Aircraft IT OPS Issue 48: July / August 2021

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Aircraft IT OPS Issue 48: July / August 2021 Cover

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Canadian North goes digital for documents

Author: Chris Pye, Manager, Flight Operations Administration and Ahmad Minkara, Maintenance Asst. Production Manager at Canadian North

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Chris Pye, Manager, Flight Operations Administration and Ahmad Minkara, Maintenance Asst. Production Manager at Canadian North explain how a single solution has enabled increased compliance and efficiency gains across the enterprise.

Before we go to the main subject of this case study, it will probably be useful for readers to learn something about the airline, Canadian North.

ABOUT CANADIAN NORTH 

A 100% Inuit-owned airline, Canadian North connects people and delivers essential goods throughout Canada’s North – safely, reliably and always with friendly and helpful customer service. It operates to 25 destinations across the Northwest Territories, Nunavik and Nunavut, as well as out of Ottawa, Montreal and Edmonton, with a versatile fleet of Boeing 737 and ATR 42 aircraft.

Canadian North is also the premier charter services provider for large resource sector clients requiring dependable, efficient and economical fly-in/fly-out air service and it operates flights across North America and beyond for sports teams, cruise lines, tour operators and other large groups. Canadian North is wholly-owned by Makivik Corporation and Inuvialuit Development Corporation.

ONGOING MERGER ADDS COMPLEXITY TO OPERATIONS

In late 2019, Canadian North and First Air began merging their operations into a strong and unified airline to provide safe and sustainable air service across Inuit Nunangat and Denendeh in Northern Canada. The airlines launched a unified flight schedule, reservations system and brand in November 2019. Meanwhile, work continues to fully integrate the two airlines in their flight operations, maintenance facilities and other behind-the-scenes functions.

Photograph by Mark Taylor

The ongoing merger created added complexity for Flight Operations and Maintenance departments already transforming their processes and data into a more digital workplace. Early in the merger process, the airlines began a partnership with Comply365 to use its end-to-end operational content and compliance management system. Replacing multiple disparate systems with one system helped unify the Ottawa-based airlines’ processes by creating a single system for documentation while electronic forms and automated workflows aided merger-related tasks.

While the merger had already kicked off when Comply365 partnered with the airlines, the single system across both airlines aided in the transition. The two airlines’ document control systems were both server-based but on two different systems. Comply365 offered a single consolidated space for all documents, using active directories and an API (Applications Programming Interface). In Flight Operations, admins used the First Air and old Canadian North logos to provide a quick visual identification of corresponding legacy documents while the new Canadian North logo was used for combined documentation. In Heavy Maintenance, each airline had a different way to raise snags. Now, it’s consolidated into one process using automated workflows. “We found ways to use Comply365 to make the merger easier,” is how Ahmad explains the changes. The airlines officially merged into one Airline Operator Certificate (AOC) on May 26, 2021.

COMPLIANCE AND AUTHORING AMONG THE AIRLINE’S CHALLENGES

The airline sought a solution to improve multiple compliance and authoring issues. They included:

  • The need for a more reliable and efficient document compliance tracking system. While compliance was being captured, it required a lot of manual follow-ups. The three-step compliance process included email, an FTP (File Transfer Protocol) site, spreadsheets, and follow-up confirmations and requirements by department administrators. Overall, it was a labor-intensive and cumbersome process to track with 120 pilots and 70 flight attendants. Some departments, including flight attendants, were also still using paper manuals and paper processes.
  • Operational documents were housed in too many locations, creating regulatory control issues. With multiple repositories for documents, the process to update files required changes in multiple locations. In Flight Operations alone, employees used seven to eight document systems, and employees across multiple departments often saved files on local drives. As Chris puts it, “We struggled with having control over those documents once they were saved locally.”
  • Labor intensive processes to author reusable content across multiple manuals. Many of the Flight Operation’s manuals contain overlapping and shared content. When authors previously edited in basic word processing systems, they used light gray shaded boxes to symbolize reusable content.

Chris explains, “In that sense, it was linked, but it was still very manual. It really was just a gray shaded box, saying this was linked to, say, the 737SOP (Standard Operating Procedures), so we wanted to get away from that.” Establishing consistency across content in an automated manner would save time and increase compliance by eliminating the possibility of forgetting to update a light gray shaded box.

  • Difficulties downloading large amounts of data in limited connectivity. The airline sought to deliver ‘smart manuals’, or HTML documents, that would reduce the data required to download updates. This was especially important because of the very remote areas the airline serves in the far Northern regions of Canada with limited connectivity.

REQUIREMENTS EXPANDED TO BECOME AN ENTERPRISE-WIDE PROJECT

The project initially started out of the Flight Operations team at First Air, which was looking for its first EFB and iPad docking manager to replace an FTP and GoodReader system. As a small company, they didn’t want to design their own application or try an unproven solution, so they turned to the marketplace. As Chris says; “We saw what other airlines had, and we wanted something that had already worked well for other airlines.”

Flight Operations saw the potential beyond just an EFB solution with a solution like Comply365’s ProAuthor, which would solve multiple problems across the company. Key stakeholders from Technical Publications and Maintenance were brought into the discussion. Ahmad was simultaneously looking at iPads for the Maintenance Department while Technical Publications was struggling with redoing OEM documents delivered from Boeing, and not seeing value in the systems they were using. Chris shares the thinking behind the discussions; “We said, this (Comply365) is what we’re looking at, does it work for you guys? We kind of went from looking at an EFB to looking at a program and a system that would work for the company.”

At the same time, the need emerged for an enterprise system that would be well-adopted across the entire organization and one that end users would enjoy using. The solution also needed to show regulators that everybody at Canadian North takes compliance seriously.

COMPLY365 PLATFORM THE SOLUTION FOR FLIGHT OPERATIONS, MAINTENANCE & TECHNICAL PUBLICATIONS

After researching the marketplace, Canadian North chose Comply365’s ProAuthor solution, a single system for authoring and managing all documentation and compliance across the airline. The solution checked all of Flight Operations requirements – it was proven, had room for growth, and would fix ongoing problems in other departments. Chris confirms, “We found other issues in other departments that the Comply365 system could fix or could help us with.”

The platform also includes electronic forms that trigger automated workflows to capture actionable data from the frontline. The mobile app provides frontline employees with instant access to the information they need and allows them to add personal annotations, bookmarks, and highlights that are retained whenever a document is updated.

Ahmad adds that the single enterprise solution creates cohesion and makes implementation of the software better because of the use across multiple departments and increased number of administrators, as well as more financial and administrative support available from multiple departments. “It ended up becoming more of a family project in the whole company,” he concludes.

Photograph by Mark Taylor

It also creates clarity and a solid user experience because operational documents are not siloed by department. Through the merger, the airline now has only two document management systems for the whole company: SharePoint for corporate and human resources documents, and Comply365 for all operational documents. It’s very clear cut.

REUSABLE CONTENT AND AUTOMATED WORKFLOWS SIGNIFICANTLY CUT AUTHORING TIME

One of the most significant benefits in switching to ProAuthor has been the 50-percent reduction in the time it takes to complete the revision process for an ATR Flight Crew Operating Manual or Maintenance Control Manual. It used to take four days to complete the process for an FCOM; it now takes 1½ days in ProAuthor.

“Updating a manual was taking us months to do, not for any good reason, it was just painstakingly difficult,” Chris says of the standalone, basic authoring tools. “A few updates would mess up formatting elsewhere in the document, forcing them to quality check the whole document multiple times. ProAuthor has huge advantages in terms of time and control of the data and the content,” he adds.

A switch to electronic maintenance forms and the resulting data has been transformational for the Maintenance Department, which was previously very paper based. Technicians would print off forms, fill them out, and scan them in – a process that is now all electronic.

Ahmad adds, “Another great thing about that is you can analyze your data.” When users create their data groups, they’re able to standardize and control data input from the frontline users. This makes it both more intuitive to the user and limits bad data input. Feed this data into any visualization software and you can generate proactive insights for execs, which was part of the requirements that Maintenance had and still has.

Significant efficiencies and ability to analyze data are also being realized in the previously paper-based snag process across Maintenance. When technicians found problems – or snags – while inspecting an aircraft, they filled out a paper form and tracked down the logbook to assign the next sequential number to the snag, then passed the paper form to a supervisor for approval, then to a clerk to manually enter the snag into the airline’s maintenance management software.

Figure 1

Technicians are happier with the more efficient process (figure 1) because they can quickly report a snag – adding photos taken on their tablet – and kick off an automated workflow that assigns the next sequential number and clearly defines the situation for the supervisor. Their efficiency gains include:

  • Significantly reducing training for external contractors and employees to complete the snag reporting process. Replacing the multistep paper process with electronic forms reduced training to a bare minimum.
  • Supervisors have immediate oversight through a daily report that allows them to filter to their specific zones and review how long it’s taking to raise snags – or see if snags are missed – and other associated data, so they can take action. That is proactive oversight with real-time data that supervisors never had before.

The objective was information to have no silos. So, the fact that this requires only a click of a button for supervisors, with a click to reach a report, and they can filter it means that they’re going to use it, and it’s going to be efficient, Ahmad explains.

  • A 30-40% time savings with electronic forms for administrators who previously had to decipher handwritten papers to transfer data to the airline’s maintenance software.
  • Third party vendors can easily approve snags remotely via Workflow365 with access to pictures and all the relevant data required to make an informed decision.

Ahmad explains, “The data analytics are just a big, big plus for us with Comply365.” Because of the merger, all maintenance manuals need to be rewritten – a process the team is just beginning. Previously, administrators spent hours manually sending and tracking email notifications during the review process. Administrators are seeing a 90-percent reduction in time with an automated workflow process.

The create-review-distribute workflow in ProAuthor makes everything consistent, and it also helps accountability. A user can tell where a task is pending and can then look to see if it is pending there all the time, or every time, and what can be done to make it better. Users can actually have that data and do something about it. With (Microsoft) Word and email, they’re basically flying blind.

The ability to reuse content to cross-link between publications is bringing tremendous time savings. Authors only need to write or edit content once; then it can be distributed multiple times across manuals. For example, updating organizational charts across manuals previously took seven hours to complete using email for review. With the create-review-distribute process streamlined all in one system in ProAuthor, it takes one hour – an 85% reduction in time.

With Canadian North and First Air each bringing different aircraft types to the merged airline, and four labor groups who have yet to merge, the frontline groups are using their legacy manuals with an amendment that aligns minor policies. A big overhaul and consolidation will be coming in the next year. On the official operations merger date, everyone will sync their devices, pushing out all old manuals and replacing them with new manuals into the proper folder structure.

As the airline approaches that merger date with new manuals, administrators want users to get an advanced look at manual changes, without causing confusion with existing documents. Using the Preview feature within the mobile app, authors are deploying all merger-related policy changes to a separate location from current operating documents. This helps to avoid confusion between upcoming changes and current operational policies.

NEXT STEPS INCLUDE SMART MANUALS AND LINKING STANDARDS

Canadian North continues to migrate its manuals into ProAuthor and expand the use of the solution across more departments. As they migrate and build manuals in ProAuthor, authors will link regulatory standards to the content to gain efficiencies when it is time to prepare for an audit. Then, the airline will simply have to run a report within the Comply365 platform to give to regulators showing the standards tracing, making them always audit-ready. Administrators saw proof of the efficiencies they will gain when they received a surprise audit the week after the merger, earlier this summer.

Chris confirms, of the scramble to prepare for the surprise audit, “We definitely saw the painstaking process of it.” Now, they are looking forward to the huge time savings they anticipate for their next audit later this year, hopefully after they’ve implemented the standards tool.

Also on the priority list, Canadian North plans to distribute content to its crews in an HTML output, eliminating the need to worry about file sizes in remote areas with limited connectivity. And like most airlines, Canadian North is also looking for ways to create a more efficient approval process with oversight bodies, as well as bringing third-party auditors into the process.

As we can both confirm, Comply365 is helping Canadian North move from a reactive company with data to a proactive company with data, and it’s happening at a critical time – especially with COVID and especially with the merger. Without Comply365, we honestly don’t know how we would have done this in terms of creating a one-stop shop for all our documents and communications back and forth.

Contributor’s Details

Chris Pye

As Manager, Flight Operations Administration at Canadian North, Chris is responsible for all pilot EFB and flight attendant tablets, crew planning and the administration support teams. He leads all software, hardware and systems development, integration and management within Flight Operations in order to optimize efficiencies and simply the workload of operational employees and crew

Ahmad Minkara

Ahmad has more than four years’ experience at Canadian North, currently as Maintenance Asst. Production Manager where he manages all internal and third-party Heavy Maintenance while implementing technologies that simplify frontline workflows as well as providing rich input data. He helps the maintenance department move toward a paperless environment where analytics are more accessible to upper management by visualizing KPI and cost data.

Canadian North

Canadian North connects people and delivers essential goods throughout Canada’s North – safely, reliably and always with friendly and helpful customer service. It operates to 25 destinations across the Northwest Territories, Nunavik and Nunavut, as well as out of Ottawa, Montreal and Edmonton, with a versatile fleet of Boeing 737 and ATR 42 aircraft.

Comply365

Comply365 provides enterprise SaaS and mobile solutions for content management and document distribution in highly regulated industries including aviation, rail, and energy. It supports the world’s most mobile and remote workforces with targeted and personalized delivery of job-critical data that enables safe, efficient, and compliant operations. Every day, hundreds of thousands of pilots, flight attendants, and maintenance technicians rely on Comply365 for digital delivery of operational content, including OEM and internal company manuals.

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