Aircraft IT MRO Issue 60: Summer 2024

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Aircraft IT MRO Issue 60: Summer 2024 Cover

Articles

Name Author
CASE STUDY: Transavia Netherlands upgrades to the latest MRO IT solution Gerard de Bruyn, Product Owner of the technical department, Transavia Netherlands View article
CASE STUDY: Canadian North took control of its device fleet Gail Campbell, Senior Manager Maintenance Information Systems, Canadian North View article
CASE STUDY: Affinity reaps the benefits of a new IT solution. Grahaeme Colledge, Technical Director at Affinity Flying Training Services, and Tim Alden, Strategic Partnerships Director at Veryon View article
WHITE PAPER: A step into the future for an MRO software solution Andrew O’Connor, Head of Product Management, Aviation and Paul Lynch, Group Managing Director, Aviation, both at Aspire Software View article
WHITE PAPER: AI is Powering Growth of Lifecycle Optimization Tools Dr Ip-Shing Fan, John Maggiore and Professor Anna Smallwood, all at Cranfield University View article
WHITE PAPER: Gains for MRO from digital solutions Remon Sweers, VP of Products, QOCO systems View article

WHITE PAPER: Gains for MRO from digital solutions

Author: Remon Sweers, VP of Products, QOCO systems

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Remon Sweers, VP of Products at QOCO systems explains the importance of digital way of working in maintenance

These days, whatever technologies might be available, for airlines and MROs, the bottom line is the bottom line. Businesses have to make a profit for which they want to create efficiency and now digitalization can actually help in creating that efficiency. That’s going to be the topic of this White Paper. I’d like to start by getting an insight into where we are in the industry at the moment as well as how those new technologies can help to improve quality in an organization but also provide a better work environment for all staff in the business. We’ll run through the basics and generate some urgency about what is going on in the aviation industry. There will also be some key examples where there is a lot of focus as well as developments going on and how, to date, we have seen many implementations in the industry that really helped in creating and improving the overall efficiency.

CONTEXT & BACKGROUND

To give you a bit of background, QOCO is a software company and, while we provide software for our customers, we also try as much as possible to be a partner with them. It’s not just about delivering a software solution but we also help organizations improve the way they work and see how they can adapt to and leverage the new technologies. Founded in 2009, QOCO already has more than 50 airline and MRO customers around the world where we have successfully helped to transform their way of working into a digital environment.

Looking at the background, everybody in the industry knows that there has been a huge increase in the numbers of flights. Aircraft numbers are also picking up with lots of new deliveries. However, if you look from a staffing perspective, the development looks different (figure 1).

Figure 1

Boeing has published its ‘Pilot and Technician Outlook 2022-2041’ concluding that, within the next 20 years, the expectation is that there will be manpower shortages amounting to 600,000 mechanics and that cannot be covered from school leavers alone. We need more ways in which to improve recruitment and to be able to cope with the gap because growing numbers aircraft are arriving in the industry. That will mean increasing levels of competition for staff which will be a really big concern. From an industry perspective, we need to take steps in the coming years to identify the gaps and to work on the next actions.

THE ROLE OF DIGITIZATION IN OVERCOMING STAFF SHORTAGES

One of the key strategies when working with digital or becoming a digital organization is ensuring that the people who work there are part of the change. They’ll want to work in a more digital environment because nowadays everybody is so technology driven; they use mobile devices for all kinds of solutions at home whereas, within the industry, the main focus is still on a paper-based or manual way of working. So, if you become a more digitized organization, you become a more attractive employment option for new people coming from schools and entering the job market where aviation has to compete with other industries because more and more it’s about salaries, obviously. However, there’s only a certain amount that can be done in aviation to increase salaries or to attract staff. So, you need to find other ways to distinguish you company to attract more people to come and work in the aircraft maintenance sector. It’s about connecting with staff, and encouraging them to take part in any developments and to become more technology savvy in order to increasingly relate to the technologies of today and tomorrow. Implementing a digital way of working is about laying the foundations for digitization (figure 2) because if you’re just trying to adapt from paper-based ways of working, it’s possible that you are simply adapting chaos.

Figure 2

You really need to make sure that, when you’re doing a digital transformation, you take in to account, ‘how can these new digital tools directly help you improve efficiency’? There are companies that claim to have become digital but becoming digital is not just putting paper documents into Excel; it’s really about putting all of the data into the system in a correct place so that you have the proper information available to access and use in real time. Having the data, you will be able to be increasingly efficient and allocate staff to tasks with proper timing because, quite often, there’s a mismatch between when staff are available versus the actual work being done or when the aircraft comes in. There are so many changes going back and forth in the schedules that it’s ever more important to align tools so that you have more insight and can create the efficiency.

As well as having the data, there have been discussions about machine learning. Data driven decision making requires a different mindset for people who are working as planners. Planners can no longer simply base their decisions on experience; it’s also about adapting to new ways of working, understanding how those data functionalities work, how they can be interpreted. Increasing numbers of planners and engineers need to become like data scientists; understanding the data and making decisions based on data or facts instead of basing them on 20- or 30-years’ experience of how things were in the past.

Finally, one of the stronger arguments for digitization is the contribution to sustainability which is becoming a key issue and a really important topic in the industry. So, by becoming more digitized, as well as working efficiently, you’re also providing more benefits towards the sustainable environment and towards a sustainable organization.

KEY STRATEGIES FOR OVERCOMING STAFF SHORTAGES WITH DIGITIZATION

Today, there is a lot of focus on highlighting your digital initiatives for the board and for executives as part of a business case and getting sufficient funding in order to buy digital applications. However, what we quite often see is that organizations tend to forget to discuss their plans with the actual people who will have to work with the changes who need to use, for instance, mobile applications. Some mechanics might have been working with a paper-based system for twenty years and, suddenly, they are given an iPad and told that ‘here’s a mobile device and an electronic logbook; now get on working with it’. It’s so important that management work on gaining acceptance of any new solution from the staff. It’s important to have staff work increasingly digitally and to be familiar with the applications so that they will actually like working rather than them stressing about only the amount of effort and the administration involved in certain digital solutions. Something that we often forget is that everybody’s so busy that we’re running from one project to another. Sometimes, when we hear from an organization that they want to implement a digitalization project, they say, ‘we want the solution but we still have twenty other projects on which we are working. Quite often, an organization will be struggling to manage all of the projects one after the other.

All that said however, we tend to forget to celebrate what has been achieved, to let the people, the staff, know what they have done and what we have achieved together and what the benefits have been so that they can see the positive side and experience a positive attitude instead of just being pushed all of the time with new applications, eventually becoming frustrated and then leaving to join another company.

CASE STUDIES AND EXAMPLES

There have been a lot of projects implemented that have seen that a digital signature, from a technology perspective, might seem to be the solution; digitize the signature and that’s it. However, when you properly implement a digital signature solution, it allows you to completely digitize the process; you can do much more than just create a digital signature. You can build in safety blocks, and can take out all of the repetitive tasks required to do checking and verification of information. Then you will really see a window of opportunity opening up where you can do so much more with digitization, including relieving the pressure off mechanics and off planners because the challenge isn’t only for retention of mechanics at the moment; more and more logistical people in the industry are leaving to join Amazon and similar businesses because they also need logistical people. If aviation is to retain these skilled and experienced people, it’s about really making their work life easier and more attractive.

Another example, while not particularly about digital ways of working, is a better way of working that we have implemented in a number of airlines in Europe. It’s like the Formula 1 concept that you have all the materials, all the tooling available where the work needs to be done and that the mechanics can do all the work, on the aircraft using a mobile device so that they can see how easy it is, that they can work with an iPad, don’t have to walk back and forth to the stores, and that they don’t have to wait. They can deal with the actual repairing of the aircraft, which is what they most want to do, instead of waiting and having to do loads of administration and duplicated activities.

A further example is automated planning because, for example, planning includes some repetitive actions inasmuch as each day planners assign people, each day they check technicians’ qualifications and skills before assigning them to a job whereas there are solutions that can automate planning based on skills rules. It’s not completely like machine learning, it’s more like an automation with which the system can handle all of those repetitive tasks. It can eventually save up to four or five hours a day instead of doing all the calculation, the preparation, collecting all the manpower, uploading it into the system and adjusting because the schedule keeps on changing. As you take out increasing numbers of repetitive tasks for the personnel and make it more attractive so that they can focus on new projects such as the MRO solution of using drones for aircraft inspections. It’s not about taking away the mechanic, we still need them, but it’s about providing them with better tools that make the work more attractive and, in return, you will have a more efficient and quicker turnaround of your aircraft repairs.

Looking at a very specific case, a couple of years ago an airline customer implemented drone inspections for lightning strikes. As readers will know, when an aircraft is struck by lightning, it needs to go to the hanger for inspection. To make the inspection you need a high loader and, because you’re looking for a needle in a haystack, an inspection can take from eight up to 12 hours without administration. It’s just basically going over the aircraft, finding any damage which will require three to four mechanics to carry out the work. By contrast, using a drone equipped with machine learning, the inspection can be completed in 45 minutes, reducing the downtime by at least seven hours and only needing one mechanic who can do everything in two hours. We are also developing the machine learning model which is essentially like a new employee. But to start with, you need a lot of data before it becomes reliable. More and more now it has become so reliable that you can, in one to two hours, do a full inspection, including administration, of an aircraft that has had a lightning strike; saving ten hours of ground time which would cost 30-to-40- mechanics man hours as well as delay compensation payments to passengers and more.

We’re also working on a project for efficient tool management: A-checks usually need about eight and a half or nine hours ground time whereas we can reduce that to one hour ground time by creating efficiency, having the tool and digital administration. For the airline where we have implemented this, there are about 350 A-checks a year so that means a considerable manpower saving.

IMPLEMENTATION ROADMAP

In terms of implementation roadmap, quite often we see with big projects bold ambitions and a wish to start as quickly as possible. However, we have realized nowadays that, because there are so many changes going on, it’s really important to create a step-by-step implementation roadmap. Focus on the first step of getting the basics right, getting the organization to understand what is going on and how they can adapt to the first phases instead of just going-live and, within a few days, expect everything to work; that’s really not what happens.

Involve the mechanics in assessing where the pain points are and how you can improve efficiency, and keep them involved in each step of the project as subject matter experts rather than only considering the management perspective. Roll out the digital initiatives gradually, monitoring progress and seeing how you can adapt, and a lot of new opportunities will be revealed, plus your processes will become more and more suitable for the actual needs.

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, I’d like to emphasize that it’s really important to work on digitization because there are more and more discussions with labor agreements with unions so you need to be able to become more flexible to provide better services to cope with the challenges facing the industry at the moment. A lot of organizations are undertaking changes and digitization on an independent level. As an industry in general, we need to work more together; share information, share knowledge, have more organizations involved, and work with schools and colleges as well as with authorities who are increasingly helping us to allow this digital way of working. We need a fundamental change throughout the industry because eventually, as you have seen, we could run out of mechanics. Then we would have a lot of new aircraft but not have the staff to maintain them or properly do all the work.

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