Aircraft IT MRO Issue 59: Spring 2024

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Aircraft IT MRO Issue 59: Spring 2024 Cover

Articles

Name Author
WHITE PAPER: Current Trends in the Predictive Maintenance Aftermarket Dr Ip-Shing Fan, Senior Lecturer in Enterprise Systems at Cranfield University and John Maggiore, senior aerospace leader and consultant and Senior Advisor to the Integrated Vehicle Health Management (IVHM) Centre at Cranfield University View article
CASE STUDY: Making a good digital start at Heston Airlines Edgaras Knyzas, Head of CAMO, Heston Airlines View article
CASE STUDY: Production planning and control at China Airlines Wei-Fong Wang (Matt), Senior Engineer, Maintenance Division, China Airlines View article
CASE STUDY: An RFID cabin monitoring tool at AirAsia Thailand Banyat Hansakul, Group Head of Engineering, AirAsia and Nazrulazli Najmudin, Senior manager, Product and Technology, Asia Digital Engineering (ADE) View article

CASE STUDY: An RFID cabin monitoring tool at AirAsia Thailand

Author: Banyat Hansakul, Group Head of Engineering, AirAsia and Nazrulazli Najmudin, Senior manager, Product and Technology, Asia Digital Engineering (ADE)

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Banyat Hansakul, Group Head of Engineering at AirAsia and Nazrulazli Najmudin, Senior manager, Product and Technology at Asia Digital Engineering (ADE) share the experience of AirAsia Thailand’ introduction of a new RFID Cabin monitoring tool.

There are very few aspects of running an airline where a digital and mobile tool will not improve the quality and productivity of the process. This case study will be about how the introduction of a new cabin monitoring tool has added real value to the process it improves and the wider airline. But first we should introduce the two businesses who are the subjects of the Case Study.

AIRASIA GROUP

There are currently 212 aircraft in the whole fleet who will soon be operating under five AOCs from five different countries with five different regulators but with all five running under the name of one airline, AirAsia.

AirAsia has a number of programs with ADE about digital data solutions but this article will be about the RFID initiative. It is a big challenge for AirAsia to standardize practices across all the AOCs. Even the RFID implementation was not easy because of the varying requirements of each operator in the group but the airline had to make it happen across the network.

ASIA DIGITAL ENGINEERING (ADE)

Briefly, ADE was founded in 2020 so is a young MRO company but not wholly new. The business was originally AirAsia’s engineering arm so the organization has twenty years of airline MRO experience. Now, as a separate business, ADE has a big vision and mission to be one of the most important digital players in the region’s MRO space.

To date, ADE’s digital solutions include the B2B marketplace, AEROTRADE, and their Enterprise Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions ELEVADE as well as Digital Content Services.

WHY CABIN MONITORING WITH RFID?

Let’s go back to 2016 when Banyat had been working with AirAsia for many years. It was well understood that accuracy was always a big issue; so how the airline controlled it and ensured accuracy was also a matter of high importance. It needed the right data to be put into the AMOS maintenance solution which is AirAsia’s solution for its records. Among the many checks needed to ensure safe and efficient aircraft operations, the nightly cabin check is very important. However, the challenge was that there are about 180 checks for the cabin of a narrow-body A320 and, when that is multiplied by the 211 aircraft in the fleet, you can imagine how, with manual checks and paper-based records, things might be missed or not be accurately recorded. It was also the case that when the auditor, internal or external, did their audit, the airline could not guarantee 100 percent accuracy of its records because it was a manual process that relied on people. AirAsia wanted to find a solution to improve the accuracy of cabin monitoring and servicing which would improve the process and, by ensuring better cabin condition, would also be good for the image of the airline.

Things can go missing from the cabin or be out of place. It might be as simple as the in-flight magazine that some passengers decide to keep as souvenirs. There might also be some repairs needed on damaged seats and equipment. Even life vests can be out of their proper place. The cabin crew does a life vest demonstration before operating each flight and, if the passenger wonders where the life vest is located, they are likely to check under the seat. However, the airline knows that sometimes the life vest is missing which causes the operation of the flight to be delayed. That’s important for AirAsia which aims to optimize aircraft utilization, to have aircraft in the air for, on average, thirteen hours a day. That’s why On-Time Performance (OTP) is really important to the airline. Even spending a minute trying to find a life vest is very important because it is part of safety and safety is one of the customers’ main expectations and AirAsia’s main objective. But if a passenger pulls the life vest from under the seat, they might even take it as a souvenir. It all means that AirAsia Thailand has to do a nightly inspection at the end of each day’s service to undertake any necessary repairs and replacements. A mechanic or technician had to inspect the cabin every night, a job that not everybody enjoyed. This kind of activity is a time and cost burden for the airline; so, a time and cost-saving initiative was needed. But then Banyat noticed something that gave him an idea of what to do.

On the Airbus A320, there are RFID tags on all of the life vests; Banyat’s idea was, why didn’t the airline use RFID tagging on all cabin items liable to be lost or damaged. AirAsia, asked Airbus whether they could RFID tag all items in the cabin but, as no other airlines wanted it at the time, it was not possible. So Banyat asked the airline’s own engineering staff to help with implementing the RFID. Having considered the manpower needed to do the job and the cost, the IT department didn’t feel they could do it and no other airline that had implemented an RFID solution of this sort. So, Banyat looked around for a partner that could help AirAsia Thailand to implement an RFID solution for cabin monitoring. The implementation was done by a Thai-based vendor, as a one-off stand-alone project, but became outdated after a few years due to no ongoing support.

AirAsia found that using the RFID in this job delivered good savings. Before the RFID, the nightly cabin inspections took about 60 minutes per aircraft whereas, using the RFID brought that time to around 20 minutes. On a fleet of 210 aircraft whose cabins have to be inspected every night, this represents a significant saving of 51,100 Man-hours a year. These numbers apply where there are missing life vests and other items but if nothing is missing, the inspection can be completed in five or ten minutes. Either way, it ensures that the aircraft can more quickly be made ready to fly the next day as normal.

BENEFITS OF AN RFID CABIN INSPECTION TOOL

There are three major benefits including cost saving, efficiency improvement, and operational safety. Cost Savings: result from reducing inspection time by 40 minutes per aircraft for each night stop: the inspection used to take 60 minutes. For example, from 210 aircraft, saving 40 min each for 210 aircraft adds up to 8,400 minutes saved per night which is equal to 140 hours. In one month of operation, 140 hours a night by 30 nights adds up to 4,200 hours, a saving 168,000 man-hours per month. The second benefit, efficiency improvement, results from a checking duration reduced from 60 minutes to only 15-20 minutes per aircraft per check. The final benefit, operational safety, results from ensuring compliance with safety standards by automating compliance checks. And, by using RFID technology, airlines can significantly reduce the likelihood of Non-Conformance Reports plus it also minimizes human errors.

But what impact does RFID technology have on passenger safety and satisfaction levels?

It enables the airline to guarantee that the life vest is on board (good for the airline’s image), guarantee to the passengers and, to the authorities that there is a system for ensuring this and that they can audit. When Banyat tells the authorities that AirAsia uses RFID technology, there is no need to carry out an inspection or check the life vests because there is a system already in place with a digital solution. It enhances the passenger experience by ensuring emergency readiness and compliance of safety standards and by creating a sense of assurance and efficiency. Passengers appreciate knowing that the airline employs advanced technology.

And, does the integration of RFID technology result in a tangible return on investment (ROI) for airlines? Definitely, as the above shows, the efficiency gain and cost reduction are the keys in this. Manual checking of the cabin requires more manpower. Using RFID incurs the one-off investment which, in AirAsia’s case was saved in just one year. The cost of an RFID tag today is only about one Thai Baht – roughly one US Dollar for thirty to forty tags. So, when a life vest tag is lost, the airline doesn’t waste time trying to find out why, they just get a replacement. Operational efficiency is driven by the swift inspection process and enhanced compliance. Cost reduction is delivered in several ways: manpower efficiency, preventive maintenance and inventory management.

And finally, using RFID technology aligns with sustainability goals and corporate responsibility initiatives in the aviation industry. It supports environmental sustainability and efficient spares management, plus reduces resource consumption.

USING AN RFID CABIN INSPECTION TOOL

Life vest and equipment inspection is a very simple process with RFID based on the LOPA (Lay Out of Passenger Accommodations) in the cabin.

People conducting the inspection can tell the airline over the live link if they need to do the emergency equipment as well; the solution is for the cabin crew as well as for the inspection of the safety equipment on board. The guarantee that offers ensures that AirAsia has some confidence about the safety equipment on board for passengers and the internal cabin crew as well. Checks can be made with a mobile device because the solution is web-based.

The solution means that AirAsia has not need to worry about authority issues or non-compliance and that they can commit to the passenger that the airline cares for the safety and that all equipment that should be on board all the time. This kind of thing prevents AirAsia’s aircraft from being non-compliant because the solution includes alerts that enable AirAsia to detect what is missing on the aircraft and support proper record-keeping.

Not everything has to go into the airline’s AMOS system but the RFID solution can be stand-alone with the life vests and all emergency equipment. The airline can see the digital data and predict the items that might go missing such as life vests and then can make changes to processes accordingly such as making sure that, in the pre-flight safety announcement, the cabin crew remind passengers that they don’t need to take the life vest from under the seat to check it’s there, or take it off the aircraft. On routes where the airline finds a lot of missing life vests, spares can be packed. This sort of thing will help with line maintenance and audit.

THE NEW SOLUTION

The original solution having served the airline well, there is now an updated version from ADE. This new solution is seamless so there are no more issues when the RFID is in the operations. What we have shared above is a very compelling use case of how AirAsia implemented this RFID solution for their life vest inspection in 2016. However, now, some of that original solution has become outdated, technology progresses and, for example, the Windows CE OS is no longer available or supported and the solution was developed as a tool to automate a specific process.

It was not up to date from a technology point of view and the infrastructure that the application runs on is in-house. Although, in 2016, cloud infrastructures were available, they were not very prevalent. Now, in 2024, the technology needed to be refreshed. Which was where AirAsia Thailand approached ADE to help solve these technology issues. The airline wished to future proof the scanner using technology that was dependent on mobile apps and an Android-based device. Secondly, AirAsia were concerned about where the application runs, so ADE developed it as part of their SaaS solution which is ELEVADE FLEET where the new cabin solution runs on ADE’s cloud-based system GCP (Google Cloud Platform), which has Micro-service architecture which simplified the integration with APIs (Application Programming Interfaces). Also, with the new solution, real-time 2-way communication is possible.

Here is a short video as a preview on the new solution in action.

When AirAsia Thailand implemented the original cabin solution in 2016, they had to take care of the operational and the technological aspects of the implementation and now, with ADE, they will benefit in three ways.

  • First, this solution runs on ELEVADE Enterprise SaaS model which guarantees ongoing solution upgrades. For example, the next release will be looking at the Oxygen Masks and First Aid kit and other emergency equipment in the cabin as well as other areas for inspection. These upgrades will all be added into the solution and accessible to all users, including AirAsia Thailand.
  • Second, the airline will benefit from the ecosystem as the modules of the ecosystem are designed to complement each other. For instance, the tool is part of the Fleet module which manages the fleet while the People module manages people productivity. When the team manager wants to see or analyze the people’s or the team’s productivity, the relevant data points can easily can be part of the dashboard, of the analysis.
  • The third benefit is that the AirAsia Thailand will have access to the up-to-date technology solutions tailored to their unique opportunities and challenges because ADE has partnerships with leading technology solutions such as Google and Zebra and is always supported by them.

ADE believes that a similar technological solution to that used for AirAsia Thailand cabin monitoring could be useful for many readers in other organizations. We hope that this case study will prove informative for other airlines considering on embarking on a similar project.

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