Aircraft IT OPS Issue 58: Winter 2023

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Aircraft IT OPS Issue 58: Winter 2023 Cover

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WHITE PAPER: A new digital era for aircraft fueling

Author: Robin Weissgerber, Product Strategist aFuel, Information Design One AG

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Robin Weissgerber, Product Strategist aFuel, Information Design One AG explains how fueling is now joining the digital age

The aircraft fueling process hasn’t really progressed in decades but, in this article, I want to show you how this can change with the era of digital aircraft fueling. We’ll start by considering how a digital fueling process should look.

HOW A DIGITAL FUELING PROCESS SHOULD LOOK

Fueling is a bilateral process involving external fueling providers at every airport. Therefore, fast and precise communication between the airline and the fueling provider is key to eliminating potential disruptions. The digital means of today are the perfect technology to tackle that problem. By using a digital real-time tool rather than fax or phone, the foundation for a smooth fueling process can be created, with instant and precise information exchange, limiting wasted time and human error. A critical success factor for digital fueling is as a unified, comparable and centrally steered digital process across the network.

To digitalize the fueling process, communication between the two involved parties should be the focus. Real-time information exchange will optimize the process time and quality, making fueling a more robust part of the turnaround. During turnaround, multiple activities run in parallel, and the digitalization of all turnaround activities has been a focal point for airlines worldwide. However, the fueling process has not previously enjoyed digital transformation because, at every airport, an airline might have a different fuel supplier and into-plane agent executing the fueling. Also fueling service contracts are short-term which makes for a fluctuating environment where it is difficult to establish common standards.

Airlines are forced to rely on local and manual processes, and modernizing that, as one airline in isolation, is borderline impossible. Due to low flight volumes at most outstations, airlines lack the leverage to convince one service provider to modernize, let alone all of them. And even if an airline can achieve that, the resources to complete the necessary harmonization would be astronomical, plus achieving an equal process and data quality across all projects is highly unlikely. The essential nature of the fueling process creates obstacles to its digitalization and while the technology to establish real-time digital communication between airline and service provider is available, a different approach is needed to achieve unified digital communication across the network.

THE APPROACH TO DIGITAL FUELING

So, the main barrier to digitalization is the difficulty of establishing standards in a diverse environment plus the missing leverage of single airlines is a significant factor. You might think that airlines should cooperate to increase their leverage with fueling providers. However, getting two airlines to agree on the same process would be very difficult. However, there is a solution to hand and it is relatively simple.

Today, many business ideas revolve around connecting two sides of a market and acting as a facilitator for their exchange: they are network businesses like Uber or Airbnb. With aircraft fueling, one side are the airlines and, on the other side, the fueling providers. Their interaction needs to be facilitated by one central entity. The digitalization of fueling will best be achieved with a network business approach. That network business approach is aFuel; the world’s largest digital fueling network and the perfect solution for airlines wanting to digitalize fueling. aFuel acts as a centralized data exchange platform connecting airlines and fueling service providers, enabling a truly digital fueling process across airlines’ entire airport network. All process steps, from fuel order to final fuel slip sign-off, are processed digitally. aFuel has created the technical foundation for a network business model to function.

Currently, aFuel is available at over 150 airports in 34 countries worldwide with a plan for 250 airports by 2028. Already, a flight is handled digitally every five minutes via aFuel. This will increase as new airlines join the network. To further support compatibility and robustness, aFuel, relies on the IATA AIDX data standard to handle all communication. Aircraft fueling is already a network business thanks to aFuel.

THE AFUEL WORKFLOW

aFuel handles communication from the first fuel order until the final fuel slip sign-off in a fully digital workflow. Every process step is tied to a specific message type from the IATA AIDX data schema.

Fuel Order

Starting with the fuel order, airlines can transmit preliminary and final fuel orders to the fueling service provider. Automatically calculated minimum fuel numbers can be sent out very early to allow for optimized planning. Airlines can communicate every adjustment and unforeseen change, like an equipment change, straight to the service provider, meaning that such events will never cause problems again.

Fuel Milestones

As soon as the final fuel order has been communicated and the fueling provider initiates the fueling process, another advantage of the digital process becomes apparent. With the right system and configuration in place, the IATA AIDX schema allows for detailed and real-time process updates – using the FuelProgress messages. Those messages can be used to communicate various milestones in the fueling process, a true game-changer. With aFuel, it is easy for the fueling provider to communicate such milestones automatically to the airline which receives a consistent and complete data set of the fueling process.

Fuel Slip and eSignature

When the fueling process is completed, the fuel slip is issued requiring a signature. The slip contains all information about the completed fueling process, including the fueled amount: the time-consuming manual steps are eliminated. The fuel slip is transferred digitally to the cockpit, where pilots can sign it using eSignature. From there, the fuel slip can be transferred to the back-office for further handling.

AFUEL OVERHAULS YOUR OPERATIONS ON EVERY LEVEL

Now we will focus on what matters to airlines – the process and monetary benefits that can be generated. All benefits explained below are either based on scientific research or customer feedback. However, it must be mentioned that the potential of the benefits can only be utilized when adjusting the operational processes accordingly. Therefore, airlines will need to make those adjustments parallel to the aFuel implementation. Let’s look at the five major benefits.

Turnaround Stability

A smooth execution of every step in the turnaround process assures flight plan stability; the growth in flight volumes increases focus on this with airlines continuously trying to save valuable minutes. During the last decade, digitalization has enabled faster and noise-free information exchange. With the introduction of digital communication to the turnaround process, data availability improved accordingly, enabling a whole new level of process analysis and improvement.

Digitalizing Fueling

Looking at the fueling process, the digitalization is, of course, focused on making the process faster and more robust. Fuel orders are communicated and updated in real- time, and fuel slips are immediately acknowledged without needing a pilot’s signature. We have found that the operational fueling process can be 25% shorter through digital communication which leads to a shorter turnaround process. For an average fueling duration of 12 minutes, aFuel leads to a reduction of three minutes (25%). Since fueling is the bottleneck in just over half of turnarounds, that three-minute saving can lead to an average reduction of one minute and 40 seconds per turnaround which might not sound like much but, overall, it can generate massive savings and increase process stability.

Real Monetary Savings

Making fueling faster and more stable naturally cuts the fuel-related delay minutes. Based on customer feedback, we assessed a reduction of 75% to 85% overall per year. Pairing this with the generally agreed price per delay minute of $74.24 helps to calculate actual savings. After analyzing the potential of a shorter and more stable turnaround process, we will take that one step further and focus on another benefit of real-time digital communication. And again, it’s a benefit that has the potential to generate monetary savings.

Tankering Done Right

With aFuel, your pilots can always get in contact with the into-plane agent at the airport, via their EFB on the ground or via ACARS while in the air. For tankering flights, this offers considerable advantage. For the first time, you can communicate in advance that the operated flight is a tankering flight.

This upfront communication eliminates unnecessary and billed truck approaches altogether. The rate charged for that can vary depending on the airport but based on customer feedback $35 per drive is a fair average. Flights with a ‘no-fuel’ fuel order are clearly highlighted for the airline to identify during invoicing. Invoices for those flights should be monitored manually to ensure everything aligns with the agreements. aFuel even has an automated import function established for airlines using Skymetrix as their fuel invoicing solution. ‘No fuel’ fuel orders are directly imported into your Skymetrix system and flagged for further inspection. This way, an airline can eliminate every unnecessary tankering invoice.

To increase the tankering savings, aFuel also offers a sophisticated algorithmic feature that allows for automated tankering forecasts and adjustments based on historical data and client specific configuration. With the introduction of RefuelEU in 2025, the number of tankering flights will certainly decrease. However, the process improvements and the potential savings will still be applicable.

Backoffice workload: speed it up

Moving beyond the actual focus of the system, the operational fueling process, we need to look at how subsequent processes can benefit from the new level of digital communication. Today, using the traditional process, paper fuel slips are issued, but all invoices are handled digitally, resulting in a media disruption that is overcome by manually inputting the information from the paper slip into the invoicing system. This job is time-consuming, error- prone and, nowadays, redundant.

With aFuel, you automatically eliminate that manual process, as no media disruption is present. A fuel slip is issued digitally and can be transferred into your invoicing system directly without any manual effort. In addition, every fuel slip from a connected airport will have the same format and data quality, streamlining the process even more. It will relieve your employees, as the repetitive task gets eliminated and the overall process quality will improve. aFuel, helps airlines to eliminate just one more manual process and pave the way to fully digitalized and connected back-office workflows.

DATA QUALITY REDEFINED INSIGHTS

Over are the days of paper fuel slips to be transferred manually into your system. With aFuel, you immediately get the same level of data quality at every station and from every supplier, in a digital form. This cuts down the back-office workload and opens new opportunities for performance monitoring and process improvements. In the past, monitoring the fueling process was impossible due to the lack of available data. Every into-plane agent had its own fuel slip format that only contained the most relevant numbers. No other data was recorded during the operational fueling process, so no real- time information exchange occurred. All that made obsolete putting efforts into analysis.

aFuel revolutionizes that completely. Now, airlines can communicate with the into- plane agents in real-time and exchange more information. This creates a new level of data quality that allows for in-depth analysis. Fuel orders are recorded – both preliminary and final, real-time process milestones are exchanged, and extensive digital fuel slips, including all relevant information, are issued. This allows airlines to create an individual digital twin of every single fueling process but, more importantly, a performance overview per station or across the whole network.

The fueling data is available extensively and uniformly, allowing airlines to integrate it into their overall turnaround analysis. Including the fueling, data will highlight interdependencies with other turnaround process steps that can be improved through further measures.

REDUCE YOUR CARBON FOOTPRINT AND BE SUSTAINABLE

Talking about aircraft fueling and sustainability seems counterintuitive; flying is often labeled as one of the biggest climate killers. aFuel does not reduce fuel consumption, so it’s fair to ask, how can it improve the carbon footprint of an airline?

When it comes to improving sustainability, everybody thinks about global measures like switching to renewable energy or the rise of electrified mobility. Even though those are measures with a significant impact, they take much effort to complete or even progress. At the same time, sustainability can be improved by much smaller steps. The task of every company nowadays should be to identify every single one of those small opportunities to make a positive impact overall.

aFuel offers two more of those small opportunities that are realized as a positive side effect. No additional efforts are needed. The digitalization of the operational fueling process makes it much more sustainable. Switching from paper-based exchange to a real-time digital communication eliminates the paper wasted in this process, and the upfront communication of tankering flights eliminates the CO2 emissions of unnecessary fuel truck movements — two small improvements with a positive impact on sustainability.

And that is not even the best part. Information Design, has partnered with Tree-Nation.com, a global reforestation program, to replant double the number of trees saved by our aFuel customers every year. With that, we support projects worldwide to combat deforestation.

IMPLEMENTATION OPTIONS

After going through all the features and benefits of aFuel, it is time to implement the system. To do that, two approaches are possible. With our aFuel Cockpit app we offer our customers a ready-to-use EFB application, available on iOS and Android. After installing and briefing the pilots an airline is ready to utilize the benefits of aFuel.

In case an airline does not want another app bothering the pilots during the pre-flight routine, the full-scale integration approach is the way to go. Together with the airline, we will create a blueprint of how the current system landscape can be utilized to support the aFuel process.

APPROACH #1: AFUEL COCKPIT

Let’s focus on the instant approach first. To allow airlines to digitalize the operational fueling process as quickly as possible, we have developed the aFuel Cockpit App. This iOS and Android app allows the handling of the complete operational fueling process. From issuing the first preliminary fuel order up to electronically signing the fuel slip, every process step is covered. Install this app on your pilots’ EFB devices, and your fueling process is instantly digitalized. It is really that simple. The app is fully integrated into the aFuel system and connected to all our fueling partners. When a new customer airline decides to go down this route, we implement the necessary configurations and set up the user accounts.

Trial Phase Available

We offer potential clients the chance to sign up for an aFuel trial phase using the Cockpit App. For two months, airlines can get the opportunity to use the app at selected stations and experience the benefits of a digitalized fueling process. After two months, we sit together with the airline to discuss the results and our joint next steps.

The aFuel Pilot App offers airlines the perfect option to instantly digitalize the operational fueling process with absolutely no technical effort. We configure everything and provide you with the ready-to-use app, that is packed with features to make the life of your pilots stress-free.

APPROACH #2: FULL-SCALE INTEGRATION

For airlines that want to instantly utilize the benefits of a digitalized fueling process, the aFuel Pilot App is perfect. However, a digital fueling process can do even more. Our full-scale approach aims to blend aFuel into your existing IT and process structure without noticeable adjustments to either.

We want you to keep your current EFB solution and devices, make only positive changes to the fueling routines of your pilots and supply all adjacent processes with the appropriate data. And don’t worry about implementation: even a full-scale integration of aFuel is straightforward. With our proven project set-up, an average implementation takes about four months with full support.

As said, the idea is to integrate aFuel as seamlessly as possible into an airline’s process and IT infrastructure. To achieve that, a tailored approach is needed for every airline, as set-ups differ. By having extensive sessions with our potential customers to analyze each piece of the fueling process puzzle, we design a comprehensive blueprint for the upcoming aFuel integration. Ultimately, the blueprint will depict a process fully embedded into the current infrastructure. Additionally, automation opportunities will be highlighted and, if possible, integrated into the blueprint. This includes the automatic validation and acknowledgment of digital fuel slips, the algorithm-based reevaluation of tankering flights, and the automatic rejection of invoices for such flights. All those enable the airline to utilize parts of the previously highlighted benefits of aFuel.

With the blueprint done, we can jointly start the implementation process. The most relevant part is establishing one connection between your IT infrastructure and the aFuel system. For this, aFuel offers various options to accommodate every possible airline setup. Through this one interface, we will exchange all relevant IATA AIDX messages. We suggest that every airline sets up a fuel data middleware to facilitate the internal gathering of all aFuel-relevant data. The middleware then handles the transformation of those messages into the AIDX format and vice versa. During the setup and testing of this interface, we will support a new customer to get that important task done correctly.

Your Way Forward No matter which implementation approach you take, aFuel will revolutionize your operational fueling process and all adjacent processes as well. If this article caught your attention, feel free to reach out to us. We are more than happy to answer any open questions or jump right into our joint implementation project.

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