Aircraft IT MRO Issue 60: Summer 2024

Subscribe
Aircraft IT MRO Issue 60: Summer 2024 Cover

Articles

Name Author
CASE STUDY: Transavia Netherlands upgrades to the latest MRO IT solution Gerard de Bruyn, Product Owner of the technical department, Transavia Netherlands View article
CASE STUDY: Canadian North took control of its device fleet Gail Campbell, Senior Manager Maintenance Information Systems, Canadian North View article
CASE STUDY: Affinity reaps the benefits of a new IT solution. Grahaeme Colledge, Technical Director at Affinity Flying Training Services, and Tim Alden, Strategic Partnerships Director at Veryon View article
WHITE PAPER: A step into the future for an MRO software solution Andrew O’Connor, Head of Product Management, Aviation and Paul Lynch, Group Managing Director, Aviation, both at Aspire Software View article
WHITE PAPER: AI is Powering Growth of Lifecycle Optimization Tools Dr Ip-Shing Fan, John Maggiore and Professor Anna Smallwood, all at Cranfield University View article
WHITE PAPER: Gains for MRO from digital solutions Remon Sweers, VP of Products, QOCO systems View article

CASE STUDY: Affinity reaps the benefits of a new IT solution.

Author: Grahaeme Colledge, Technical Director at Affinity Flying Training Services, and Tim Alden, Strategic Partnerships Director at Veryon

Subscribe

Grahaeme Colledge, Technical Director at Affinity Flying Training Services, and Tim Alden, Strategic Partnerships Director at Veryon, explain how Affinity used software deployment to catalyze change.

In this case study, we want to share with readers how Affinity Flying Training Services used software and the development of software to change the business. We’ll examine why Affinity needed to change, the company’s journey, and how that change process was managed. We’ll then share how the software was introduced to the business and the benefits that it has delivered. First, let’s introduce you to Affinity Flying Training Services (Affinity) and Veryon.

AFFINITY FLYING TRAINING SERVICES

Affinity is a key partner in the UKMFTS (UK Military Flying Training System) program, supporting all fixed-wing elements of the training pipeline and taking pilots from elementary flying training, when they come out of officer training and learn to fly, all the way through to multi-engine training and up to basic fast jet flying. (figure 1).

Figure 1

After being handed over, trainees go on to the Hawk Jet aircraft before moving on to fast Jet flying.

A mixed fleet of three different platforms is used to deliver pilot training. 23 Grob 120TP are elementary flying training aircraft that are fully aerobatic and used to support the introduction to flying training. There are also five Embraer Phenom 100E used to support the multi-engine pipeline. Finally, 14 Hawker Beechcraft, now Textron, Texan T-6C aircraft support the start of the fast jet pipeline leading to Hawks.

Affinity provides the aircraft and support packages, then the military and another company called Ascent take the aircraft and conduct the training. Unlike airline and airline operations, what Affinity does is a military concept, but underpinned by civil certification and CAA approvals.  What will be covered in the article draws on many parallels from civil aviation, starting with something about Veryon.

VERYON
Veryon is the leading provider of aviation software and information services, supporting a global network of more than 75,000 aircraft maintenance professionals and over 7,600 customers in nearly 175 countries worldwide. In 1973, the company began as a publisher of aircraft technical manuals. Veryon has now outgrown just being an aircraft technical publisher, and its solutions serve multiple facets of the aviation industry and beyond. Its comprehensive technology platform helps aviation operators better access publications, fix maintenance issues faster, and operate more efficiently without compromising compliance. By taking our technology to the next level with artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities, Veryon is taking operators to new heights. The company has grown by adding new partners, content, and technology through the acquisitions of CaseBank, Flightdocs, and Rusada (figure 2).

Figure 2

Veryon Tracking+, formerly Rusada ENVISION, has been around since 1987. It’s evolved through various IT platforms, as you might expect, and now covers a range of operations. Readers will know a lot about aircraft management software, and Veryon’s suite of solutions is active in the military and the parapublic world. Products cover not only fixed-wing but rotary wing aircraft as well. Affinity covers the fixed-wing side of UKMFTS, and Airbus Helicopters covers the Rotary side, and both organizations use Veryon software. The application in question includes ten modules; customers can choose whichever modules they want to suit their business needs, plus they can also grow into it, i.e., they can choose what they need to use at the outset and then add further modules later.

The modules are grouped into five main verticals, including Fleet Management, MRO Management, Inventory Management, Flight Operations, and Business Support. Organizations have different requirements, and not all will need the full solution. The current iteration of the solution is web-based, and the reason for doing that is that the power of the database remains, but the user experience has to change. As more younger people join workforces, they’re used to using mobile devices and looking at information in a clearer, more meaningful way. Therefore, Veryon evolved a UI (User Interface) with which they will be familiar from their day-to-day lives that is also meaningful and efficient when they use the application. This also lends itself to mobility, so Veryon offers mobile apps that allow engineers and others out on the line to sign off tasks electronically, which synchronizes with the system. In addition, Veryon has a deployment feature that can be used offline. For an organization that has intermittent internet access, why would they want to have a web application? With Veryon, even if they lose connectivity, the application can still be used and synchronized when connectivity is restored without any loss of work. Veryon focuses on these efficiencies and ‘what if’ scenarios as well.

HISTORY AND COMPLEXITY AT AFFINITY

Let’s look further into Affinity’s history and why change was needed. When the MoD contract was awarded, Affinity was a brand-new company that had been formed in 2016. Everything had to be developed from the ground up. The initial setup of the company was based on a very lean operation with a fully integrated solution built in at the start. Three platforms were introduced, which were new to the UK military, and with all the teething troubles that can occur. The business operated under a new system called ‘Civilian Oversight of Military Registered Aircraft.’ Affinity was responsible for engineering and maintaining the aircraft to civilian standards but flying under military rules. This brought a lot of military oversight into what Affinity was doing and how that was being set up. In the very early days, this led to a lot of distractions. When Affinity should have been concentrating on building the systems that would be used, that time was spent working with the military, getting the aircraft a military registration, and understanding the teething troubles. The company took its collective eye off the ball about the importance of an integrated IT support solution.

The system that Affinity had set up in the early days failed, but that was not the system’s fault. It was the company’s fault for not spending enough time shaping the system, organizing processes around it, and making the system the central DNA of the company. It was decided to try again using a third-party solution provider, Veryon, and the Veryon Tracking+ solution. However, that decision was too late, and Affinity was too far behind the drag curve because flying operations had already started and were running. The system was being used to underpin all that was not there.

Affinity then had to revert to spreadsheets—and lots of them. All dates, calendars, times, etc., were managed through various Excel spreadsheets, which were fraught with problems, and Affinity kept finding those problems. All aircraft records were manual, each on a separate spreadsheet to be tracked. This led to the business being very reactive in its maintenance, planning, and forecasting, which, in turn, meant high AOG rates. In short, it was inefficient.

The Affinity team scanned paperwork between multiple sites to transmit to the central CAMO (Continuing Airworthiness Management Organization) for record coordination and updates. However, this approach proved to be makeshift and inefficient. What’s more concerning is that this makeshift approach had become standard practice for the business. Despite being established in the 21st century as a new company with streamlined operations, the business aimed to have an integrated solution at its core.

SPREADSHEETS FOR EVERYTHING

Here are some screenshots of what Affinity was doing and the challenges it was causing for the business. All live tasks were managed on spreadsheets (figures 3 and 4).

Figure 3

Figure 4

The tech records department grappled with intricate spreadsheets requiring daily updates, each containing 2,000 data lines. Rectification tasks were documented on spreadsheets to facilitate trend analysis and other functions, but all were confined to paper format.

To ensure accurate KPIs and visually appealing dashboards, Affinity designed an attractive front-end interface (see Figure 5) layered over another spreadsheet that required frequent manual updates, consuming significant time and resources.

Figure 5

Finally, the capacity, resource, and fleet plans (figure 6) were manually created by individuals who had to laboriously extract data.

Figure 6

This summarizes the majority of the impact, but what it brought about for Affinity as, a brand-new company, right from the outset was a state of siloed operations, and even more detrimentally, this was evident from the beginning (see Figure 7)

Figure 7

A diagram was made to show the intricate network of interconnections, depicting how information flowed between manually managed paper spreadsheets. The complexity reached such a level that the business eventually reverted to the straightforward diagram in the figure.

There were silos everywhere, with the majority of interactions mediated by spreadsheets or physical documents. The CAMO dedicated substantial resources to data management, while the tech records team focused on maintaining data integrity but lacked forward-looking initiatives. Consequently, processes became overwhelmingly reactive, consuming valuable time addressing issues rather than proactively managing them. This strain was particularly burdensome for the small workforce, leading to heightened stress levels as managing tasks became increasingly challenging.

While the situation may have seemed bleak, Affinity’s small team admirably persevered, maintaining data integrity amidst the challenges. Nevertheless, the business was operating frantically, expending excessive effort to accomplish tasks that a streamlined system should have handled. Recognizing the need for change, the introduction of Veryon Tracking+ marked the beginning of Affinity’s journey toward its long-envisioned destination.

DEPLOYING AND IMPLEMENTING VERYON TRACKING+

Veryon has a planned process as the basis for every deployment and implementation, which is tailored to the needs of each client, including, in this case, Affinity (figure 8).

Figure 8

The journey starts with identifying the business’s needs. Many manual processes were implemented to address gaps and instill confidence within the team. Upon the arrival of the Veryon team, the initial inquiries revolved around the extent of these manual processes within Affinity, their functions, and the rationale behind their implementation. Many practices originate from well-intentioned ideas but persist due to inertia. And, of course, where there are disparate systems, there are disparate data because there is no single source of truth, so a lot of time gets spent ascertaining accuracy and determining the most reliable data sources.

Project planning entails looking for efficiencies, what to look for with functionality, and what is missing but needed. It also means looking for the priorities of what the business and the users are trying to do. The decision is what to tackle first because these are typically huge projects where people are trying to figure out that, if they’re going to do the project, they need to show that the reason for it is that the business will be improved; otherwise, there’s no point. Merely surviving when the company has persevered in the past and will continue to do so in the future is insufficient. The aim should be for the business to thrive by adopting the new system. Identifying strategies for meaningful change and potential areas for immediate improvement is crucial to re-engage individuals who may have become complacent. Veryon collaborates closely with the company’s team to prioritize initiatives, determine their sequencing, assess the relevance of existing practices, and decide what aspects should be retained or discarded to maximize effectiveness.

When considering data migrations, Veryon provides various migration tools, yet the crux lies in assessing the relevance of existing data. Legacy systems often harbor redundant data, leading to the misconception that every piece of information must be transferred to the new system. However, older systems may lack the robust controls of newer ones, requiring integrity checks during migration. It’s vital to migrate only essential data to foster a culture of streamlining, bolster confidence in the data, and pave the way for future actions.

Veryon adheres to a standardized procedure, commencing with scoping and initial user training to introduce the new system. They meticulously gather requirements to align with the user’s business objectives. They then proceed with data import and the go-live preparation, emphasizing the criticality of data integrity, as it directly impacts both safety and the client company’s profitability and operational efficiency. Close collaboration with the vendor and a team of trusted experts ensures a seamless execution of the process.

Following UAT (User Acceptance Testing) is the pivotal phase of going live, which presents an intriguing challenge. While a big-bang approach is feasible, it’s less commonly chosen. Instead, many opt for a phased approach, mainly when dealing with modular solutions, addressing one department at a time for a logical problem-solving approach. This approach acknowledges the interconnected nature of various departments where data crossover occurs – such as HR data used in Engineering or Logistics – and emphasizes process alignment over complete isolation.

Evaluating existing business processes is essential to ensuring efficiency and a seamless transition into the new system. Does the new system offer opportunities to optimize processes, leveraging the tool as a catalyst for change?

After the go-live, the effective integration of vendor support personnel is crucial. They should be there answering tickets and understand how the company works. Given Veryon’s diverse client base, including airlines, flight training providers, and police forces, understanding each client’s unique business model is crucial. Veryon deploys support personnel on-site to familiarize themselves with key users and their specific requirements.

Once the project is live, Veryon will transition to a standard ticketing system and conduct monthly reviews. While this process may not entail complex methodologies, adherence to a structured approach is vital to prevent failures, as projects without a defined process often falter.

LESSONS LEARNED FROM DEPLOYMENT

Given Affinity’s limited resources and lean organizational structure – with just 180 employees – implementing such a complex program posed significant challenges. Over the past year, the company focused on creating the necessary conditions to support the delivery of this program. However, the initial strategy was inadequate due to a lack of clear understanding of the program’s objectives. Only recently has the company begun effectively delivering on these objectives. To ensure success with the new solution, the company had to allocate resources for its implementation while managing ongoing day-to-day operations. An environment had to be created with a win-win perception so that the people who were going to do the hard work of delivering the new electronic records system understood the benefits to the organization and them. Answering the ‘what’s in it for me?’ question was essential. A guiding coalition had to be created within the organization, identifying champions within each area and then driving the program forward based on people who had bought into it.

Affinity had to pivot from an unrealistic plan to a more practical approach, meticulously addressing complexities and challenges while sustaining its training service. This required patience and the incorporation of project management strategies that were previously lacking. By establishing achievable milestones and managing expectations effectively, they aimed to ensure that the program progressed smoothly for all stakeholders without constant disappointments.

Fortunately, Affinity had a robust internal IT infrastructure, which was fundamental to a program of this nature. In terms of auditing and control, the complications associated with military and civil regulations meant that every single step of this journey required extensive involvement from Affinity’s Continuing Airworthiness Management Organization, which was already under substantial stress due to high turnover.

DEPARTMENT SPECIFIC BENEFITS

We won’t dwell on many of these matters, but from a departmental perspective, the CAMO has been the one that has benefitted and will benefit most substantially from this (figure 9).

Continual Airworthiness Management Organization CAMO

Figure 9

There are two key points in figure 9:

  • The ability to undertake proactive long-term planning is pivotal. Affinity was planning on a very short time scale, leading to reactive strategies and numerous supply chain challenges. By leveraging the new solution to enhance future planning capabilities, Affinity is now experiencing tangible benefits. This shift towards long-term planning enables the business to respond swiftly to customer demand signals and improves its overall responsiveness and accountability.
  • There’s a reduction in workload. With the implementation of Veryon Tracking+, the emphasis has shifted away from task administration to task execution. Previously, Affinity maintained safety standards through labor-intensive processes, resulting in a high work rate. Now, leveraging the capabilities of Veryon Tracking+, Affinity can streamline tasks, allowing employees to focus on their core responsibilities. As a result, individuals experience greater job satisfaction by engaging in the tasks they were initially intended to perform.

Procurement and Inventory Management

From a procurement perspective, it’s important to highlight that improved planning has significantly reduced AOG (Aircraft on Ground) incidents and related freight expenses for Affinity (figure 10).

Figure 10

This illustrates the initial aircraft transition. The benefits are financially substantial and became more significant as all three fleets were cut across in 2023. There is now better inventory management and a far better appreciation of the cost of ownership of the aircraft and the flying of the aircraft.

Part 145

Affinity is now doing work orders and defect management through Part 145 to far more significant effect and producing better reports (figure 11).

Figure 11

Finance

Veryon Tracking+ is not a finance tool, but Affinity’s finance organization is getting a lot of data that the business could not produce. So, the company’s ownership cost is improving (figure 12).

Figure 12

The last point underscores various instances where Affinity has devised its own solutions due to the limitations of the current tool, which isn’t specifically designed for finance purposes. Nevertheless, it exemplifies the symbiotic relationship when collaborating with a reliable subcontractor. Such partners absorb the feedback provided to them, aiming to enhance their product while also showcasing additional features and capabilities of the system that Affinity has yet to leverage.

WHAT HAS VERYON TRACKING+ DONE FOR AFFINITY

Affinity had yet to complete the transition to the Veryon Tracking+ system at the time of writing. Nonetheless, the process had already yielded significantly improved data management and enhanced data control, resulting in higher-quality data. From an organizational standpoint, Affinity has become more adept at addressing emerging issues promptly. Consumption costs have been reduced, as have costs for freight subcontractor management. Overall, the business is experiencing greater efficiency, with reduced waste, a sharper focus on product quality, and increased employee satisfaction. This improved operational stability further contributes to a more streamlined cost structure.

As an aircraft operating organization, Affinity places paramount emphasis on safety, with risk management being a significant consideration in its operations. Surprises have become less frequent with the enhanced data assurance and the reduction in the number of hours resulting from the absence of a unified data source. This meticulous approach to risk management enables the company to effectively mitigate operational risks, bolstering its ability to demonstrate a safe product to its customers.

Affinity has leveraged its experience to enhance its program management capabilities, yielding benefits beyond aircraft operations and maintenance. These improvements are driving efficiencies throughout the organization. Transitioning to a paperless environment contributes to environmental sustainability and enhances Affinity’s reputation among customers and suppliers. Organizationally, these efforts position Affinity to foster conditions conducive to future business opportunities, bolstered by its positive reputation.

The key lessons for Affinity begin with the realization that integrating Veryon Tracking+ from the outset would have been advantageous. While the full extent of these benefits is difficult to quantify, their impact on performance, cost, and time is unmistakable. Implementing this change alongside ongoing business operations posed a significant challenge. Lastly, it’s crucial to avoid relying on spreadsheet-based management practices, as they pose inherent risks from an airworthiness standpoint. The potential consequences of deviating from maintenance schedules and the absence of a centralized data source are considerable. Although Affinity managed to navigate these risks in the past, they now appreciate the importance of mitigating them and are relieved to no longer be exposed to them.

Comments (0)

There are currently no comments about this article.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

17 − 5 =

To post a comment, please login or subscribe.