Aircraft IT OPS Issue 59: Spring 2024

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Aircraft IT OPS Issue 59: Spring 2024 Cover

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WHITE PAPER: One communications platform for all purposes

Author: Trent McCabe – Sales Manager and SME, Smart4Aviation

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Trent McCabe introduces a whole new way of managing airline critical communications

What we’re going to introduce in this article is a single communication platform that eliminates the need for emails, phone, fax, or voice dialog, plus connects your many systems (in-house and third party) to one dynamic software module. It understands operational challenges and changes, and automatically communicates this information, alerting only the people who need to know.

Smart COMM was initially proposed as a simple replacement for a legacy message queueing system. However, we quickly realized that this offered the opportunity to create a tool that could transform the industry. The vision was to develop a seamless communication platform that is capable of understanding the complex realities of everyday Airline operations. A system designed for collaboration, sharing, and the archiving of information between internal business units and third-party stakeholders to provide a single source of information necessary for airlines to succeed in      today’s and tomorrow’s ever changing business environment.

Here are just a few of the daily challenges that confront many Airlines.

  • Dependence on manual communications and alerting of critical information (Mobile Radio, Email, Telephone, Voice Communications, etc.).
  • Communication and alerting capabilities do not provide automatically targeted communications to the need-to-know players (role-based communication) for leadership oversight during all and or irregular operations.
  • Organizational communication barriers hamper in-house communication and alerting capabilities plus not all relevant players receive the same message.
  • There is no way to automatically identify and filter inbound message content based on predefined rules and keywords to provide automatic role-based alerts to users. Alerts can be generated for any activity, such as NOTAMs, WXX, delays, diversions, TARMAC times, EZFW changes, Aircraft Swaps, line maintenance, fueling, and late boarding, departure control, etc.
  • There is no automatic escalation chain to ensure compliance and provide acknowledgment of receipt of alerting and communications.
  • There is often no capability to automatically archive corporate messages and communications or to make these historical communications searchable for future review and analysis.
  • An absence of communication and alerting capabilities that improve communication in multiple languages through standard universal messaging and support multiple communication tools such as email, jabber, slack, spreadsheets/reports, etc.
  • No process to automatically forward critical communications and alerts to those that need to know both internally and externally (third-party vendors).
  • No capability to deliver critical on-route NOTAM, WXX, etc. automatically to the cockpit.
  • No communications capabilities to communicate bi-directionally with flight deck and cabin crews.

THE SOLUTION

Smart COMM is a unique and simple to use Web and Mobile based communication and situational awareness solution which will be fully integrated with all of your current airline’s operational system(s).

Immediate automatic communication and alerting ensure efficient operations. Operations Control, Flight Dispatch, Weight and Balance, Fueling, Maintenance, Flight Operations, Inflight, Aircraft Routing, Crew Scheduling, Station Operations, Ramp, Pax Services, Catering, De-Icing, etc. can now collaborate on operational problems and situations using a common platform. Smart COMM can also be deployed to any of your third-party agencies to further support operational integrity.

All users have a common view of the Airline’s operation but, as each defined role is specific, Smart COMM can be configured to share only information relevant to each user’s role, including multiple dynamic screen configurations to display tasks and information relevant to the role. Critical information is automatically alerted in real-time as changes occur. The communication between ground staff and aircraft via ACARS is available with a single mouse click. Smart COMM treats each aircraft as just another user of the system, handling all complex ACARS coded message formatting, behind the scenes. Furthermore, the System can respond to ACARS transaction requests issued by aircraft, as well as automatically alerting pilots to any relevant operational information, ensuring regulatory compliance for flight watch.

Alerting

One of the unique features of Smart COMM is its automatic alerting functionality. Hundreds of types of alerts have been created to warn of any operational conditions, providing users with a comprehensive view of the operation in real-time.

Understanding confusing airline acronyms, Smart COMM translates them to plain language. An airline can precisely customize the types of alerts and conditions for each user group. Smart COMM ensures that no user is bothered by irrelevant information regardless of an individual’s role. Key examples of events for ground, Airports, and station personnel are flight cancellations, aircraft changes, and delays.      For operational personnel such as Flight dispatchers and controllers, alerts such as NOTAMs, Weather, enroute turbulence, and altitude variance can be configured. Pilots can be automatically informed via ACARS about changing weather, aerodrome conditions, or ATC restrictions.

Smart COMM’s powerful and intuitive assignment builder and administrative tools were designed for the simple management and maintenance of the system’s functions, access rights, and alert routing capabilities. The solution is fully configurable by users, allowing your airline to operate the way you want it to.

Smart COMM Mobile

Smart COMM Mobile’s capabilities allow users to effectively manage their operation remotely from a mobile device, and, as inflight connectivity advances, Smart COMM will be just as powerful in the air as it is on the ground, essentially eliminating the need for back up operational facilities. Selected features of Smart COMM are available as a dedicated iOS iPad application or Progressive Web Application (PWA) that can be accessed from any mobile device.

Instant Chat functionality in Smart COMM

Looking at the market requirements for more instant messaging capabilities, Smart4Aviation decided to leverage the existing chat providers and provide advanced integration capabilities with Smart COMM, allowing airlines to use the system’s functionality in the dedicated chat concept. This integration is currently under development with a target availability in Q3 2024. The solution can be implemented as a complete solution managed by Smart4Aviation using a third-party chat solution hosted by Smart4Aviation or we can integrate with the airline’s existing communication tool (such as MS Teams, RocketChat, Slack, etc.).

Functionality:

  • Chat/Channel auto-creation in Smart COMM in the context of an ‘object’ (flight, assignment, airport, aircraft, etc.) based on predefined roles and individuals working on the specific ‘object’;
  • Automatic alerts trigger based on configurable rules;
  • Seamless integration between third-party chat provider and Smart COMM by embedding features;
  • Leverage other potential third-party functionality such as video calls, file sharing, dedicated mobile application and PWA, and other integration capabilities with different applications.

Due to third party costs and custom integration and infrastructure costs, chat functionality should be treated as an optional feature of Smart COMM.

Smart COMM feedback from users

Here is a feedback comment from an airline that already uses Smart COMM.

Michael Riegler, Manager Business Innovation & Support, QANTAS Flight Operations.

At QANTAS we have deployed Smart COMM as an additional module that sits side by side with and is integrated into the Flight Planning System. Smart COMM capabilities have been seamlessly integrated into the Flight Planning user interfaces providing essential information to assist our dispatchers maintain operational performance. For our flight watch personnel, during bad weather scenarios, targeted alerts identify impacted flights in order of importance so that the right information reaches the right aircraft in a timely manner. The consolidated information presented in the flight entity view provides operational resources with a single source of truth. Integration of this view across multiple user interfaces allows all teams to see the same information regardless of the role being performed; Duty Manager, Dispatcher or Flight Watch all reference a single source of truth.

KEY FEATURES OF SMART COMM

Communication and alerting

  • Real-time on-screen messaging and alerting;
  • Peer to Peer communication and enhanced messaging functionality with pre-defined templates;
  • Two-way ACARS messaging with automatic ACARS uplink and downlink transactions;
  • Chat/conversation functionality dedicated to a specific alert allowing all stakeholders to be in the loop;
  • WX/NOTAM change alerts sent via ACARS;
  • ACARS initialization;
  • Fuzzy logic message addressing;
  • Flight following and monitoring – displaying flights, rotations, maintenance events and other relevant information on a dynamic Gantt display;
  • Archiving of all important communication events and operational messages;
  • Real-time, rule-based alerting (weather, NOTAM, ACARS, load, fuel, operational events, Curfew, PAX, MELs and much more);
  • Customizable alerting rules and workloads;
  • High precision NOTAM/Weather alerting due to 4-dimensional flight route-based information;
  • Our dynamic Milestones interface allows an airline to feed Smart COMM with information about the progress of pre-flight processes and display them on the Gantt chart and alert if any thresholds have been exceeded;
  • Built-in eSTOC module allows maintenance planners to assign, manage and track tasks for other maintenance groups;
  • Allows for precise configuration of who receives which alerts and when;
  • Alerts grouping by pre-defining alerting groups displayed in the summary view;
  • Ability to send alerts to external systems maintained by the client.

Additional desks

  • Display Flight Monitor which includes basic flight planning information for each flight;
  • Curfew view shows all possible curfew violations;
  • Desk Weather displays weather for all of the flights within the user’s assignment;
  • Desk NOTAMs display NOTAMs for airports/FIRs for flights within the user’s assignment;
  • IRROPS presents all irregular operations for all flights within claimed assignments;
  • TARMAC presents all flights with long taxi times;
  • Times and Fuel view.

Available Views

  • Interactive Gantt bar display (default) – A full-featured Gantt chart provides a complete ‘day of’ schedule and fleet management solution displaying: real-time flight, aircraft, and schedule operations information (flight status, operational times, briefing package, MELs, messages, alerts, etc.) through an interactive user interface. All operations-relevant flight details are available with just one click.
  • Interactive Map view (Smart VIEW+) – which is a complete flight tracking system, where all aeronautical, geographical and weather data layers as well as organization tools are built into the product, making it an ideal solution for both flight dispatch and management users.

Flight following

Flight following and monitoring displays flights, rotations, maintenance events, and other relevant information on a dynamic Gantt display. There are maintenance events monitoring plus real-time flight monitoring of turbulence, winds, and altitude variance. The built-in eSTOC module allows maintenance planners to assign, manage and track tasks for other maintenance groups and there is RAIM (Receiver Autonomous Integrity Monitoring) check functionality. Generic milestones interface allows the airline to feed COMM with information about the progress of the flight preparation process and display it on a Gantt diagram, with alert if thresholds have been exceeded. There is also Fuel monitoring, tight integration with other Smart4Aviation products and a flight context menu that gives access to many flight-related functionalities.

Operations management

Smart COMM can be further enhanced with the addition of the Smart OPERATIONS MANAGER module, which enhances its ability to keep you aware of the situation and alert you to potential constraints on the operation. When the airline Operations Center needs to recover from any constraints or irregular operations, the Gantt is now fully Interactive for operational requirements. It displays the schedule for the user selected time period both before and after current time. It can be configured by aircraft registration, aircraft type including seat configuration and as sorted by user preference, departure time, fleet type, etc. You can now filter the Gantt in multiple ways including by departure and/or destination, priority flights, aircraft types, aircraft capabilities etc. to only show you the information you need. The point, click and hovering actions give immediate access to any flight or aircraft information required to assist decision making. You can even select multiple flights and comment, delay, or cancel them simultaneously to reduce recovery time. When you are ready to make any aircraft change, Smart Implications functionality will list any possible concerns which could include aircraft capability to operate selected flight(s), passenger and crew connections, financial implications including passenger compensation, curfews and virtually any information you would like to assist in decision making. If you have multiple recovery options, our Simulation mode allows you to create, name, edit and save recovery scenarios. The Implications of each scenario can also then be compared. The saved recovery options can also be shared with other departments such as maintenance, crew scheduling, local station management, etc. They can provide feedback or even provide alternate recovery options. Once you are ready to implement the recovery option, you can action it with one click after reviewing any implications.

Smart OPERATIONS MANAGER simplifies the management of all aircraft movements and is the single source of all flight and operational information.

ON-TIME PERFORMANCE

Next to safety, on-time performance is a critical indicator of every airline’s success. These indicators directly affect your customers. Many airlines continue to struggle to improve their OTP, or maintain it to a higher level. No doubt, there are many factors influencing the OTP, and not all of them are under your airline’s control. As operational costs continue to escalate the addition of Smart COMM will assist in dramatically reducing your operational response time realized in improved OTP and schedule integrity. Smart COMM will provide a positive return on your airline’s bottom line.

A flight departure delay of 1 minute can cost upwards of $100 USD.

Example calculations:

Airline with 200 aircraft,

that has an average of 1000 flights per day,

that has an average delay of three minutes for each flight

will have an estimated cost for such delays around 9 000 000 USD on a monthly basis.

If that delay was a result of poor communication, it’s time for Smart COMM.

It was also determined that flights that were subject to ATC issues, and operationally controllable delays, could have been mitigated or optimized much sooner if the airlines had more advanced, real-time notification and alerting, which can be provided by our Smart COMM solution. Smart COMM will have a direct impact on Customers, Employees, and most importantly your airline’s operational safety.

Smart COMM FOR USERS

Operation Control Center

The success of the OCC is driven by information. All information has to be relevant, accurate, up to date, and delivered immediately without exception. As the OCC is the heart of your airline, it is primarily responsible for the daily management of the corporate schedule. In simple terms, ‘Keeping the airline on time’. This includes operational oversight for just about all branches of the airline that can be impacted from any changes to the schedule. When change is necessary, whether it is a simple delay, a complex routing, an equipment change, or cancellations, the role of the OCC is to develop and execute a plan to protect the operation and return to the normal planned schedule as soon as possible.

Smart COMM is integrated with your operational scheduling tool and all additional applications used in your OCC. It presents the schedule in real-time and is configurable for advanced planning and operational recovery. Smart COMM analyzes      information from each information stream and identifies potential operational irregularities based on specified rules. These irregularities are processed and forwarded as ALERTS, which are events of change that could potentially impact the operation. ALERTS are filtered and are only forwarded to the key individuals responsible for action at the event. This results in faster decision-making and prevents users from being distracted by non-essential information. Events can include, flight status, airport, passenger, load and cargo operations, crew scheduling, MTC, weather, NOTAMS, ATC restrictions and more.

Flight movement information is presented in a dynamic Gantt view which is packed with event-driven information. You can access individual flight information from the flight bar via an intuitive drop-down menu, or from our entity view panel. Both allow for the editing of specific fields for any changes or remarks. The Gantt also includes color-coded Smart Milestones, a unique visual aid that displays the current status of any pre-departure processes or tasks which must be completed prior to departure. Milestones are configurable and can include virtually any process or task such as, catering, fueling, de-icing, cleaning or boarding status. The airline decides which processes or tasks should be displayed as Milestones. Process/task status is shown in a traffic light red/yellow/green format so current status can be seen visually without even selecting a flight. Milestones work directly with ALERTS so any behind schedule or uncompleted tasks will also be sent to users in an ALERT for proactive follow-up.

Messages are P2P (person to person) between individuals, groups or even objects such as ACARS. Smart COMM is role-based so message forwarding and ALERTS are based on roles, not names. If you are assigned to a flight, we know your role and any messages relevant to your role will be automatically sent to you.

Once deployed, OCC managers will experience a higher degree of awareness. Multiple phone calls to the Station or other operational departments for flight status updates are no longer needed as Smart Milestones are providing a clear picture of the flight progress. Individual or group messages can be sent to minimize phone conversations. Immediate access to the entire flight information package is available with one click. Smart COMM can be deployed to your third-party handlers to improve communication. All flight-related events are archived. Messaging capability allows for immediate background forwarding of specific messaging to predefined recipients.

Smart COMM is also accessible remotely. In the event of a major facility disruption, the system can be accessed anywhere with available internet allowing you to continue to run your operation from an alternate location or even from home.

Flight Dispatch and Flight Operations

Flight Dispatch and Flight Ops are essential for any successful flight operation. Whether regulated or not, all aircraft movements start and end with a plan. Smart COMM is the one solution capable of bringing together all the necessary components required to create and safely execute the plan. Developed by highly experienced flight dispatchers, Smart COMM is the most comprehensive Flight Dispatch communication and ALERTING tool available. Through integration into each of your airline’s operational systems, Smart COMM provides the Flight Dispatcher and Flight Ops personnel with access to all operational information that is necessary to safely plan, support and manage a flight mission. Flight movement information is presented on a dynamic Gantt view packed with event-driven information.

The addition of Smart VIEW+ offers visualized flight tracking and the same features and functionality on an interactive Map. The communication and ALERTING functionally of the solution ensures that no messages or operational issues are missed. Integration with your operational management and flight planning system allows Smart COMM to confirm aircraft, airport and route suitability. We know your route of flight from your departure to your arrival presenting detailed route-specific weather and NOTAM information with immediate updates for planning and briefing. MEL/CDL data is captured from your MTC system and warns of possible restrictions and performance limitations. Aircraft changes, delays, route restriction/ re-routes, ZFW, weather, NOTAM changes, MEL/CDL and more are all immediately presented as an Alert to the dispatch person responsible for the flight/s. Smart COMM’s unique intelligence searches for key indicators from all inbound message flows and selects only operationally relevant information for Alerting. The technology was designed to prevent the dispatcher from being overwhelmed with unnecessary information to allow for focused operational control.

The role-based communication platform provides simple P2P communication with any defined role including the aircraft (ACARS, SATCOM) Predefined message templates can be created to simplify communication. These messages can be sent automatically in the background. Flight tracking is provided directly from the aircraft and accessible in our DFM (Display Flight Monitor); this feature allows dispatch to monitor flight progress in the event of the unavailability of their flight tracking provider. Smart COMM also ALERTS position information such as ETOPs entry/exit, route and altitude deviation, time over WP, FOB, turbulence reports, ETAs etc. further enhancing support to Flight Operations.

Smart4Aviation also offers optional modules which can be selected to further enhance Smart COMM making it the best operational and communication tool available for your Flight Dispatch and Flight Ops office.

Airport Operations

An airline’s success is based on its ability to safely and efficiently move aircraft with people and cargo. These aircraft move from airport to airport and are serviced by skilled personnel with a common goal of loading and unloading aircraft in a safe and timely manner. Airports operations consist of oversight and execution, and overcoming daily events that challenge a successful operation. Weather, U/S equipment, flight delays, airport restrictions, and late arriving passengers and cargo, are just a few of the issues that routinely challenge ground operations. Airport personnel rely solely on communication to coordinate and accomplish their objectives which, at times, can be a daunting task. Smart COMM is a communication and ALERTING solution providing industry-leading communication perfectly suited for these critical roles. Once deployed, our role-based application will eliminate your communication challenges. Airport personnel tasked with operational oversight can easily communicate changes and resolutions to Station and Ramp staff tasked with handling the ground operation. Information such as OCC changes, flight arrival and departure information, gate info, and more, can be automatically sent to targeted personnel with our event-based ALERTING intelligence reducing or eliminating telephone or radio usage.

Airport Load agents will now receive critical weight and balance information via alerts from Smart COMMs integration with your FLIGHT PLANNING, MTC, PAX, BAGGAGE, CARGO and OPS systems. Loading instructions can be sent directly to the ramp personnel and changes easily communicated: also, final load reconciliation can be validated and forwarded to the flight crew and/or cabin crews. Smart COMM will even send the fuel order directly to the fueling agent. All event-driving ALERTS and messages are easily deliverable on personal devices and role-based filtering ensures information is forwarded only to the need-to-know person. Smart COMM is the must-have communication solution for a successful on-time operation and invaluable in communicating instantly during irregular operations to get back on schedule as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Maintenance

The communication and ALERTING capabilities of Smart COMM will immediately streamline the management of critical aircraft maintenance and serviceability information shared throughout all operational departments. The integration of Smart COMM with your Maintenance system provides a clear picture of unexpected snags and planned Aircraft MTC requirements. Smart COMM connects your entire maintenance community to a single communication platform. Maintenance events can be simultaneously ALERTED to multiple inter-departmental personnel for planning and tracking of line maintenance work necessary for schedule integrity. P2P messaging provides an immediate connection to maintenance support personnel at any station for task assignment and provides you with alerts when tasks are completed. Plus, you can converse directly with the aircraft flight crews for ground and inflight support, access company and aircraft manufacturer manuals, monitor the schedule, and be alerted to delays and aircraft routing changes impacting the maintenance schedule.

Passenger agents

Your Passenger service agents are the face of the airline and manage the smooth transition of your customers from the terminal to the aircraft. Smart COMM can play a key role in supporting passenger check-in and assistance, baggage acceptance, and final passenger boarding functions. Immediate access to support personnel and operational systems allows the agent to remain informed of flight status and the ALERTING functionality will notify them of potential disruptions to the operation or any change of status. Passenger service concerns, issues, and requests can be sent to multiple recipients simultaneously for action and support. No need to call the gate agent advising them of late check-in as Smart COMM is integrated with your check-in system and will automatically send a late check-in alert to the gate agent. Late baggage acceptance is sent to the bag room as well as a small load. Smart COMM can also provide access to necessary company operations and policy manuals for easy access.

Third party handlers

The dependence on efficient and timely third-party handling greatly impacts the success of an airline’s operation. In all cases, these essential partners represent part or all of your airline at stations not serviced by your own employees. Everything from ground handling, passenger services, weight and balance, cargo services, fueling, MTC, de-icing, medical assistance, airline security and more are often provided by these third-party agencies. Smart4Aviation’s technology allows you to easily create specific third-party roles within Smart COMM to allow operational data exchange and P2P communication with these partners.

Flight Deck and Cabin

Safety of flight is the most foremost consideration of all airlines, and communication is paramount in both the flight deck and passenger cabin. From safety to comfort, each crew member is responsible for communicating key information between themselves, the airline’s operations and, most importantly, the passengers. The Smart MOBILE extension of Smart COMM is the industry’s proven solution to completely satisfy this complex requirement. Smart MOBILE can also be used as a repository for all required company manuals, bulletins, and notifications. Pilots and Cabin crew can be connected to every operational support department enabling a seamless communication flow for flight and job task-relevant information. Pilots are enabled to send and receive messages directly to and from flight dispatch, crew scheduling, OCC, MTC control, airport operations, and more for support and operational changes. Messages can be conversational based or received in the form of an alert for immediate notification of operational concerns and changes such as weather, NOTAM, ATC, revised fuel, delays, late boarding, MTC issues, pairing changes, etc. Available on your connected mobile device Smart MOBILE messaging and alerting are accessible whether you are at your home, hotel, airport terminal, or on the aircraft. Cabin crews become fully engaged with Smart COMMs communication and alerting features which allow users to proactively manage changes to their flight. Pre-, post-, and inflight communication allows an immediate connection to your support network. Receive alerts for late boarding, special passengers, catering, cabin snags or changes to the user’s work schedule, and communicate freely with all support members and crew members through the P2P network. Short of a meal or need more water? Smart COMM’s role-based communication allows you to send a direct message to operations and catering with the request.

BENEFITS OF USING Smart COMM

Smart4Aviation’s Smart COMM will support:

  • Safety of Flight, Reduced Risk:
    • Immediate and automatic alerting of hazards and events affecting the safety of flight.
  • Reduction in Operational Costs:
    • Immediate visibility to all flight operational and disruption information (alerting);
    • Improved and rapid recovery from irregular operations;
    • Provide mass communications to be sent in the context of the flight, airport and aircraft, saving time and costs;
    • Reduce the number of Type B messages, thereby saving costs.
  • Improves Operational success and On-Time Performance:
    • Reduce delay costs;
    • Reduce fuel consumption.
  • Improves organizational communications:
    • The right information is immediately delivered to the right people at the right time;
    • Reduced response and reactions times in crisis situations;
    • Enhanced collaboration on operational problems;
    • The information is available allowing for proactive decision-making;
    • Enables the crew to communicate more effectively with passengers when information is readily available;
    • Reduces the number of inbound calls;
    • Reduces the number of outbound calls
    • Allows for crews to communicate directly with the ground handlers.
  • Improves Dispatch Reliability:
    • Improves rapid recovery from irregular operations;
    • Improves the airline’s overall communications, reduces response and reduces reaction times in crisis situations, and enables proactive decision making.
  • Improves Flight Watch:
    • Alerting of on route conditions such as turbulence and altitude variance;
    • Configurable alerting for the operational conditions of choice.

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