The Digital Revolution: Connectivity and Mobility in Operations at Air Canada
Author: Steve Bogie, Senior Director, Operations IT, Air CanadaSubscribe
The Digital Revolution: Connectivity and Mobility in Operations at Air Canada
Steve Bogie, Senior Director, Operations IT at Air Canada explains how optimal connectivity can be achieved and how Air Canada plans to evolve connectivity to help deliver on corporate objectives
This case study will examine connectivity; that ubiquitous phenomenon that has the power to both enhance our lives and, if we’re not careful, to make public and permanent our every action and utterance. But this case study is not about social media and the permanent, ineradicable connection of people with things that are said and done. This study will address the practical application of new generation technologies to support a significantly enhanced service throughout the airline and, in particular, to consistently improve the customer’s experience. The plans to achieve these goals have an embedded roadmap in a passenger’s direct interaction with Air Canada, as well as ‘behind the scenes’ improvements to ensure that more flights are operated at optimum service levels in the most efficient manner possible.
Air Canada is Canada’s largest domestic and international airline serving more than 190 destinations on five continents. With more than 28,000 employees around the globe, Air Canada served more than 38 million customers in 2014. Passenger operations at the airline began in 1937 bequeathing a legacy both from a corporate perspective and from an IT systems perspective. Air Canada has always sought innovations to optimize operations and customer experience throughout its history, including the introduction of the world’s first computerized reservations system in 1963, assisting in development of the world’s first black box in 1965, and becoming the first in North America to launch apps for Apple and BlackBerry devices in 2009.The company also extends its success to the Air Canada family, including Air Canada Express regional airline partners, and leisure sector carrier, Air Canada rouge. Adding to these accomplishments, Air Canada is a founding member of Star Alliance, the world’s most comprehensive air transportation network serving 1,330 airports in 192 countries.
Air Canada’s long-term strategy revolves around four corporate priorities: Cost Reduction and Transformation; Customer Engagement; Culture Change; and International Growth.
The airline is currently taking delivery of a total of 37 new Boeing 787 aircraft by 2019 that will replace less efficient Boeing 767 aircraft. However, the 787 Dreamliner is more than a new aircraft for Air Canada; it is part of an overall strategy to build a global powerhouse delivering predictable, sustainable growth and bottom line profits as it expands to more international destinations and continues to grow its main hub in Toronto. In addition, its narrow body Airbus fleet will be transitioned to Boeing 737 Max aircraft.
Air Canada also obtains greater flexibility and increased operating margins with its Air Canada Express regional airline partners and Air Canada Rouge continuing to successfully compete in the regional and leisure markets.
The success of Air Canada’s business plan can be illustrated by the position as recently as Q2 2015 in which the airline reported its fifth consecutive quarter of record financial results.
Achieving and using better connectivity
How can Air Canada use technology to help deliver on its corporate objectives to meet the demands of the business and customers? The objective is to deliver the right information, to the right person at the right time. The key to this is harnessing existing information resources in the business and future ones to be developed; and delivering that information in the terms of this new paradigm. Offering customers unhindered access to pertinent information for their travels while touring an airport or commuting to their assigned gate is a fair expectation – the personalization of information and travel. Air Canada continues utilizing technology to optimize operations and improve the customer experience without compromising safety.
Air Canada is focused on four key areas of technology to achieve these objectives: Mobility, Cloud computing, Social Media, and Big Data. Underlying these key technology areas is the importance of connectivity evolution and improvements since data will be collected from multiple highly mobile sources. The connectivity trend is already evident as cars, homes, aircraft, and people constantly stay in touch through technology. Society is moving away from physical availability towards constant correspondence. This progression generates a significant amount of data that, if properly managed and analyzed, can provide valuable insight into customer and employee behaviors providing a significant competitive advantage.
In order to maximize on this ‘big data’, significant computer power is required, as well as machine learning (predictive analytics) taking on greater significance to make sense of the data and assist in providing predictive output for areas ranging from customer experience to predictive aircraft maintenance.
Connectivity is key in leveraging cloud, social media, big data, and mobility into business value. The particular focus in this case study is mobility and connecting mobile devices; linking mobile people to the back-end systems.
Steps to world-class operational information and communications
At Air Canada, all operational information and communications begin at the airline’s global Operations Centre, a brand new purpose-built facility located near its main hub at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport that opened its doors January 2014. Air Canada took the opportunity while constructing the building to source the best fit technology ensuring that the correct corporate structures and processes were in place to make it all fit together. This included bringing in functions that had not previously been located in the operations center. There are now four key areas of focus: operational integrity, aircraft maintenance, crew scheduling, and passenger service.
The aircraft maintenance department at Air Canada addresses any planned and unplanned mechanical issues that arise in its fleet. Technology and connectivity improvements will lead to increased information availability and productivity for line mechanics, disconnecting these engineers geographically from their hard manuals, reference resources, and back-end systems. With the introduction of mobile accessibility in this area, Air Canada is able to drive information to where it is needed in a timely fashion such as technical publications, MELs (minimum equipment lists) and inventory lists. In this way, people are given the tools they require to perform their job function in an efficient, informed manner. At its most basic level, some of the tools are straightforward programs including Microsoft Lync (sometimes known as Skype for Business), giving front line mechanics a video and audio link to the people at base who have the information required; this connectivity promotes real-time collaboration and quick problem resolution as a team.
Air Canada’s evaluation of mobility in the maintenance area, as demonstrated by a proof of concept trial, has shown a potential reduction in delays and cancellations. Mechanics were able to reduce the time they spend searching for an access point to the information they require. Instead, through a mobile device, they will have readily available access to the required information, or potentially additional human resource specialists in another location. This connectivity leads to reductions in touch time as well as total time required to address mechanical issues, therefore minimizing ground time. In turn, this should also result in fewer cancellations and delays and more hours in the air moving passengers. Hard results may be translated into increased customer satisfaction as the service delivered better meets customers’ expectations. In parallel, employee satisfaction improves as they have the information they need to effectively perform their jobs and better communicate with colleagues in other departments. Updates can be communicated directly to the operations center, the flight crew onboard the aircraft and airport agents to improve communications with each other as well as customers. Results from the proof of concept confirm significant returns and very positive feedback from introductory mobility deployments among a diverse range of technological knowledgeable aircraft maintenance engineers.
The aircraft cabin is still an evolving area for mobility solutions, presenting new opportunities to impress customers with experiences beyond current expectations. From the time the aircraft leaves the gate, Air Canada has anywhere from ninety minutes to more than fifteen hours of opportunity to fulfil the goal of providing an outstanding on-board customer experience. Similar to the plans for line mechanics, information can be pushed out to the people who need it and can use it, enriching the experience of those who utilize the information. Air Canada’s cabin mobility initiative includes five components:
- Passenger information (CRM): Passenger data that is intended to aid flight crew in providing a tailored service built on passenger preferences, such as their likes and dislikes and, if they didn’t have a positive experience during their last flight, an opportunity to follow up and mitigate a subsequent instance.
- Documents, manuals and reporting: Imperative to ensuring safety, tracking trends, as well as providing consistent service.
- Point of sale interactions with the customer: From the current reality of limited sales opportunities and benefits, moving to a connected aircraft/cabin provides additional opportunities for both the customers and the cabin crew. With the ‘disconnected’ constraint removed, and the appropriate security protocols in place, sales and revenue opportunities increase as the ability to buy onboard with near real-time verification is leveraged.
- Cabin defect log: Traditionally, airlines have struggled with replacing archaic paper log books tracking cabin defects. Upon landing, mechanics address technical issues identified by pilots and crew and then, if there is still an opportunity, a glance at the log books can identify a cabin flaw. This often leaves issues unaddressed and the customer may see the defects, which diminishes the appearance of the aircraft and quality of their experience. Future plans to use electronic defects logs to gather and collate information before the aircraft touches the ground can ensure there is a team available and prepared to remedy the defect upon arrival.
- Crew information and communication: Providing in-flight crews with near real-time information about their schedule and the aircraft promotes understanding of service specifications unique to each assignment and aircraft.
The objective of the cabin mobility initiative, as with other mobility initiatives across the organization, is to transition from paper (including the time, effort and infrastructure required to manage it) to electronic methods, across all of the fleet on all routes. Air Canada’s goal is to create a paperless environment and a consistent up-to-date product.
Flight Operations mobility solution is Air Canada’s most mature area, in which the second phase of a three-phase program is currently nearing completion. Pilots have been traveling with iPads replacing their hard copy flight materials for the past two years. The initial phase focused on electronic manuals, documents, and increased communications. Phase two, currently being deployed, will target a complete paperless flight deck environment with briefing packages and electronic charts from Jeppesen across all Air Canada fleets, at all phases of flight. Phase three will comprise the next steps to build on Wi-Fi connectivity as it is introduced to the fleet. This translates to timely weather updates for crew, easy transition during flight plan changes, as well as other direct communications with SOC (System Operations Control) and subsequent workflows within the cabin. The implementation of this plan is progressing as Flight Operations and some of Air Canada’s key partners work to push out the information that is currently locked in back-end systems.
The key to all technological advancement and maximization of opportunities available is gathering like-minded organizations together to make it happen. It’s not an overly difficult thing to build an application, but if you don’t have the integration with the back-end systems, or if you overlook ensuring that the right information is available through the application, then all you have is an attractive front-end that doesn’t offer any substantive benefits. Air Canada is confident in its strategy to follow and engage the evolution and emergence of connectivity and mobility. Success will ensure delivery of the right information to the right people at the right time, and add to the value of work as well as the customer experience.
Wi-Fi (wireless) connectivity is a critical component in the future evolution of all of the above programs, including the deployment of onboard Wi-Fi to deliver, among other things, near real time information to flight crews.
Steve Bogie is currently Senior Director, Operational Information Systems at Air Canada with overall responsibility for the organization’s operational IT systems. Previously, he held a number of senior roles in Corporate Strategy, Airline Operations, Customer Service and Community Relations and has operated his own Aviation consulting business. Mr. Bogie has over 30 years Aviation experience, mostly with commercial Airline operators: he undertook his Business Administration studies at Kwantlen University College prior to entering the MBA program at Edinburgh Business School.
Air Canada is Canada’s largest full-service airline and the largest provider of scheduled passenger services in the Canadian market, the Canada-U.S. trans-border market and in the international market to and from Canada. Together with its Air Canada Express regional partners, Air Canada serves more than 38 million passengers annually and provides direct passenger service to more than 190 destinations on five continents. Air Canada is a founding member of Star Alliance™.