Case Study: Philippine Airlines steps up to fuel efficiency with an intelligent solution
Author: Capt. Leo Ezquiel Reyes Bernabe, VP-Flight Operations for Philippine AirlinesSubscribe
Capt. Leo Ezquiel Reyes Bernabe, VP-Flight Operations shares Philippine Airlines experience using an Innovative Artificial Intelligence (AI) powered Fuel Efficiency Solution, with Pilot Apps
Fuel efficiency is at the top of the agenda for any airline or operator these days. As well as the imperative to work towards net zero by 2050, there is also the perennial imperative to keeps costs as low as possible and, at the moment, with fuel prices as high as they are, that is a real challenge for which a proper and well supported fuel efficiency program will be of enormous value. This article will take readers through our journey to operations and fuel efficiency at Philippine Airlines, plus I’ll tell you about the solution that is at the heart of our success. But first, some information about Philippine Airlines.
PHILIPPINES AIRLINES (PAL)
We are Philippine’s largest international airline and sole full-service carrier, as well as the region’s oldest and longest-serving airline. Our fleet, one of the world’s youngest, consists of the Boeing 777, the Airbus A350 and A330 for long-haul routes, and the A320/A321/A321Neo, and Dash 8-400NG for regional and domestic operations. After a restructuring program in 2021, PAL achieved better than expected financial results in the first half of 2022 and has posted net profits for the past four quarters. Domestic operations are presently at 80 percent of their pre-pandemic levels, while international flights are at 60 percent.
The airline serves a total of 43 domestic (figure 1) and 33 international destinations from three major hubs. Destinations range from South East Asia to the West and East Coasts of North America, the Middle East, Australasia, China and North Asia.
INDUSTRY ANALYSIS, TRENDS AND DRIVERS
The current industry landscape shows that, even while the industry is still recovering from the pandemic, the aviation market is projected to grow at a five percent compound annual growth rate until 2027. At present, the air transport industry will have to adapt to expanding trends in digitalization, data management, and sustainability. These will include planning and developing aviation and tourism infrastructure, as well as establishing effective governance for faster decision-making and process optimization.
In order to counter existing headwinds, PAL has focused on optimizing strategic spending with new tools or systems geared towards generating a return on investment (ROI). This has included operations improvements such as fuel savings initiatives and a fuel efficiency program as well as efficiency programs for improving operations and implementing more automated activities that allow users to do more with less. OpenAirlines’ SkyBreathe fuel management system checks all of the boxes for these steps.
THE INFORMATION CHALLENGE
To appreciate what PAL has gained from implementing the solution, we need to look briefly on what was the situation before and the data and decision-making challenges faced by the airline (figure 2).
PAL was receiving volumes of raw data that were difficult to digest because of the sheer size; and the use of manual analysts poring over spreadsheets led to inflexible, sometimes static, reports contributing to a longer lead times before insights were gained and decisions could be made. We faced the DRIP problem, an amalgamation of being data rich but information poor. What we needed was a digitization tool that could merge all data in a single consistent repository and turn that data into actionable insights that would empower personnel with an innovative artificial intelligence (AI) powered fuel efficiency solution software to turn out actionable insights for our fuel efficiency goal
The DRIP problem for airlines is also emblematic for other industries and fields that deal with huge quantities of data. In a world seemingly full of random occurrences, organizations gather data about specifies events that must be converted into useful and usable information which, in turn, adds to our core knowledge, allowing us to take decisions that translate to wealth, wisdom or both.
IMPLEMENTING THE SKYBREATHE PROGRAM
PAL’s partnership with OpenAirlines, through the architecture of the SkyBreathe fuel information management system, is an example of the fusion of big data and AI driven fuel management software (figure 3.1).
SkyBreathe integrates the different sources of data, such as FDR and QAR, extracted by Teledyne for Philippine Airlines. The operational flight plan (OFP), airline operations center (AOC) data and AIP weather. It provides quality control, merging and cleansing of this torrent of big data, and computes, using its performance models measures and KPI computation algorithms (figure 3.2).
The analysis is presented into pre-designed and/or customized reports and graphs that are easy to understand and very flexible to use, both for the airline’s analysts and for end users. Finally, system wide or individualized data is communicated to the stakeholders using the custom dashboard MyFuelCoach application. This process is done every day, and automated data collection and quality control for billions of raw data is transformed into actionable insights. Stakeholders can also easily and quickly share reports and analyses (figure 4.1).
Data transfer that does occur early turns out pre-defined analyses, dashboards and reports, and we’ve been able to easily generate some 254 custom queries and produce 31 dashboards; but these are unlimited (figure 4.2).
SkyBreathe’s Query Editor (figure 4.3) also allows viewings and drill downs for any chart, graph and/or tabular report.
Again, through automated data collections and quality control, billions of raw data output are transformed into actionable insights (figure 4.4).
Flight Crew can also be easily engaged using MyFuelCoach (figure 5), a dedicated mobile App embedded in each pilot’s iPad, PAL’s EFB tool, that facilitates increased and expedited savings through greater awareness.
MyFuelCoach has helped in developing a stronger fuel conscious culture across the company. In essence, it provides a debriefing on each area of fuel management throughout the flight, allowing pilots to gain a better understanding of their own performance; it promotes continuous operational improvement and allows the flight crew to leverage their own skills to improve fuel efficiency for future flights. We tell our pilots that the objective is not to closely monitor their compliance with fuel savings programs or initiatives but rather to provide them with the right tool they need to assess their own performance and mileage compared to the company average, and, ultimately, with the goal to get a better understanding of what fuel efficiency entails.
Pilots are key players in any fuel efficiency program. SkyBreathe’s MyFuelCoach empowers our flight crew with a mobile App and, again in this case, just the iPad that lets see how well they perform, learn how they can improve and better prepare for pre-flight briefings (figure 6.1).
Within the App, they can see a list of details for their own flights, such as flight duration, fuel burn or consumption, the runway used in the case of the departure and, of course, the dates and times of respective flights. It provides an individualized analysis of each of that pilot’s flights, based on their performance. The target best practice and savings with details for each segment. A replay of the flight, using3D trajectory shows the SID STAR (Standard Instrument Departure / Standard Arrival Points) as when flap changes are made. Flight feedback is also encouraged to help PAL’s fuel analyst team make improvements. The pilot can compare their performance against the OFP (Operational Flight Plan) using the plan versus the actual fuel comparisons. On a bigger scale, the same pilot can anonymously benchmark their performance against other pilots within the fleet.
Figure 6.2 shows how SkyBreathe displays flight information by phases with details such as the average N1 setting, average speeds, the slopes, the stops, the flight steps made, the outside air temperature, the flight levels attained or maintained, the distances flown, the time used and the fuel used or burned within each segment.
Again, pilots are also able to access and replay their respective flight trajectories that can showcase profiles in three dimensions along with data points such as flaps deployment or extension, SID / STAR point, segment bound and other information in the pertinent phase (figure 6.3).
The actual savings for an initiative and phase are analyzed and areas of opportunity showcased for each individual pilot. Pilot feedback also allows examination of crowd source operational intelligence and the scrutiny of each category of each fuel saving initiative to help identify the reasons why the best practice was or was not applied.
And the feedback that we have been getting from most of our flight crew regarding the use of MyFuelCoach is largely positive (figure 6.4).
The App has, in fact, been praised for being innovative and easy to use with the customizable start screen and journals where the company can tailor fit the data for their specific need and their focus. It’s a tool that has helped them advance their skills when viewed constructively. More importantly, the tangible results give them a feeling of awareness of their individual contribution to the cause of company conservation, fuel efficiency and our goals towards sustainability.
ACCOMPLISHEMENTS IN THE PAST YEAR
So, given all of the above, what have we so far accomplished at PAL with the use of SkyBreathe and MyFuelCoach? After nine months of our six primary initiatives, we have reduced our consumption of fuel by 3.7 million kilograms (figure 7), generating a saving of roughly US$4.1m.
Consequently, there was a reduction of 11,629 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions from PAL’s operations. Notwithstanding that achievement, we believe that there is much more room for growth as we’ve only introduced six fuel saving initiatives while there is a slew of further initiatives that we are waiting to get into line (figure 8). These will include reduced acceleration altitude, CDA or continuous descent approach, pilot extra fuel requested, single engine taxi-in, idle reverse thrust operation and reduced flaps operation.
We see, from figure 8, that the remaining potential savings for these six initiatives alone will increase saving s by more than 40% or, roughly 3.1 million kilograms. Three of these initiatives, reduced acceleration altitude, single engine taxi-in and pilot extra fuel were being practiced at Philippine Airlines before SkyBreathe came along but data gathering was slow and tedious, and translation to useful information even slower.
When SkyBreathe went live last January (figure 9), it can be seen that the reduced acceleration altitude application rates steadily increased from February to August of this year.
A similar decrease in pilot extra fuel requested can be tracked in figure 10, after an initial spike from January to February.
The spike in July to August can be attributed to the peak typhoon season in the Philippines that necessitated an increase in requests for additional fuel during the monsoon season which was expected by the airline. But a steady decline can be noted and is evidenced by the table.
MyFuelCoach impact can also be seen in our SETI or Single Engine In Taxi application rate table (figure 11)
… showing compliance within the 75th to 78th percentile range for the first half of the year. After the MyFuelCoach app introduction and pilots gaining visibility, rates have been steadily above the 80th percentile for the rest of the year.
Another one of the features is for pilots to identify their missed opportunities to apply an initiative as seen in figure 12.
For our single engine in taxi drive we can see, in tabulated form, the top ten airports with the lowest application rate per individual pilot or for the fleet or for the aircraft type. Or, we can also geolocate the airports with the best or worst application rates.
In the example in figure 13 (above) can be seen the different application for the continuous descent approach (CDA) initiative, through a graphical interface which gives a different context to the level of the performance or to where an application might or might not happen.
THE VALUE OF INVOLVING ALL STAKEHOLDERS IN FUEL EFFICIENCY
In retrospect, while the presence of a fuel management system such as SkyBreathe has proven indispensable in our drive towards fuel efficiency and sustainability, an equally important aspect of how we implement and spread this change is through the fuel efficiency culture. While Flight Operations is the obvious area of focus, other stakeholders which deal with fuel must be included in any changes. In PAL’s experience, the first step needed was the creation of a dedicated fuel team that would define or, in our case, redefine our fuel efficiency goals as KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) or KRAs (Key result Areas). This team worked hand-in-hand with OpenAirlines for the setting up of the SkyBreathe infrastructure and for the redefinition and re-setting of our KPIs and the setting of these parameters by each initiative. We also had to develop a communication and awareness strategy for all the stakeholders and to inform them of the plan, and the tool that was currently available and that we had in place to measure, monitor and share the progress that we are making or that has been made.
It’s a company-wide commitment that must involve everyone (figure 14)…
… and, as we have always stated, no airline can afford not to have an operational and fuel efficiency program in place.
So, where do we think the future for this whole area of fuel efficiency might take us? At PAL, there remain a number of initiatives of which we have yet to take advantage as well as some whose optimization might well give us a forty percent net gain in efficiency. Aside from the obvious technology developments or the availability of new equipment and new technologies that would enable fuel efficiency gains, I think that we have to take advantages of the tools available to us now in optimization of these big AI tools and the gathering and analysis, and maximize the opportunities that we have, in order to go to the next level. Notwithstanding any future technology developments, we have the technology today to maximize the opportunities and that’s how PAL will be doing this in the next few years.
Capt. Leo Ezquiel Reyes Bernabe
Capy Bernabe joined PAL in 1992 and started flying domestic flights by 1995 with Fokker 50s. Flew the 737 after that and moved on to the B747-400 and 777-300ER before becoming Deputy Chief Pilot of the B747 and Chief Pilot of B777 plus Manager of Flight Standards and Policies in 2021 overseeing flight operation compliance with IOSA certification before being appointed VP-Flight Operations. Current priorities are overseeing Flight operations Safety Performance Indicator KPIs and Skybreathe.
Philippine Airlines, PAL, is the Philippines’ largest international airline. Its growing fleet, one of the world’s youngest, includes Boeing 777 along with Airbus A350 and A330 and Airbus A320/A321 family. PAL operates from four hub airports (Manila, Cebu, Clark and Davao) in the Philippines to 25 domestic destinations and 28 points in Asia, Australia/Oceania, the Middle East, Europe and North America.
SkyBreathe® is a 360° eco-flying platform designed to give airlines all the tools they need to build and grow a successful fuel efficiency program. Rewarded by many innovation awards, SkyBreathe® is the most widely used eco-flying solution in the world, used by more than 50+ airlines across the world. In 2022, SkyBreathe® users will save more than 1 million tons of CO2, equivalent to planting 125 million trees.