Aircraft IT Operations – July / August 2016

Aircraft IT Operations – July / August 2016 Cover


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Putting the customer first

Author: Alexander Tatidis, Sales Representative/Assistant Sales Manager, Flygprestanda


Putting the customer first

Alexander Tatidis, Sales Representative/Assistant Sales Manager at Flygprestanda outlines the Challenges faced by an IT Vendor in today’s industry of evolving technologies, trends and client demands

2015 has been a year where we have seen a numerical decline in traffic volume for business aviation1. The EBAA (European Business Aviation Association) Traffic Tracker report estimates the decline at -2.6% when compared to 2014. At the same time, PwC 2015 Aviation Trends Report predicts a continuous growth for the global aviation industry as a whole, as has been the case for the last ten years2. The PwC report concludes that, although consistent profitability is elusive, their words not mine, revenues have grown and actually doubled over the last ten years. One consistent factor remains; that profit margins are slim, less than 3% overall3. Please note that this is not true for everybody in the sector. In the commercial aviation industry, just about every player – from software suppliers, airports and aircraft manufacturers to travel agents – generates profit. The ones struggling for profitability are in most cases the airlines. The paradox is almost ironic – that the ones actually moving passengers are also the ones who struggle to break even4. So why is this important information for software suppliers to the Operations and MRO functions?

All of us are dependent on airlines and operators moving passengers. And we are all, in our own way, doing what we can in order to help that process be as safe, as profitable and to run as smoothly as possible. The aviation industry has made tremendous headway in hardware – systems are faster, engines draw less fuel and are smarter to maintain, they pollute less and fuel consumption has gone down; safety is up and we see incredible technological advancements almost as each new aircraft is released5. In the same way, IT and software suppliers are part of what gives a commercial operator its competitive edge.

Airlines and manufacturers alike live in a world filled with demands set by others – passengers, pilots, engineers, authorities etc.; enhancing the customer experience is therefore proving to be increasingly difficult6 as those demands grow in numbers and in complexity. Proving yourself as a first class aircraft manufacturer or airline with a new engine, a larger aircraft or higher speeds is not going to be enough. Satisfying these demands will eventually and inevitably lead to the search for the right suppliers7. It will equally inevitably put pressure on those suppliers to meet the demands of their customers.

IT and software developers working in aviation are in a unique position of being able to aid both operators and manufacturers in meeting modern day demands. Many in the sector are, in fact, sharing customers with the aircraft manufacturers; it is the services of software developers and vendors that can often be part of what is maximizing the potential, utility, profitability and perhaps lifespan of an aircraft, making the software sector a vital partner for both the airline and the manufacturer.

Software is a vital part of keeping up with the demands of an ever changing industry. We have come a long way from when IT in the cockpit simply meant spreadsheets and manuals on a laptop. There is no denying that big players in aircraft manufacturing have been pioneers in the development of the industry. I do however think that IT development within aviation cannot, and should not, be left to manufacturers alone. Granted, as stated, they will be invaluable as partners but there is no denying the importance of software and IT developers as major players in the future of aviation.

One telling sign of the change in what drives development in our industry is the iPad’s rise to prominence as tool of choice for pilots around the world. And surely not only for pilots; I am certain that operations management, dispatchers and others enjoy the benefits of tablets in general and perhaps iPads in particular. This, of course, is news to no one. All involved are well aware of the iPad’s rise within the airline industry. Even though I suspect that device’s king-of-the-hill status will inevitably diminish as demand for Windows and Android tablets rises, the tablet as a tool is here to stay. The customers’ demand for EFB and the paperless cockpit will make sure of it and we, as suppliers, must heed the calling of our customers.

A good calculation is in everybody’s interest
Readers of Aircraft IT represent a good cross-section from various parts of the industry; so, to illustrate my point, I would like to focus for a moment on something with which most readers will be familiar… take-off performance. This should provide an example based on one of the challenges we see in our everyday work.

When it comes to take-off performance, aircraft manufacturers control one component vital to the industry and to development of the market as a whole – the performance data. When it comes to aircraft performance and take-off calculations, the ability, and possibility, to cooperate with manufacturers is crucial if the customer is to benefit. Usually, this is not a problem. We as suppliers are not in competition with manufacturers, in fact, one could argue that we live in symbiosis with them. Our purpose is to provide services that let their customer, airlines and aircraft operators, maximize the utility of the aircraft. Optimizing payloads, cargo or passenger weights while clearing obstacles is our way of increasing an airline’s competitiveness and the functionality of the aircraft.

The traditional way of doing this is by digitizing Flight Manuals. Once our customer (the airline) has provided the tail specific performance data, our engineers have proprietary algorithms capable of interpreting the complex data in order to produce accurate and compliant calculations. Stepping in to the new EFB digital era of innovative IT, developing software for tablet compatible software has basically been done by the same method. With one exception: manufacturer controlled SCAP performance modules.

SCAP hoarding; good for the customer or two charges for one service?
While not a problem in itself, the SCAP(standard computerized airplane performance) module performance data is a practical thing, the manufacturers SCAP handling can in many cases determine the usefulness of supplier software.

For example, once an airline acquires an airplane they may turn to one or several suitable performance suppliers to relieve pilots, and other staff, of the tedious work of takeoff calculations. If the performance data is SCAP based, the performance supplier will need access to the SCAP module source code in order to compile the data for use with the suppliers system and with the airlines platform of choice (iOS, Windows, Linux).

Unfortunately, some manufacturers are unwilling to release SCAP module source code to a customer for third party compilation. It is also not uncommon for manufacturer to separate critical information from the AFM (aircraft flight manual) to be built in to the SCAP. This often means that the manufacturer will sell the performance in subscription form to the customer. More often than not, this will come as a result of the manufacturer’s desire to provide the operator with both hardware and software; in my example, sell both airplane and performance software.

In a way, this makes sense. The manufacturer can charge for two services simultaneously, and the customer will only have one supplier. On the other hand, it is not very competitive, and it does not guarantee the best option for the operator. One could argue that the manufacturer will have exact information on the capabilities of the aircraft. However, it does not necessarily mean that they are experts in creating the most effective algorithms, or in keeping airport or obstacle data, or in creating flight paths. One could also make the argument of unfair advantage in favor of the manufacturer, and that the customer, the operator, is in effect being forced to use manufacturer software.

For fairness I should say that there are ways around these problems already. Suppliers can choose to build or adapt their software to work around the SCAP module, letting the performance software retrieve performance from the SCAP as it is compiled. Unfortunately, this will more often than not delay the calculations making for ineffective use of the software.

On the other hand, it seems less than appropriate for an airline, having purchased a multi-million dollar aircraft, to not be given full control of the performance data. Even less appropriate having to pay for use of that performance data as is often the case. From the customer perspective, it also raises the question; is the manufacturer best suited to handle performance data? Performance suppliers are working day and night to perfect calculations and algorithms, to adapt and configure in accordance with customer needs and demands.

Worth mentioning also is that, while optimizing performance for customers, we the suppliers often times serve the manufacturers well by way of finding and recognizing faulty data and errors, and by improving performance in ways that will benefit them as manufacturers. What if performance suppliers can be seen, not as competition, but as beneficiaries or at the very least helpers or partners to manufacturers? And if nothing else, why should the customer have to settle for something suboptimal?

Situations like the above example have led to the fact that we, the service providers, to some extent still have to maneuver around precompiled SCAP modules by constructing unnecessarily time consuming service experiences, or limit ourselves to AFM based aircraft types. Also, digitizing AFMs and having to reconfigure already working software to various OS (operating systems) due to manufacturers’ unwillingness to use open source code is frustrating, when we know we can do better. One could also argue that the lack of freedom of choice for airlines is inappropriate for the modern day, and unfit for the progression of the industry.

In conclusion, I want to say that part of the problem is also a dated view on the part of corporate management. In the olden days of corporate management, the rule was the bigger the better, Giant conglomerates were the envy of the world, everything was to be kept in-house and the view was that one business should alone be the best at everything that customers required. Since then a lot has happened. Modern day transportation and IT has paved the way for a global market of services and collaborations. The fact that you can benefit and even gain advantages from cooperating with others while focusing on core business is evident. An industry can and must be defined as greater than the mere sum of similar companies, when service and support can be found in other industries and in other parts of the world. Companies today are able to perform at the top of their ability, while simultaneously profiting from the specialties of others. We still see large companies ruling the world of international business, but to a much larger extent than before they do so by way of collaboration, of shared ownership or shared control.

It’s important to stress that I see light at the end of tunnel. It is my firm belief that aircraft manufacturers, IT/software suppliers and airlines can and will benefit from a more permissive attitude towards cooperation. If manufacturers could open up to us the suppliers, the innovative spirit of our industry and the capable staff therein will allow for all of us to truly work with the airlines for the greater good.

When push comes to shove, we are all in this together, and we share a mutual goal of providing the best for our customers

Contributor’s Details

Alexander Tatidis, Sales Representative/Assistant Sales Manager, Flygprestanda.
Alexander is a sales representative of Flygprestanda, responsible for handling customers globally. In additional to handling customer accounts, Alexander also represents the company at conferences and exhibitions around the world. He previously worked for over ten years with sales, marketing and business development in education, IT and aviation. Mr Tatidis has a bachelor’s degree in Enterprising and Business Development, marketing and economics, and is a certified copywriter.

Flygprestanda is a full-service solution provider of IT services for airline operations, management and control. With hundreds of deployed solutions and four decades of experience in performance engineering, systems design and software development, Flygprestanda continues to be at the forefront in meeting the unique needs of world-class airlines. The primary object is to support clients with up-to-date Airport Analysis for all airports used as destinations or alternates in their operations.

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