Case Study: From paper to digital and paperless for Star Air flight crews and Operations
Author: Shaine Labuschagne, EFB Technical Administrator, Star Air CargoSubscribe
Shaine Labuschagne, EFB Technical Administrator at Star Air Cargo shares the selection and implementation, and the values gained from a new EFB
Every case study has a context: what preceded it, why the project was necessary, how it was done, what benefits it has delivered and, most importantly, the business to which it was applied. So, before we go any further, let me share with you some information about Star Air.
STAR AIR CARGO
Since its formation in 2000, Star Air Cargo, usually called Star Air and based in Johannesburg, South Africa, has delivered world-class chartered airline services to the aviation industry. We run freight aircraft with freight schedules at night for BidAir Cargo, and we also have passenger aircraft used for ad hoc charter leasing in South Africa and the region.
The business has grown to a fleet of six Boeing 737 classics, both freight and passenger variants, and more than one hundred staff with decades of dedication to on-time and on-demand operations. This has allowed us to cement a trusted legacy of safety, quality and reliability, whilst securing our relationships with valued clients. Led by Marcel Liebenberg and Peter Annear, Star Air is driven to maintain its competitive share of the aerospace market whilst providing attention to detail alongside best practice service delivery.
WHY STAR AIR NEEDED A NEW EFB SOLUTION
Star Air, like many other airlines and charter companies, is always finding new ways to keep up with technology in the aviation industry and, in that context, what better, we thought, than to invest in a state-of-the-art Electronic Flight Bag system. Something that would not only benefit the business and the operation but would generate some useful feedback. We were also concerned to limit costs and paper is becoming a very old and costly method in today’s age. If we want to be the best and compete with the best, we had to up our game with the next generation technology. Keeping up with technology and running a high standard EFB would give any airline/charter company the edge over competitors.
THE CHOICE OF IFS
Since deciding that the company would have an EFB and would digitalize the whole operation as far as possible, Star Air undertook some research into possible solutions in the market. IFS remained our first option because some local airlines also make use of IFS and have completed the approval process with our local authority plus, there was also a cost factor to be considered.
Given those factors, we felt that IFS would be the best fit for Star Air. It also made the choice easier as the IFS systems (PFB and EFBOne) both ran smoothly from the start. The IFS team provides 24/7 support and is always helpful. They strive to be the best and we can see it in their products. With constant improvements and bug fixes, they maintain a well-managed system.
THE IFS EFB SOLUTION
IFS started in 2001 creating performance application and Mass & Balance applications for the Nokia Communicator phones. Around 2004/5, the new generation of tablets meant that software requiring power could be put on a tablet and IFS developed their first Class 1 EFB solution. Not just some Apps, it was a platform coving all the processes from pre-flight and in-flight to post-flight (figure A).
A couple of years later IFS upgraded to a Class 2 EFB incorporating LAN cable connections to the door so that the Wi-Fi would be switched off in order to push back from the stand. The Wi-Fi was switched on when the aircraft had been pushed back – that was a certification requirement in 2006. IFS Class 2 solution involved the more complex modules like Mass & Balance, Performance Integration and so on. In 2009, the iPad came out and, in 2011, IFS launched an iPad solution, The Paperless Flight Bag. IFS then ran with those solutions and on to Windows to Windows 11.
In 2020, IFS decided that their product needed to be more scalable and more flexible which led to the development of a cross-platform solution. Instead of supporting separate native Windows or iOS solutions, which need different developers, IFS set out to utilize C Sharp or Xamarin, coding in xamarin, a code that can run on both iOS and Windows. That has rationalized the whole development and maintenance process for IFS. At the same time, IFS developed the platform further taking all the best parts from the Windows version and the Paperless Flight Bag and putting them into EFB 1 as a start point. In order to make it even more attractive, IFS set out from the start to construct a control interface which means that the App facilitates a control interface which enables IFS support people to configure and customize the application without the need for any development work. The plan for the control interface, which IFS has been using in-house for nearly two years, is that it will be provided to all IFS users during 2022 so that EFB administrators in airlines like Star Air will be able to make changes to the pre-flight, in-flight and post-flight reporting on their own without needing to contact IFS. They will even be able to generate a test version of their changes, use it in some test flights and, when they are happy, deploy it to all users at the click of a button.
Star Air has been running EFBOne, the newest solution from IFS. This was released to us earlier in 2022. The core calculations remained the same but the solution received a major facelift which, in return, made the application easier to use, look and feel better. IFS has met all of Star Air’s needs and is constantly improving the system/application. IFS provides toggle switched in their application which enables you to jump between company applications like Boeing OPT and Jeppesen FD Pro.
EFBOne integrates with about twenty different systems on the back-end IT side: flight planning systems, scheduling and crew planning systems. The solution can also export data to maintenance systems plus there are integration options for safety management systems. Customized integration has been traditional in the market but, with EFBOne, IFS has standardized the way it imports and exports data to other systems created unique toggle switches in their applications that allow users to quickly jump to a different app with a single touch.
STAR AIR’S SELECTION AND IMPLEMENTATION OF EFBONE
The process was made longer with the impact of Covid-19 (see below).
At the time we started our EFB research, more than two years ago, Star Air decided that EFB would be the right solution. We started to research different platforms and tools that would be used, put together an EFB team and then implemented our first iPad for testing with the chief pilot to see whether or not we liked the product and could use it. The decision to select IFS was not only on the clear merits of the solution but also due to them already being an approved application with the local authorities in South Africa.
When we finally got the go-ahead from everyone, we sourced all the iPads we needed and arranged crew training and familiarization with the device. We arranged training into three sessions: first to get used to the iPad; second was with IFS and all other company systems, using some simulated test flights; and third was with the Boeing OPT (Onboard Performance Tool) training. We then implemented the iPad into the flight deck system and, after lots of trial and error, we felt that we were ready to implement the project and apply to our local authorities to go live, starting with a demonstration in the Simulator. After our local authorities were satisfied, they gave us approval to do live testing for six months, during which period we had to submit post flight report and documents as evidence. After the six months a live demonstration full flight was conducted routing Johannesburg – Cape Town – Johannesburg (JNB-CPT-JNB) with the local authorities inspecting the EFB process. Finally, the approval letter was issued and Star Air is now EFB approved as an operator.
Star Air also regularly sends a form to all those involved to ensure that they have the Apps they need and that they are all working from the same information and solutions.
IMPACT OF COVID-19 AND OTHER CHALLENGES
Star Air has been very fortunate, during the pandemic, to have enjoyed an increase in flights and payload on our cargo aircraft, including transporting supplies of vaccinations. That said, we have had our fair share of difficulties in the COVID-19 period with lockdowns and restrictions. Star Air had to adapt quickly with the remote work and digital world we live in to successfully drive the EFB project over the finish line. The COVID-19 delayed our project by a few months due to the restrictions and lockdown we experienced. We can finally say, with a great smile, that our EFB has been approved by our local authority and with very high standards.
As for other challenges, they include facing the unknown and getting familiar with a new system. Star Air started this project with a dedicated team. This was a massive task as we have never done an EFB project as a team or company. Where to start? is a common question that we all ask when tasked with a big project and that is exactly what we asked ourselves. A lot of research and training made the road to EFB approval that much easier. We faced many obstacles as a team and company but could get over these obstacles with proper planning, research, testing and training.
Moving from a paper-based to a paperless system is a big change but I can say with confidence, a change that everyone could adapt to. We have grown as a company and it is also easing our way to an eco-friendly environment. Every time that we implement a new system, we have to think of a strategy on how to train people, including whether it could be remotely or online, and to consider what will be the impact on everyone in the business, on the operation and how we can implement it in the best possible way.
ORGANIZING AND CARRYING OUT TRAINING
Star Air has a wonderful training section in their EFB Manual that takes a new user from start to finish. Our training consists of iPad familiarization training, Systems training and Performance training. Each training section gets done by the EFB Administrator and OPT Administrator. Each pilot will also write two exams, one after each training section, to test their knowledge of the EFB. The chief pilot will roster the new member for onboard training in the flight deck and a week of flight training to be conducted on live flights. The senior Captains will also conduct training on new crew members.
IMPACT OF THE NEW SYSTEM ON USERS
We have received some really positive feedback from users and everyone was on-board when the change was announced. Star Air has seen a massive change in the office staff and flight deck crew on the new EFB system. We have noticed that Flight Crew and Operations Personnel are more relaxed and focused on the task at hand. We have also noticed that errors are at an all-time low. Changes can be made with a single click of a button. There’s no messy cockpit or flight operations and Star Air has also cut their previous paper usage by sixty percent and we can see those numbers climb as more systems are being digitalized. This has had a big financial impact on the company. With the EFB solution we could easily reduce boarding time by 20 minutes and briefing time by 15 minutes. This, in turn, makes the operation smoother and more controlled. It is also easier to deal with last minute changes without printing out a single page. IFS has truly changed the business and mindset of Star Air.
We have received such positive feedback from the staff and crew on the implementation of the EFB with most crew stating “it’s about time” as our old paper base system was due for an upgrade. Technology is the future and we at Star Air now welcome it with open arms. Who does not want to work on an iPad/tablet compared with a paper base system? This adventure and project opened our eyes to new possibilities. Star Air can now keep up with the market and with demand. We are happy to be approved and able to use the EFB platform to its full extend.
LESSONS LEARNED AND ADVICE TO OTHERS
If doing this project again, we would do more research on the complete EFB solution and what to expect for the future. Technology is ever changing and the challenge to keep up with technology and the market/competition would be the biggest challenge. We have made a few mistakes but could learn from this, use it to our advantage and succeed. One big lesson we have learned is to always document any changes, errors, and solutions. This will help any airline or charter company from the start. Gather as much information from the start on changes, errors, and solutions as you will need that information for future planning or problem solving, and to inform the supplier, in this case IFS, whenever any support tickets are opened. Build a strong profile from the start and you will be set for the future.
We at Star Air will always encourage other companies to also go for an EFB solution, but we can only give advice for new comers. Do your research to the best of your ability. Compare and test systems or applications from different suppliers. Get a solution that suits your business needs rather than choosing the best because of your competitors. And finally, research the cost and financial impact on the business. These statements should assist any airline or charter company to make the right decision. Plan, execute and reap the benefits that follow.
BENEFITS FROM IMPLEMENTING EFBONE
Star Air has experienced a lot of benefits, and some are listed below:
- Paperless environment (cost of printers, toners and paper has reduced a lot);
- Sterile and clear environment (Operations and onboard the aircraft);
- Relaxed and focus personnel (Operations and Flight Deck Crew);
- Ease of last-minute changes;
- Accurate charter quotations;
- Fuel saving;
- Accurate planning (both for Operations and Flight Deck Crew);
- Briefing time has been reduced compared to the paper solution;
- Boarding times have improved;
- Staying ahead or equal to opposition systems;
- Integrating to our clients (airlines/charter companies) on a much easier level.
The list of benefits keeps on growing and, as the EFB Solution keeps evolving, we will see further, bigger benefits compared with the previous, outdated paper solution.
CHANGES MADE BY STAR AIR CARGO
We had to change the culture at Star Air to accommodate the new and improved EFB solution and current trends as well as the technology at our disposal. This included updating procedures and processes in our manual and daily use. This was because we are now doing things remotely and online with no more need for paper or classrooms and no need to bring people in to a particular location for training.
We have had to update and change manuals, but this was all for a better future with the EFB solution. The changes were completely positive and have motivated us as a company to reach for new heights. The EFB Solution has, of course, opened new processes and procedures within the company but it has propelled us forward into a new era of Aviation. Star Air is now keeping up with the trends. These changes are all extremely positive and should motivate any company to investigate this option or solution. It has completely changed Star Air and we are now an even stronger competitor in the industry.
Star Air will work hand in hand with IFS on new upgrades and solutions for the EFBOne platform. Our next project will be to implement the Boeing OPT launcher function that will enable us to swiftly jump between EFBOne and Boeing OPT. This project will soon commence and take effect within June 2022. One of our new projects that we have agreed on would be to make training available online for all the EFB systems and procedures. Star Air believes in improvements, whether it is in our staff, office environment or systems. We prompt a positive change and the challenge of improving on all functions within the business. We will also start internally to digitize as much of our own systems and procedures as far as possible. We would like to achieve an eco-friendly company in the near future. Star Air will always strive to improve and be the best at what we do.
Established in 2000, Star Air Cargo is a South African registered company that operates unscheduled passenger and cargo services from its hub at Johannesburg Airport. It also offers wet, dry or damp leasing on short to medium term leases to airlines in Africa as well as aircraft maintenance services. Star Air’s fleet of six Boeing 737s are largely freight variants fulfilling contracts with major freight carriers. One passenger aircraft is available for leasing in local and regional markets.
International Flight Support (IFS)
International Flight Support (IFS) is a modern Danish SaaS company with a mission to bring the newest tech innovations to the aviation industry. A few years ago, IFS introduced the world’s first true EFB Cross-Platform software – EFBOne. The new platform seamlessly integrates all flight ops in one place and offers the most flexible set-up options of any app in the market providing airlines with a truly agile & customizable workflow process.