Aircraft IT OPS Issue 59: Spring 2024

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Aircraft IT OPS Issue 59: Spring 2024 Cover

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CASE STUDY: Viva Aerobus gets to grips with digitally powered fuel efficiency

Author: Nancy Madrigal, Head of Fuel Conservation – VIVA AEROBUS

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Nancy Madrigal, Head of Fuel Conservation at VIVA AEROBUS shares taking the first steps to using AI and big data to power fuel efficiency

This article is about our first steps as Viva Aerobus using an innovative artificial intelligence, big data and applications to power fuel efficiency in our operation. It’s a big topic but before we go any further, I’ll introduce you to our airline where all of this happened.

VIVA AEROBUS

As the leading Ultra Low-Cost Carrier (ULCC) in the Americas, Viva Aerobus has been operating for more than 16 years. At the time of writing, there were 76 aircraft in the fleet with a mix of Airbus A320 and A321 ceo and neo types. It’s a young fleet with an average age of 5.2 years.

The airline has six operating bases and has 33 percent of the Mexican domestic market serving 51 destinations with 107 domestic routes as well as more than 4 percent of the international market from Mexico with 37 routes. In 2021, we were recognized as Airline of the Year by Air Transport and, in 2022, recognized as Low-Cost Airline of the Year by CAPA center of Aviation.

Looking to the future of Viva Aerobus, the key word is growth. We currently have 90 Airbus A321neo aircraft on order which is linked to our objective of being one of the airlines with the youngest fleet in the Americas plus keeping an updated, high-tech fleet will support reduced fuel consumption as well as lower CO2 emissions. And that leads us nicely into the fuel efficiency project that is the main subject of this article.

VIVA AEROBUS FUEL EFFICIENCY PROJECT

In 2013 and with only 19 aircraft at that time, we laid the first foundations for a fuel conservation culture in the company. There were some project initiatives here and there but it was in 2021, with 50 active aircraft in the fleet, that a dedicated fuel efficiency department was created with the sole objective of promoting fuel conservation initiatives to ensure that Viva Aerobus would become a greener airline.

The Fuel Committee’s goal is to maximize fuel efficiency through various projects and initiatives that impact the main areas of our operation including Dispatch, Flight and Gound Operations. Through this committee’s work, we began to formalize projects, allocate them to owners and create a plan to follow-up until they materialized. However, we were still facing the problem of how to know when we were doing things right. We didn’t know how we could improve our fuel efficiency projects if we couldn’t measure their impact. It was at that point when we began to look for a tool that would not only help us to measure our fuel consumption but also the savings generated by each initiative that we were implementing.

Our search led us to consider several of the different fuel management software solutions available in the market and we eventually decided on the one that was the best fit for Viva Aerobus which was SkyBreathe® from OpenAirlines.

Compared to other products on offer, the SkyBreathe® user interface is straightforward and user-friendly which is super useful, especially for small teams like the one at Viva Aerobus. However, although it is straightforward to use, that does not mean that SkyBreathe® is limited in its capabilities: in fact, the solution is capable of running complex fuel consumption and efficiency analyses. During the selection period, we were able to talk with colleagues from other airlines who were using SkyBreathe® and, though that, we saw the numbers of analyses that could be performed with the solution. It really is amazing just how much it can do. Another very important point with using SkyBreathe® was that within the same suite there is the option to adopt a mobile app for pilots called SkyBreathe® MyFuelCoach through which they can view their own performance with green SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) in the flights they have carried out. And, of course, it’s very useful to have the information taken directly from the aircraft from different sources such as FDR (Flight Deck Resources), AOC (Airline Operations Center), OFP (Operational Flight Plan / Original Flight Plan), load sheets, etc.

SKYBREATHE® IMPLEMENTATION

The process of deploying SkyBreathe® at Viva Aerobus started in 2022 with the integration of historical data.

During this process, we also ran onboarding meetings with the OpenAirlines team; the meetings were structured as weekly follow-ups so that we could ensure the effective deployment of the system in Viva Aerobus but they also helped us to build the user requirement document which includes all of the specifications for the customization of SkyBreathe® to ensure that it would work for our operations. Once all of that had been implemented, we had the go-live which included a week’s visit from the OpenAirlines team to provide SkyBreathe® training to different areas in the company; the field team, some pilots, some people from Dispatch as well as from Safety and the IT team.

The entire process, from selection to the go-live lasted close to eight months. There were some data integration difficulties; however, the OpenAirlines team was always available to walk our IT team through the resolution, so it never became a big issue.

INVOLVING THE PILOTS

With all of that now competed, the next step was to involve the pilots. Their involvement is through the SkyBreathe® MyFuelCoach application as mentioned above and the first step was to launch a call to all pilots to participate in a trial period. In that trial period, SkyBreathe® MyFuelCoach had a preliminary configuration designed with the help of delegates chosen by the chief pilot. 55 pilots were involved to explore the app before it was rolled out to the whole pilot community. The original idea was to select around ten to 15 pilots designated by the chief pilot; however, there was a better-than-expected response to the invitation for volunteers.

The first plan was for the trial period to be one month but that was extended to three months following feedback received from industry colleagues who had already implemented SkyBreathe® MyFuelCoach in their airlines. During those three months, through the fuel committee, we sent constant communications to encourage the pilots to use the app and send their feedback about the configuration with the objective of having the app as ready as possible before the deployment of all the pilots in Viva Aerobus.

For any readers who might be considering this tool or one like it, I would say to pay close attention to the trial period and ask for as much pilot feedback as possible. It’s better to take time for the configuration to be ready before releasing it to the pilots than to release it quickly but with an incomplete configuration which can cause an immediate loss of credibility from the pilots for the system.

Post-trial changes

Some of the changes that we applied after completing the trial period included adjusting target altitudes at all airports for reduced acceleration altitude best practice. We also customized the tolerance for each best practice and, lastly, we only selected five best practices out of ten that had been deployed during the trial period in light of the feedback we received:

  • Reduced Acceleration Altitude – RAAL;
  • Reduced Flaps at Landing – RFLA;
  • Reverse Thrust – REVT;
  • Engine Out Taxi In – EOTI;
  • Auxiliary Power Unit In – APUI.

Finally, we completed the official deployment of SkyBreathe® MyFuelCoach, including the five best practices listed above, to all pilots on June 6 2023.

The official launch communication was by an email in which we gave a brief introduction to the application and presented different tools to make the process easier. These tools were a document with precise instructions for pilots on how to download, log-in and explore the app.

Another document had a clear description of each of the five best practices that were deployed in SkyBreathe® MyFuelCoach.

For Viva Aerobus, it is super important to be very transparent with the pilots and these documents also contributed to generating trust in the system. We also provided the pilots with eLearning training, both initial and recurring, about the main issues applicable to our operation.

Even though we had done all the above, after two months only 30 percent of pilots had used SkyBreathe® MyFuelCoach. In light of this, we had to ask ourselves what else was left to do?

This video is from our campaign carried out in August 2023 where we visited all our operating bases and had one-on-one conversations with the pilots with the objective of promoting the use of SkyBreathe® MyFuelCoach. During these visits, we realized that many of the pilots had not even downloaded the application; so, we helped them to do so with a step-by-step approach. There were a lot of pilots who had downloaded SkyBreathe® MyFuelCoach but couldn’t log in due to a user registration issue. We contacted the IT support team, explained what was happening and they were able to deal with that issue right away. We were also able to clarify any doubts about the application, mainly removing the concern that some pilots felt about the app being part of a witch-hunt or a punitive system. We clarified that we can constantly see and monitor pilots’ fuel consumption and savings but that will not have any negative consequences for them. During the visits we were also able to collect more feedback about the configuration of the best practices which helped with fine-tuning that part of the project. Finally, although it was not an initial objective of the tour, it turned out to be a valuable opportunity to discuss ideas and project suggestions with pilots, not only about the applications but also about more general fuel conservation topics. It turned out to be a useful experience for both the pilots and for the fuel team and we learned a lot from them… listen to your pilots; it’s very important. We finished that tour highly motivated and full of new ideas for the fuel committee that we are sure will help us to increase fuel efficiency.

As a further step, we carried out an online survey for those pilots who were not available when we visited their bases, in order for them not to be left out of the activity. Among the questions, we asked them to rate the SkyBreathe® MyFuelCoach application which averaged 4.2 out of five and to rate our communication strategy which averaged 4.3 out of five.

In general, the comments were very positive about SkyBreathe® MyFuelCoach and there were some ideas on points where we could improve. A couple of pilots remained resistant to the new app and we’ll continue working with them in the interest of fuel conservation. Also, in case we still don’t have enough feedback, something interesting and useful that OpenAirlines does is to arrange open days. In March 2023, we were able to attend the event in Toulouse which turned out to be an incredible experience, sharing lessons learned with colleagues from around the world from different airlines with diverse organizational structures, different fleets but all with the objective to continually be greener. OpenAirlines has truly created a community of airlines and we are very pleased to be part of that.

WHAT WE HAVE ACHIEVED

After all of this effort, what have we achieved? We measured the impact of the Engine Out Taxi In initiative/practice before and after the deployment of SkyBreathe® MyFuelCoach and the pilot communication campaign that accompanied it. There is still some way to go but we believe that we are on the right path because we are increasing the application of this and the other best practices.

NEXT STEPS FOR VIVA AEROBUS?

We are continuing to promote among pilots not only the use of SkyBreathe® MyFuelCoach but also a general culture about fuel efficiency and we are researching for the creation of an internal rewards program for pilots based on their rate of applying best practices. Now we analyze data collected by SkyBreathe® for continuous improvement in the different fuel efficiency initiatives that we have.

I hope that this brief introduction of Viva Aerobus’ continuing journey to fuel efficiency, what we have achieved and how we plan to carry on improving in the future will be useful for readers who are considering such a step for their own airline.

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