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Case Study: Safer, Faster, Better: China Airlines M&E IT upgrade case study
Author: Houng Wang, Vice President, Engineering Division, China AirlinesSubscribe
Safer, Faster, Better: China Airlines M&E IT upgrade case study
Houng Wang, Vice President, Engineering Division – China Airlines explains how modern MRO IT is playing a key role in performance excellence at China Airlines
China Airlines is Taiwan’s largest airline. Over the years, the passenger and cargo carrier has developed an international reputation for delivering superior customer service, having recently been voted airline with the top mind-share, according to a leading business management magazine.
A SkyTeam airline alliance member since 2011, China Airlines is committed to promoting innovative, high-quality passenger experience and caring services, including the retrofitting of Boeing 747-400 aircraft with brand new seats and entertainment systems, in-flight meals that combine the best of Chinese, Western and Taiwanese cuisine, as well as mobile phone and online services that satisfy passengers’ demand for convenient access.
China Airlines – At a Glance
- Founded in 1959
- The largest airline in Taiwan
- SkyTeam airline alliance member since September 2011
- A330-300, A340-300
- 737-800, 747-400, 747-400F (cargo)
- 27 on order (including777-300ER)
- Hub: Taipei
- Destinations: 120 domestic and international destinations in 29 countries
- Employees: 11,000 worldwide
- Subsidiaries: Mandarin Airlines, Tigerair Taiwan
- 2013 Revenues: TWD131.753 million
A Commitment to Passenger Safety
It should come as no surprise that the primary goal of any commercial aircraft operator is to deliver the best service possible for its customers. While this entails a number of factors to support customer loyalty – reliable departures and arrivals; friendly and helpful staff; in-flight comfort and entertainment; innovative rewards packages and trip promotions – the most fundamental of all is the promise of passenger safety. As Taiwan’s largest air carrier, operating in a highly dynamic and competitive market in the Asia-Pacific region, we have no choice but to continue to consolidate our reputation as an industry leader in this area. Over the years, we have implemented a number of key in-house flight safety programs, designed to foster an open and highly-collaborative environment dedicated to preventing safety incidents both in the air and on the ground. Of note, for instance, are…
- China Airline’s Safety Management System (SMS) systematically manages all forms of aviation risks in areas such as flight operations, in-flight services, and ground handling. We have a safety report policy that encourages employees to quickly and honestly report all identified incidents and hazards, in the spirit of reducing the probability of unsafe incidences.
- An Aviation Quality Database, built within the SMS, was introduced in 2013 to more efficiently collect work process issues, conduct risk assessment, take appropriate risk control measures, and monitor the subsequent status.
- A Line Operations Safety Audit (LOSA) was also established to enable experts and trained observers to collect and assess data on flight crew behavior and strategies for managing threats and correcting errors. By identifying the strengths and weaknesses of an airline, LOSA is a means for China Airlines to self-assess its safety margins in flight operations
Aviation safety is China Airlines’ utmost mission – each and every employee is fully committed to it by integrating safety consciousness into our operations, system design, and organization.
Effective maintenance operations: a prerequisite for safety
The Engineering & Maintenance Organization (EMO) is no exception to this rule. In fact, we consider the quality assurance of maintenance work as the best foundation for flight safety. Since the formation of our maintenance unit in 1959, China Airlines has worked hard to certify staff and operations according to latest safety regulations and practices. Today, we are the largest and most modern aircraft body maintenance center in the region. We count on more than 1,200 professionals working out of five hangars to deliver a complete range of internationally certified line, heavy and shop maintenance work on various types of aircraft and engines, both for our own passenger and cargo fleets, and for over 40 other domestic and international airlines.
We never rest on our laurels in our dedication to safety but continue to evaluate and monitor the training and certification of all maintenance personnel, to ensure ongoing compliance with new and evolving CAA certification requirements. This commitment inevitably found its way into the EMO back office – specifically, how we function on a day-to-day basis and what systems are used to support our maintenance operations.
Our network of legacy mainframe systems often could not deliver the data insights we felt were critical if we wanted to evolve the business and introduce new efficiencies. For the most part, these systems worked in siloes, each isolated from the others, and each operated by its own set of processes for capturing and storing data. This made it very difficult to access and share timely maintenance information across the organization.
In our highly competitive marketplace, we understood that success would hinge solely on factors that could be controlled, namely driving greater operational efficiencies. With the need to fulfil aggressive corporate expansion plans, coupled with the need to accommodate an evolving fleet, we soon recognized that it was no longer viable to continue with the status quo. Subsequently, China Airlines committed to investing in more modern IT systems to support the business, including EMO.
Evolving the EMO Department
The search for an MRO IT solution extended beyond simply selecting a system that could do a better job of storing maintenance transactional activity or executing existing maintenance processes: this initiative was based on three key objectives:
- Integrate the entire EMO department using a single, seamless approach;
- Strengthen configuration control and record keeping, for more agile compliance reporting;
- Minimize in-house system customizations.
In addition to generating substantial cost savings, we were motivated by the possibility of driving stronger visibility into our operations, both ‘day of’ and historical. Doing so would not only simplify ongoing compliance with regulatory standards, it would also help us better understand why things happen and how, through preventative maintenance, we could best minimize the risk of it happening again in the future. Such proven practices would typically lead to better performance and greater productivity during all maintenance visits, both scheduled and unscheduled. Based on these goals, we engaged in an active market assessment of vendor solutions. We eventually turned to Mxi Technologies and its Maintenix software as the best option capable of supporting the increasing sophistication of our fleet, and our demand for operational efficiencies in line with corporate strategy.
We envisioned Maintenix to be our system of record for maintenance and engineering needs across our entire fleet of Boeing and Airbus airplanes, as well those aircraft handled by our burgeoning third-party maintenance services practice. It offered the promise of a full end-to-end suite, including functionality for maintenance program management; configuration management; engineering; planning; materials management; and line, heavy, and shop maintenance.
From the outset, we opted for a phased implementation approach. While the conventional wisdom among some is to proceed with a full system implementation from the start, we were looking for the path with the least risk. A phased approach offered us the ability to gradually wean ourselves off legacy systems and build in the necessary integrations to others, most notably to our SAP ERP system. It also gave us the time to effectively handle change management among staff who would need time to acclimatize to a new system. Most importantly, it allowed us to evaluate progress and measure results at key intervals, assessing fit to the overall business plan, and implementing necessary modifications before moving on to the next stage.
The project was split into two key phases – with the first phase focused on core competencies in engineering, planning and technical records management. We have already successfully achieved the completion of this phase, introducing key usability and process enhancements across the entirety of our MRO operations.
The final phase, currently underway, supports our move to real-time management of line and heavy maintenance events, as data is captured at the point of maintenance execution. This will be of significant benefit to the growth areas of our business, namely our expanding third-party MRO services for global customers such as Continental Airlines, FedEx, Korean Air and Japan Airlines, among many others.
The Maintenix system will also extend its footprint into such specialty areas as materials management. For instance, China Airlines currently uses a warehousing system called ASAR, or Automatic Storage Automatic Retrieval. ASAR is quite robust, capable of retrieving information on more than 120,000 parts and materials within just 50 seconds of inquiry. To capitalize on this power, we plan on integrating the system with Maintenix. This will enable a completely seamless ‘Just in Time’ supply model, helping us cost-effectively execute timely parts requests and fulfillment in line with increasingly competitive serviceability targets.
Maintenix Capacity Summary
Maintenix Planning Viewer
Maintenix Work Package
Maintenix Station Capacity
Positive Returns to Date
To keep a finger on the pulse of project success, every month we conduct a Time Quality Cost (TQC) assessment, measuring the impact of the new Maintenix system against 18 operational metrics. Despite only being in the early stages of phase two, we are already seeing tangible benefits in the way we conduct our maintenance practices. Of significance are…
- A 10 per cent increase in line management process efficiencies, resulting in annual cost savings of US$560,000;
- A 3 per cent increase in A Checks delivery efficiencies, resulting in annual cost savings of US$213,000;
- An average reduction of 30 days layover in scheduled aircraft maintenance, resulting in savings of US$1,352,000 (DVC);
- An average reduction of 25 days layover in unscheduled aircraft maintenance, resulting in savings of US$1,133,000 (DVC).
Collectively, the positive results we have experienced to date cannot be understated. Optimizing the way we perform line and A Checks, coupled with the significant reduction in layover times, mean our aircraft are spending more time in revenue-generation mode, and less time in the hangar.
Factoring in the cost reductions achieved to date, we are setting ourselves up well for stronger financial performance. In 2013 alone, China Airlines saw its EMO operating costs go down by US$3.5 million – a significant achievement when you consider how the market’s increasingly competitive nature is forcing operators to deliver greater services with fewer resources.
Moving forward, taking advantage of the real-time logistical support and complete cost analysis afforded by the Maintenix system, we expect to further increase our maintenance cost control and drive continuing improvements in repair quality and efficiency.
The success of any MRO project is naturally rooted first and foremost in having a modern, comprehensive system that is backed by a committed team of professionals. We have been very fortunate to work with a knowledgeable and helpful team from Mxi throughout the project. However, other key factors go a long way to ensuring a smooth transition and faster time to returns. Over the course of the project to date, we have recognized a few proven practices that have contributed greatly to making this a positive experience.
Naturally, every MRO IT project will come with its own unique challenges and needs. Fundamentally, though, there are three paramount practices that would serve to help any operator of any size tackle the task of evolving maintenance IT and operations:
- Maintain executive buy-in – no matter the size or scope of the project, it all starts with the top level of the airline. Unless they are wholly committed, the project will not meet its objectives. From the start, China Airlines’ MRO IT modernization project has received strong support from the Executive Steering Committee. They understand the implications and complexity of such an undertaking, and how there may be bumps along the way. Having senior management in our corner has helped us stay on course, maintain focus on the corporate objectives in play, and make the hard decisions with greater confidence.
- Keep the communication lines open – this is particularly important in handling the change management hurdles typical of IT projects of this size. At China Airlines, we have built a strong team of dedicated professionals who consistently champion the cause to the broader user base. Providing regular status updates and encouraging feedback fosters a shared sense of ownership and pride in the project. This cultivates more openness to embracing change for the good, and helps everybody stay mindful of the higher goals at hand.
- Measure, measure, measure – as mentioned earlier, we took a phased rollout approach in order to grant us the time to repeatedly measure project impact at key intervals along the way. Doing so helps maintain project alignment against core corporate objectives, identifying any issues or hurdles and adjusting implementation plans accordingly to get the project back on course. It also helps with the broader change management issue. Taking the time to identify and promote quick wins and early returns along the way both validates system performance, and gradually dilutes user skepticism.
Maintenance IT as a management priority
There is no denying that modern information technology has the power to exercise significant influence over business performance. For airlines looking to differentiate from the competition, innovation should be a top strategic imperative. China Airlines understands this all too well. We firmly believe that optimizing our Engineering & Maintenance Organization will go a long way to maintaining a positive customer experience and driving greater brand loyalty. Most importantly, it supports our unending commitment to delivering the safest and most reliable passenger and cargo service in the industry.
With a proven implementation plan, and supported by a committed vendor and internal team of champions, China Airlines is on the right path to making its business performance objectives a reality, helping us remain agile and top of mind in today’s highly-competitive market.
Houng Wang, Vice President, Engineering Division – China Airlines
Mr. Houng Wang is responsible for all Engineering activities at China Airlines, including system engineering, engineering planning, supply, technical information planning and accounting. He joined China Airlines in 1982 as a mechanic. Since then, he has filled different functions and has held various senior positions within the airline’s Engineering and Maintenance Organization. Prior to his current post, he was Vice President of Quality Assurance.
Mxi Technologies is a provider of integrated and intelligent maintenance management software, support and services catering specifically to the global aviation industry. Maintenix® software is designed to help aviation organizations maximize the revenue potential of their aviation assets through standard, lean, and predictable maintenance. Featuring a modern, Web-based and mobile-enabled architecture, the Maintenix suite delivers advanced capabilities such as controlled workflow, automated maintenance and materials planning, point-of-maintenance access to real-time information, and paperless execution and compliance.