CASE STUDY: A new Weight & Balance, Takeoff, and Landing Runway Performance solution at Kalitta Charters II
Author: William Pletzke, Director of Safety, Kalitta Charters IISubscribe
William Pletzke, Director of Safety at Kalitta Charters II shares the experience of moving to a new software solution, how it went and the benefits gained
This case study will inform readers about a Weight & Balance, and Takeoff and Landing runway performance solution selected by and implemented in Kalitta Charters II, a chapter 121 cargo operator known for its distinct type of cargo in freighter aircraft, which posed a number of challenges for performance solution vendors. But before we go into the implementation itself, we’ll take a look at the subject of the article, Kalitta Charters II.
KALITTA CHARTERS II
Kalitta Charters II (a part of Kalitta Air) is a supplemental chapter 121 operator that began in the 1990s. Over the past three to four years, the airline has doubled in size with a fleet consisting of Boeing 727 and 737 (both classics and NGs) aircraft. Many of our customers specialize in the auto industry or are a part of DHL. Historically, Kalitta Charters II has worked with specialized contractors in transporting horses and vaccines (especially during the COVID-19 Pandemic), which is why finding the right Weight & Balance, and Takeoff and Landing runway performance solution was so challenging.
PRIOR TO THE NEW SOLUTION
In the past, to calculate Weight & Balance, Kalitta Charters had used an internal program consisting of Excel spreadsheets and old AFMs (Aircraft Flight Manuals) to make Weight & Balance and Runway Performance calculations. Although the previous system was electronic, it used a database that was not supported and was not able to be easily transferred to an iPad app as an EFB (Electronic Flight Bag) software. This software was frustrating to utilize when it came to ad-hoc runway analyses, leaving the pilots to turn to a printed paper method for airports not already loaded to their iPads. Kalitta Charters II was sort of OK with this in-house solution, but as their operations became more frequently scheduled and as the main developer for this in-house application was close to retirement, we had to find a new solution.
THE BUSINESS CASE FOR A NEW SOLUTION
As a chapter 121 operator, aircraft performance data is extremely important. The old system relied on this data to be constantly pushed into the iPad application from a separate desktop-based solution to ensure an up-to-date operation. As this system became no longer supported and liable to fail, Kalitta Charters II needed to find an all-in-one solution before something broke within the old system.
We looked at several different solutions, but not many of them were ready to take on the chapter 121 world. Given the non-standard requirements at Kalitta Charters II, an important factor for us was Automated Systems in Aircraft Performance (ASAP)’s preparedness to be a lot more flexible when it came to modifying its current system to best fit the needs and wants of Kalitta Charters II’s fleet and specialized cargo operations. Plus, as with most business decisions, there was a cost factor involved. Even after set-up fees, ASAP was and still is a very reasonable cost compared to other solutions. Most importantly, from a safety standpoint, we liked the way ASAP configured Weight & Balance, and Takeoff and Landing runway performance. Fortunately, Kalitta Charters II received approval for the ASAP STAR solution just in time.
THE ASAP STAR SOLUTION AND ITS IMPLEMENTATION
ASAP simplifies the Weight & Balance, and Takeoff and Landing runway calculation process with the solution ASAP STAR. This solution has been programmed to mimic the AFM at the push of a button. Users are able to see exactly how it would work if a system is inoperative, with information such as that with flaps, (stating) ‘you can only go to flaps five for this runway’. The user is able to see that specifically as well as what are the best weights and the V-Speeds for a particular aircraft.
Although ASAP was willing to customize the ASAP STAR solution, it turned out to be a bigger job than anyone had expected. The actual implementation was quite lengthy, taking about a year. One reason was that, at the time, Kalitta Charters II was operating a horse charter, requiring a customized Weight & Balance, and Takeoff and Landing runway analysis solution to be built from scratch. There was a lot of back-and-forth between the teams and crew members/check airmen undertaking the Beta testing. In one way or another, all of Kalitta Charters II’s Safety Department was involved.
Kalitta Charters II’s horse cargo was unique, to say the least. If you are flying with DHL, everything is in containers that easily go into specific compartments in the aircraft, but Kalitta Charters II needed the ability to spread their horse cargo over multiple compartments to accommodate the horse stalls. This was also the case when hauling oversized oil drilling equipment, which could have one item overlapping up to four cargo positions. A system that could handle variations in cargo size and positioning was essential.
Another hurdle to overcome was that DHL, an owner of some Kalitta aircraft, uses its own Weight & Balance system, so making sure ASAP had closely comparable numerical results was extremely important. Due to this, several people at DHL were involved in the implementation of ASAP STAR. Between running test cases parallel between Kalitta Charters II and ASAP STAR, there were anywhere from six to eight people involved at one time during the implementation.
Many hours consisted of testing what ASAP already had to offer within the system, while also figuring out how to make the program work for Kalitta Charters II’s specific wants and needs. The good news was that it all worked well in the end with an open line of communication between the airline and ASAP. Of course, there was some reprogramming needed such as incorporating functionality ASAP STAR did not currently have available that Kalitta Charters II desperately needed. There were many times when we asked ASAP if they could do something, and they got it done by the end of the day.
During this implementation period, Kalitta Charters II was using ASAP STAR in parallel with the old system for three to four months to get a lot of data and prove to the FAA that the new system was just as robust as the previous one – if not more so. Now, the ASAP STAR system is running well for Kalitta Charters II. As with any solution, there will continue to be little things from daily use that may need to be tweaked. Some of these issues are specific to the Boeing aircraft, but overall, the ASAP STAR solution addressed the pain points of Kalitta Charters II: it is integrated with other systems for flight planning and it fixed the airline’s issue of Weight & Balance, and Takeoff and Landing runway performance.
The ASAP STAR solution is a change, and pilots don’t like change. Some of the program works slightly differently from the old program, but it covers the same areas. New pilots don’t know any different, but the established pilots need to learn a new system. ASAP continues to modify its system within the confines of it being an off-the-shelf program, and has proved time and time again to be dynamic and flexible.
PROCESSES AND OPPORTUNITIES
ASAP did not provide contaminated runway landing data for the Boeing 727 ─ for the 737, they could modify some off-the-shelf material. Part of this issue is that the 727 is an older type of jet that is no longer in production and which almost nobody flies. The provision needed to be rebuilt from scratch, and there are a lot of functions that had to be built in ASAP STAR to try to get it as close as possible to Kalitta Charters II’s old system. Kalitta Charters II’s biggest fear was that we were being too conservative with ASAP’s solution and not being able to fly into certain airports in the winter where they could have on the old system. With the ASAP STAR system, this fear was never a reality, and there has not been an airport Kalitta Charters II could not get into.
The majority of the issues were things that ASAP did not have which again, required a modification of ASAP STAR. As far as the interfaces with Kalitta Charters II’s systems were concerned, things worked almost the same with ASAP STAR as their old system. One thing where ASAP excelled far past the old system was that it made sure there was not a big disruption in the way Kalitta Charters II carried out its everyday operations and processes.
An opportunity arose within the ASAP STAR solution for Kalitta Charters II: helping to go towards a paperless cockpit. The previous system forced pilots to print out ad-hoc analyses or load manifests multiple times, whereas ASAP STAR syncs from one device to the next.
With the data back-up on the ASAP server, the FAA was able to approve Kalitta Charters II’s pilots and dispatchers having the load manifests on their iPads without the need to print a paper copy as well. That was a major plus for the pilots to have one less job to do before take-off. The new ASAP STAR solution has provided a good step along the road to an all-electronic cockpit. When the implementation first started, Kalitta Charters II was still using the old system of printing, but ASAP did not have this detail readily available. When something was printed from the system, it was very long and hard to read because it was not designed to be printed, but to be viewed solely on the iPad, where the design is phenomenal. Kalitta Charters II was not the only carrier to face this issue, so ASAP modified their program, and now there is the option to print out the load manifest in an attractive design.
In most airlines using ASAP STAR, there is already a process in which dispatchers can set up a flight and hand it over to the pilots in charge of the aircraft. Loadmasters can easily identify and make any necessary changes for Weight & Balance, but all of it can be done from the pilot’s point of view as well. In short, however the customer’s systems are currently working, ASAP can make sure that the ASAP STAR solution fits their individual needs.
CHALLENGES AND OBSTACLES
One of the biggest challenges was that ASAP is an ‘à la carte’ service, with elements such as the contaminated landing data for a given aircraft, something Kalitta Charters II did not consider before. ASAP is a fast-growing company, and while, at the start, they did not have a lot of the material that is needed by chapter 121 operations, they have worked and given everything Kalitta Charters II needed.
As previously mentioned, at the time of implementation, Kalitta Charters II was undertaking horse charters which lent an additional level of complexity to any Weight & Balance, and Takeoff and Landing runway performance calculations. For the horse charters, Kalitta Charters II had some STCs and aftermarket modifications to the aircraft itself that had to be implemented into the ASAP STAR system. This project took some time, having to take into consideration both the base model of the aircraft as well as the changes that had to be made such as placing the door in the middle of the aircraft instead of the front or back. Obviously, this needed to be taken into account, but the ASAP Team was able to instantly identify those changes and implemented them fairly quickly. Once that was overcome, some small late changes were also handled swiftly.
TRAINING AND REGULATORY REQUIREMENTS
There were a couple of meetings where ASAP trained the managers and instructors at Kalitta Charters II and then those individuals were sent out to train other users. The ASAP STAR system is designed to be easy to understand and teach others. Kalitta Charters II also used screenshots from actual ASAP STAR screens and turned those into PowerPoint material. It took about two months for everyone to get through training. There are still a few people not yet fully familiar with ASAP STAR, but Kalitta Charters II keeps this PowerPoint readily available to show those individuals and make them comfortable with the set-up. Younger pilots at Kalitta Charters II, who are being promoted to Captain, are fully comfortable with the system. Due to the airline having a high pilot turnover, new pilots joining don’t know anything different than the ASAP STAR solution.
Kalitta has an FAA POI (an inspector) who looks at a new system to consider how it would work if there was a failure or a bad incident, how the system would identify any change that would need to take place to account for, say, brakes failing, and to make sure that everything is working correctly. ASAP has now received approvals from many POIs all over the world proving compliance with the FAA, ICAO, EASA, and many others.
THINGS KALITTA CHARTERS II MIGHT DO DIFFERENTLY
The way in which Kalitta Charters II implemented ASAP STAR was fine but, if we were doing it again, we would most likely want to be clearer about specifics in what we wanted and the cost up front, because it is hard to have to keep going back to management to ask for more money. The problem from the Kalitta Charters II’s side was that we didn’t know what we didn’t know. For a chapter 121 operator, there is more that they need to know in order to be able to accurately price the business proposition from the start.
From ASAP’s perspective, there was difficulty receiving up-to-date data from Kalitta Charters II the first time around, which is why it had to be done a couple of times. What ASAP realized from this is that customers need a strict list of what the vendor needs, and that the most up-to-date data is always needed to ensure a smooth operation. ASAP now uses checklists to help their clients identify everything that is needed.
The new ASAP STAR system works every bit as well as Kalitta Charters II’s old system did. Dispatchers and pilots like it because it makes more information available to them, and a lot fewer calls are being made to report that the program has broken. From a safety standpoint, other programs could not deliver as robust V-speed calculations or performance calculations as ASAP. When an aircraft was light, pilots were not considering VMCG (Minimum Control Speed on the Ground), should an engine fail. Anything below the VMCG could cause a loss of control of the airplane and make it go off the runway.
At first, after the implementation, Kalitta Charters II were receiving calls from pilots saying how the old program would allow them to take-off with flaps five, but how ASAP STAR wouldn’t allow them. Of course, there was nothing wrong with ASAP STAR — the performance was considering another layer of safety that was not present in previous systems. The ASAP system’s ability to instantly calculate take-off speeds has removed the need for pilots to look up those speeds on paper charts and manually enter them into their system, another step moving towards a paperless cockpit. That is a measurable safety improvement with everybody being standardized on ASAP.
THE NEXT STEPS
Kalitta Charters II is onboarding new aircraft every month, which is good for both the airline and for ASAP to be able to ensure that their Weight & Balance, and Takeoff and Landing runway performance processes are suitable for operation. ASAP has been working with Kalitta Charters II to set up our new Boeing 737-800, which is our first aircraft to utilize a manufacturer compiled SCAP (Standard Computerized Airplane Performance) module. Unfortunately, this currently requires an internet connection to process runway performance for iPads. ASAP is actively working with Kalitta and Boeing to add the ability to monitor performance without an internet connection for this new aircraft type.
Overall, the process worked very well and Kalitta Charters II is extremely pleased to not only have a new Weight & Balance, and Takeoff and Landing runway performance solution, but to also be able to take their first steps toward a paperless cockpit.
Since graduating from Western Michigan University, William has held a range of management and consultancy positions in the commercial transportation and aviation sector. Most recently, he authored the company Safety manual and Security manual as safety and security Contractor for Van Nuys Airlines before joining Kalitta Charters II in December 2022. William is skilled in team Leadership, instructor-led training, safety management systems, SOP authoring, Internal Audits and emergency management.
Kalitta Charters II
Kalitta Charters is an American charter airline providing services for cargo, passenger, and medical transportation with a fleet of Boeing 727-200s and 737’s. The airline offers a highly experienced cargo, business charter, and air ambulance service and is an official carrier for the US government and the Department of Defense. The airline has transported a weather station, live rockets and explosives, oil field machinery, and even live animals like horses, penguins and whales.
Automated Systems in Aircraft Performance (ASAP)
Automated Systems in Aircraft Performance (ASAP) has been supplying take-off and landing aircraft performance, along with weight & balance data, since 1995. STAR integrates take-off and landing performance, weight & balance, flight planning, scheduling, reservations, etc. into one easy-to-use application. STAR also includes a Mission Control Module to ease the IT department’s burden of managing users, devices, and system updates. ASAP provides services for all aircraft variations, configurations, and engine types, in an ‘all-in-one’ application.