations sending their material in on a regular basis. Therefore, all the documents were reaching the office with delays of seven to ten days or even longer for more distant stations. Furthermore, the process required a lot of manual inputs which led to clerical errors on operational flight plans and in fulfilling all of the recommendations. So, it was decided that the best solution was to move to a fully electronic process and to become more advanced in terms of IT technology.
By replacing all the briefings throughout the year to support a fleet of eighteen aircraft, Avion Express estimates that there will be a saving of around 700,000 pages of paper which equates to 80 trees saved every year, making a move to becoming more environmentally friendly as well as efficient.
The solution selected
Avion Express selected IFS as the flight bag provider and, at the same time, chose, in 2018, to switch from the cockpit-based iPads to personal iPads issued to pilots to support better operational awareness with crew members. IFS is now one of the cornerstones in Avion Express processes (figure 2) with connections throughout the API (Application Programming Interface) interfaces to all the other systems.
A couple of the major connections, of course, are to the Ops Control System (Ops and crewing) from where the system pulls all the schedules, crew times and so on. There is also an API to the flight planning system, NAVBLUE, in order to show all the operational flight plans and pull out information from the flight planning system as well. For the future, solution providers suggest that it will be possible to connect chart applications from NAVBLUE with IFS iCharts application, as well as to copy the ATC (Air Traffic Control) flight plan and paste it directly into the charts application. Pilots will not need to push the ‘copy’ button and then ‘paste’, in order to place material on the clipboard; they will simply switch to the other application and represent the flight path (horizontal and vertical) on the iCharts application in one click. And, later on, it will be useful to have the performance chart available.
What has already been achieved is that all the information from the system goes directly into all the systems which are updated on the spot so that when the pilots arrive, they switch on the routers in the cockpit and send all the post-flight recommendations to the flight operations department. So, whenever the flight has landed, it is only 10 or 15 minutes until Avion Express gets all the information about the flight – not seven to ten days later, as before.
As with any project, Avion Express was determined not to rush with the implementation but also divided the project into three phases.
The first phase was commenced in September 2018 and, at the time, the EFB and IFS application was a secondary source of information with the paper OFP being the primary source. Around 900 flights were conducted using the system; all connectivity to other systems was checked and, after everyone was satisfied with the results, in about one month, the program moved on to the next phase.
With nearly a thousand flights in the phase, Avion Express was satisfied with the results that had been achieved, including getting better fuel predictions by correcting the flight planning systems. This allowed users to see whether the fuel predictions were correct and allowed regular real time data tracking, which has now become a standard practice in the company.
In October 2018, the program switched to phase 2 and EFB became the primary source for information while the paper OFP became the back-up.
There are over 43 nationalities working in Avion Express so naturally there were some cultural issues to make the move from wholly paper to a wholly electronic system. To make the transition smoother, Avion Express decided to proceed with a parallel phase during which time the OFP was still printed but for reference only: there was no need to complete it but, for a short period of time, that helped pilots to feel comfortable because pilots are, like everybody, creatures of habit, and the operator wanted to make sure that everybody felt comfortable on the flight deck.
In December 2018, after all the flights had been handled in the system for a couple of months, Avion Express totally removed paper from the flight deck and moved on to Phase 3.
BENEFITS FROM THE NEW EFB SOLUTION
Like any company, Avion Express has certain KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), targets and goals. In particular, it is important to be able to provide reports and information about block hours to the Finance Department to be able to charge clients in a timely fashion. Moreover, crew salaries also need to be calculated. With IFS, the company has managed to ensure that all of the monthly operational information is received on the first day of the next month. Previously, due to the delays, all the calculations from the Finance, Operations, and Crewing Departments were also delayed, so EFB has been a real advantage.
Another important thing is that since flight operations now get the reports on a timely basis or in real time, it is possible to adjust crew flying and rest periods, as well as the next sequence flight periods right away. When the crew arrives at the base, the operator already knows that the next day they might have to be delayed by five, ten or any number of minutes. The system makes it easy to avoid situations when, due to potential gap of a couple of minutes between planned and actual crew working time, a warning occurs before the flight, just after all the documents are received and all the information entered into the system.
As already mentioned above, fuel prediction adjustments have been made. As a result, Avion Express managed to get from several hundred kilos of difference on fuel predictions to actual difference of just a couple of kilos, and that is in just one and a half months with the new solution.
Avion Express will continue working on that in a constant process to further improve it. In practice, it has been clear that the solution is sufficiently flexible to meet the airline’s needs, can be customized, and it is not something simply off-the-shelf but can be designed by the user business to match their requirements with the ability to create their own work rules: making it the best solution for the client company.
[[This next section will need to get a slightly different visual treatment as it is more about the IFS product than about Avion Express]]
SOME WORKFLOW EXAMPLES OF THE IFS EFB CHOSEN BY AVION EXPRESS
The platform that Avion Express selected was IFS’s iOS based solution but it is not a standard system. IFS does not offer a standard off-the-shelf software solution but each version is designed for the airline or operator who will be using it: a unique and bespoke software platform. So, if one customer’s platform is being updated, it will not affect other customers. This also means that users can retain all of the customized workflows that have been created for them by IFS. So, this is not about how the IFS system looks but rather how Avion Express system has been set up with module workflow and content workflow.
The solution can be presented for use as aircraft assigned units with each aircraft locked to its assigned unit or it can be presented as flights on a personal unit with the actual flights for a specific crew member. Depending on how the user wants to do it, the system can present the latest flight data as well as MEL (minimum equipment list) and defects data coming from the maintenance system.
There is also an overview section with data coming from the scheduling and crew planning system for review with a workflow menu system divided into ‘before take-off’, ‘in-flight’ and ‘post flight’. And then, if the user, for instance, goes into the ‘before take-off’ section’, they will have access to the briefing package on PDF just as information, which allows the operator to certify the system much faster because most CAAs prefer that airlines and operators actually have a copy of the PDF package in the initial CAA flight test phase, even though there is also an electronic OFP (operational flight plan) which is better. But the PDF satisfies the CAA. And there is access to different functions like weather provided by the weather provider or by the flight planning system integrated to standard and non-standard interfaces.
Pre-flight reporting offers another fully customized set-up with a fuel planning page which can be quite simple and short or longer and more complex depending on the kind of missions the airline or operator flies. An ATIS (Automatic Terminal Information Service) and ATC (Air Traffic Control) clearance note taker module is available in the pre-flight section plus in the in-flight and in the post-flight sections so that, if the pilot gets a clearance enroute, there’s no need to go back to an earlier stage to find this module. The ATIS and ATC note taker module can be run with finger notes or stylus notes and will be captured as part of the pre-flight and post-flight report. Avion Express chose that the pilots should use clean shorthand notes and write them in as a data report for the information they are receiving. That’s available but not all airlines utilize it.
Then there are RSVM (Reduced Vertical Separation Minima) checks in the in-flight section of the system. There is an electronic OFP (eOFP) where the ETA (estimated time of arrival) will be automatically calculated; displaying a red figure or pop-up alarm where the calculation shows a warning – if, say, it finds there will be insufficient fuel at one of the waypoints.
The next section is post-flight reporting, which is also customized with GeNDec (general declaration) and NOTOC (Notice to Commander) plus several e-Reporting modules in case the user wishes to register all their reports… the flight safety report, cabin security checks and so on. This can be provided in a separate eReporting module which can be integrated with the safety management system. There are many options and IFS integrates to about 45 different IT systems on the aviation market within flight planning systems, scheduling, crew planning, safety management, maintenance systems and so on. There is a sign-off page, also customized even though Avion Express operates within EASA’s area, there are still EASA countries who would not allow sign-on based on username and password but who want a handwritten signature to support that and that can be combined in any way that is required. In many countries, it’s necessary to sign the walk-around check with a hand-written signature whereas the pre-flight report can be signed with username and password. While in another EASA country it might be the opposite but the flexible platform can deal with those variations for today or in the future.
There is a night mode for the display. Some airlines like a white screen with black or gray text while others choose the black screen all of the time; it’s down to customer preference.
BACK OFFICE ENGINE
The back office system has an OCC Overview portal where users can see all the movements on the EFB system so that OCC can monitor the flight plan data coming in, the weather, that the crew has checked in, that the pre-flight report has been submitted on time (if not, there will be an audible alarm and a pop-up warning). This helps the OCC keep on their toes when things get busy. There is a database where all the flight data is collected with the briefing kits, everything is stored for five years for clients and IFS normally hosts all data for all clients. A local-hosted solution can be delivered but usually the IT network system of most airlines are not, shall we say, designed specifically for fast two-way EFB data traffic. In the IFS environment, clients are not sharing resources and will have full connection speed no matter where the users are in the world.
There are many report options and possibilities, including to export all flight data into the client’s network, into their IT systems and with specific reports as Avion Express has done. It’s like a building block system which can be constantly worked on to get improved new features, new set-ups, new modules… it’s a system that will be the path to a paperless cockpit now and in the future.
Olegs Krisovatijs joined AVION EXPRESS in 2015 as OCC Manager and was appointed Vice President Production in 2017. He has worked for Smartlynx Airlines, Primera Air and Latcharter Airlines in various operational manager positions. Olegs has been Lead Project Manager for the EFB selection and implementation process at AVION EXPRESS. He is now leading the Production team.
Jens Pisarski has worked for the last 26 years within the flight operations software industry. He was a leading force in establishing Danish flight planning software provider AIR SUPPORT PPS. During the Last seven years Jens Pisarski has been Chief Operating Officer and Partner of IFS, the company behind the PFB Paperless Flight Bag software solution.
Avion Express was established in 2005 as Nordic Solutions Air Services, operating four Saab 340 cargo and passenger aircraft. In 2008 the company was re-branded to its current name Avion Express, and is now the largest narrow-body ACMI provider in the world, headquartered in Vilnius. Since the introduction of its first Airbus A320 in 2011, the company has reached its largest fleet of 18 Airbus A320 family aircraft in 2018 and ended 2018 with its record production result of over 52,500 block hours.
IFS is a leading technology supplier in Europe and the creator of the Paperless Flight Bag™. The Paperless Flight Bag™ can be delivered as an EFB platform for selected modules/services or as a full suite of modules which are fully integrated and interfaced. The Paperless Flight Bag™ can be customized to each operator’s SOP requirements and is aimed at: regional, charter, cargo and major airlines, and business aircraft fleet operators as well as military/utility operators.