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CASE STUDY: Kalitta Air takes a big digital step
Author: Luke Usher, QC Records Manager, Kalitta AirSubscribe
Luke Usher, QC Records Manager, Kalitta Air shares the airline’s experience of selecting and implementing an electronic Technical Log Book (eTLB)
In this case study, I will outline the scope of our operations, why we required an electronic technical log (ETL), our reasons for selecting TrustFlight, the steps required to digitally transform our operations, a look ahead to what this new capability can do for an airline, and key takeaways one should consider when selecting and implementing an ETL solution.
FROM PAPER TO DIGITAL SOLUTIONS FOR OPERATIONAL RECORDKEEPING
Kalitta Air is an all-cargo Part 121 airline based in Ypsilanti, Michigan. We provide on-time scheduled transportation services anywhere, anytime. The business is privately owned by Connie Kalitta and operates an all-Boeing fleet with 24 Boeing 747-400s and five 777-200Fs. Kalitta Air is also the launch customer for the 777-ERSF, which is undergoing conversion at the time of writing. In 2022, we operated around 19,000 flights within the US and to places as far away as the UK and Australia. Kalitta Air employs more than 900 people who machine, design, and build virtually every component on a Boeing airplane in-house to eliminate relying on outside parties for repairs, maintenance, and upgrades for its purposes. From the landing gear to complete engines, Kalitta Air manufactures everything but the bones and shell of the plane, making it a global leader in airline manufacturing and service operations.
WHY KALITTA NEEDED AN ETL SOLUTION
All airlines are familiar with the hand-written tech log. Information such as maintenance details and the deferral of defects are hand-written on paper, which requires human intervention. Then, once the data is submitted for Quality Control (QC) and Quality Assurance (QA), it is transposed manually. This occurs tens of thousands of times a year, and every time someone makes a manual entry or transfers data, there is a potential for error. It’s not scalable. At Kalitta Air, we needed an ETL solution for three key reasons: safety, efficiency, and reliability.
Safety drives everything we do at Kalitta Air, including MRO, flight operations, maintenance, and everything in between.
For operators that don’t use an ETL, processes are manual. They’re not efficient and are error-prone. This may include sending information back and forth by email, post, and other methods of manual transmission. As such, there’s always latency involved, and we know that time costs money. Additionally, information is often not always readily available.
Reliability is the probability that a unit, some piece of equipment, or an event will cause or result in failure, incident, or accident. To improve reliability, we need to access information. Failing that, you can only react and will always be burdened with poor reliability.
With one integrated system, we could improve these three priorities within Kalitta Air.
SELECTING TRUSTFLIGHT: A PARTNER AND PEER
At Kalitta Air, we had four considerations when evaluating an ETL implementation partner: benefits, system compatibility, simplicity, and subject matter expertise. Although it may sound obvious, we wanted to ensure that there were enterprise-wide benefits for our organization. We didn’t just want to replace old processes; we wanted to enhance our processes using the three priorities of safety, efficiency, and reliability.
This was very important to Kalitta Air; we had recently implemented AMOS less than three years earlier. We wanted to ensure that whatever solution we selected had the flexibility to integrate with the applications we used daily. Given TrustFlight’s focus on integrations, it gave us the confidence we needed to select an ETL that we considered future-proof. We knew we still required the same data we previously generated, but we only wanted to change how we processed the information. Finally, and likely the most important, was that TrustFlight are subject matter experts that we consider peers. TrustFlight has deep experience with airworthiness and CAMO/technical services. They’re able to perform the functions we conduct regularly, giving us the confidence to select them as a partner.
One can replace a process, but it may bring little lasting improvement. In theory, and aside from human errors, walking with a piece of paper, mailing that paper, and scanning and emailing that paper all have the same result yet follow different paths. But which one is the most efficient, and what other processes does it affect? When we assessed our processes and where we could be, we confirmed that the benefits of migrating to digital-based processes were much greater and would make lasting changes to our organization’s operational efficiency. Companies must ensure that any change they’re making has significant value.
In Kalitta Air’s case we realized the benefits gained from better resource management. Entering information, reviewing and approving information, then sharing it so that once it’s submitted, it’s visible to the rest of the company is essential. But, the way we did it before TrustFlight’s ETL implementation was outdated when we look at how ubiquitous digital information has become across all aspects of our lives. We knew we could eliminate up to 85% of identified errors by doing away with pen and paper. With digital processes, controls ensure that tasks are repeated in the same manner. We consume a lot of resources including fuel, paper, time, people, and facilities. We’re much more efficient with TrustFlight – a connected electronic ecosystem.
For Kalitta Air, integrating a new Electronic Tech Log and our existing M&E system was essential. With it being a two-way integration, information we entered into AMOS could be leveraged to deliver specific work packages visible to crew and maintenance teams on the line. This allows for reduction in delivery time and human factors while adding additional levels of control.
We appreciated that TrustFlight’s ETL was M&E-agnostic, meaning we would be free to switch systems if needed. However, knowing that TrustFlight was also an active AMOS M&E user within the CAMO division played a big role in selecting their software. Their team was familiar with M&E systems and we didn’t need to put additional strain on our resources internally to complete the integration.
We appreciated that we could make the Electronic Tech log look the same as we were used to, saving us costs for retraining our large team. When you’re trying to train somebody in a new process, the result has to be the same as the old process. For example, we can’t say: “what used to be in A is now in B.”
The customizability of the solution was huge for Kalitta Air, and I’m sure other operators would appreciate the same. This made the ETL much easier to adopt internally.
Subject Matter Expertise
There are software development companies, there are aviation experts, and then there are those that have the right mix of both competencies. We found TrustFlight to be our peers in aviation. The software we use both personally and professionally isn’t always developed from the end user’s point of view. There are a lot of specific use cases in aviation that end users might understand better than the software developers. Use cases are often particular to real-life scenarios in a day-to-day operation, and we found it difficult to communicate with other firms. TrustFlight was able to not only accommodate our requests, but also understand the reasoning behind them.
CALCULATING TRUE VALUE FROM DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION
With every significant implementation, there must be value associated with the transition. Otherwise, there would be no reason for a firm to change their processes and potentially disrupt the status quo. The key metrics we used to justify the investment in TrustFlight’s systems included looking at the average error rates per page and per leg with the paper system across 19,000 flights and calculating that on a human hourly rate.
We asked every relevant department within Kalitta Air to factor in efficiency gains resulting from the new process. We then factored this by the number of flights, processes, and corrections we had. Although it is too early to quantify the actual impact at the time of writing, we are confident that there are significant efficiency gains, and we look forward to comparing our theoretical assessment with practical gains.
OUR EXPERIENCE SO FAR
We had our kick-off meeting in May of 2023 following our visit to an Aircraft Commerce Conference, where we initially evaluated the top ETL providers. Following our kick-off, we had weekly project follow-ups to ensure we were progressing with the implementation. By September 2023, we ran parallel trials and had a pending authority approval for the change. We started the trials with a very small group on set routes with specific aircraft, mechanics, and crew.
We had initial challenges, such as connectivity, due to the nature of our global operations. With TrustFlight’s offline mode — allowing updates to be made independent of internet connectivity — we were able to continue processing inputs as a technical log offline. When connectivity resumed, the data was fed straight to ground support. This was an unexpected issue and we were happy that TrustFlight had built this into the system, allowing us to continue with our trials.I’m happy to say that our trials have been a resounding success to date. The consistent two-way communication between our firms was key, and it was easy to communicate with a firm that spoke our language. Furthermore, when we had minor hiccups, the TrustFlight Support team was always available day or night to support us. We were seeking this in a partner, and this is what we received.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
The process itself has taught us a lot. Some challenges have indeed come up during the implementation. One of those was change management. We ensured that we kept up the momentum, and TrustFlight’s ETL made it easy to reduce friction by customizing the application so it was familiar to Kalitta Air personnel.
In the future, we’re working on having digital records and electronic sign-off capability. The ETL was the starting point for that. With the ETL in place, we’ll move towards scheduled maintenance. After that, we’ll identify any deficiencies within our operations that we can improve and aim to transform those processes.
Our takeaway from this exercise was that we had to prepare the company for the change. Policies and processes were re-adjusted with time, but a company needs its people in place first to understand that a change is coming. This implementation was a crash course for process, and we’re still working to do more with TrustFlight in that regard. We couldn’t be happier with our selection and the ongoing support that TrustFlight has provided, and we look forward to working with them in the coming months and years.
TrustFlight From inception, TrustFlight has been ingrained in the aviation industry. Founded by two commercial pilots with a proven track record at the intersection of technology and business, the business has grown considerably and with stability, having recently celebrated the opening of a fourth office. TrustFlight helps to remove costly paperwork and associated errors, preserve aircraft value, and increase efficiency and safety in aircraft operations.