The Uptime Blog
Tags: MRO, Airbus, aviation, Boeing, technical documentation, ATA, S1000D, SAP, PDF, Tablet, Enigma, John Snow
Last week, the Danish Defense Forces sponsored SUGAIR 60 in Copenhagen, Denmark. The SAP Users Group for Airlines (SUGAIR) is a bi-annual conference for experts, executives and managers of MRO operations in the airline, aerospace and defense industries. Enigma was invited to describe the challenges associated with moving to the S1000D data standard and to discuss the opportunities for tablets in the hands of technicians. It was also an opportunity to update SUGAIR members on the SAP-Enigma integration strategy. (The deep integration with SAP has made Enigma the de-facto standard for delivery of technical information in SAP projects for A&D.) SUGAIR 60 had an impressive list of airlines and defense organizations in attendance and the feedback Enigma received was very positive.
SUGAIR attendees found the S1000D discussion very enlightening. The audience came to realize there is a lot of cost and effort required when implementing a functional S1000D environment; more than previously understood. Many of the “features” touted by S1000D vendors and consultants require custom implementation because OEMs (Boeing, Airbus, et al) have implemented the standard in different ways. (New standards often seem to make matters more complicated, as vendors try to establish or retain a perceived competitive advantage.) The attendee’s reaction reflects the concern expressed by airlines at last year’s Aviation Week MRO IT in Chicago. It turns out that because certain S1000D attributes are considered optional, or vary by OEM, most airlines and MROs won’t be able to reap the benefits of S1000D without a customized solution. However, Enigma did demonstrate some of the potential benefits of S1000D including:
- Fault isolation decision trees – dynamically generating the next information set based off the technician’s inputs, and recording the user’s path to feed a symptom/resolution knowledge base
- Truly interactive maintenance operations – where each maintenance step performed is passed back to the system of record
The next topic generated a huge amount of interest, which is the ability to make PDF data behave like XML...no conversion required. Enigma demonstrated the extraction of text fragments from PDF documents and the dynamic (on-the-fly) creation of job cards based on that PDF content. Furthermore, Enigma demonstrated the ability to link back and forth between XML and PDF documentation so that PDF functions essentially the same as XML. Given the amount of PDF that resides in aviation technical libraries (and the amount of PDF continues to grow) this capability helped many in the audience wake up to the opportunities to leverage existing data (without a complete data conversion initiative).
As in the past, the topic with the greatest “cool” factor was Enigma’s discussion and demonstration of a tablet-based solution. This is not a special tablet-only implementation of Enigma; it is standard InService® MRO using style sheets that have been tailored to the unique requirements and capabilities of a tablet device. The demo showed how single source access to the complete technical library can support routine maintenance as well as non-routine maintenance disposition and correction, and seamless, enhanced maintenance turnover events. By this point in the presentation, Enigma had run over the allotted time but the attendees readily offered more time to complete the demonstration/discussion.
For many attendees, the social highlight was a boat tour of the canals around Copenhagen, which was sponsored by Enigma. It was a great opportunity for members of SUGAIR to connect in an informal way, and for the many defense and airline organizations to get acquainted and compare notes.
Throughout the three-day event Enigma reinforced the strong bonds we've developed with many SUGAIR attendees, and we extend a heartfelt thank you to the members of SUGAIR and to the Danish Defense Forces for their gracious hospitality. Enigma believes that participating in SUGAIR 60 allowed us to help solve today’s (and tomorrow’s) aviation maintenance challenges, and from the feedback we received the airline, aerospace and defense attendees gained valuable insight for how to leverage SAP and partner technology to create success.
The 2012 MRO Americas Conference was held last week at the Dallas Convention Center. The opening keynote address was delayed over an hour because a number of tornadoes touched down around Dallas, which forced everyone to shelter in the lower levels of the facility. The tornadoes outside foreshadowed the storms that would soon be raging inside, caused by OEM restrictions on sharing critical MRO information.
During a session titled “Customers Speak Out,” executives from FedEx Express, TAP, Spirit Airlines and Atlas Air shared their concerns regarding the current MRO environment. George Silverman, VP Materiel at FedEx Express described how certain suppliers are unwilling to share data with airlines and MROs, which increases costs and inventory levels. Valter Fernandes, EVP Operations at TAP described the difficulties they experience when performing repairs outside of documented manuals. When performing heavy maintenance TAP sometimes needs help from the OEMs, however they often wait more than 10 days (and sometimes more than 30 days) without receiving an answer. (Similar to TAP, FedEx's Silverman claims that out of 30,000 service requests addressed to the OEMs, 50% are not returned on time.) Fernandes said he believes the OEMs are trying to achieve a monopoly in maintenance, which harms both the independent MROs and the airlines. Guy Borowski, VP Technical Operations at Spirit Airlines, said that the OEMs seem to be withholding technical information to help them dominate the MRO service business.
George Silverman offered a very specific and timely example of how the OEM’s strategy is causing delays and driving up costs. It turns out that the violent weather that caused tornadoes in Dallas also dropped a lot of hail at DFW International Airport, which damaged a number of elevators on FedEx aircraft. Because FedEx does not have access to the necessary Airbus repair data they must ship these elevators to Spain for repair, which will take 9-12 months to complete. (Aviation Week’s Frank Jackman posted a blog titled “OEMs Criticized For Not Sharing Data,” which described the same story.) As a result, Fed Ex will probably need to purchase replacement elevators to repair these aircraft. Following this session, I asked Silverman how long it would take FedEx to fix the elevators if they had the data and he said, "less than two months." Furthermore, Silverman has heard reports that the facility in Spain is running 12-24 months behind on repair work, so the estimate he received may not be accurate. This is an example of how the information policies of certain OEM’s is increasing MRO costs and delaying aircraft from being returned to service.
During a session titled “In or Out? Knowing When and What to Outsource,” Bill Meehan, CEO of Pemco World Aviation Services and Kent Horton, Director of Aircraft Programs for Southwest Airlines both agreed that access to technical information is the key to making critical MRO decisions. Without this data, airlines have very few alternatives for what, when and where to outsource maintenance—and likewise very little control over costs.
In the closing keynote session titled “Global Markets, Financial Instability, and MRO,” Jim Keenan, SVP Technical Operations at United Airlines said that he understands the OEM’s business motivation to restrict maintenance and repair information. However, he also said the issue of technical content must be resolved because the current strategy is counterproductive to the industry and is increasing costs unnecessarily. He said that when fuel is removed from the cost of operations (CASM ex-fuel) MRO activities are the single largest driver of cost—at 15-20% of total. During the Q&A time, someone in the audience suggested that OEMs have no alternative to monopolizing MRO because they must recoup the billions of dollars they invest in R&D. Keenan’s response was fairly blunt, saying he has very little sympathy for OEMs that engaged in a market share grab (to drive competitors out of business) by under pricing their products. The airlines didn’t force OEMs to do this and for OEMs to try to cover their R&D investment by employing a “razor blade” business model is unfair to their customers. Trying to dominate the MRO space by using a “have vs. have not” approach with maintenance information doesn’t serve the industry well and won’t work in the long run. Keenan finished by saying that the current inequity in profits—OEMs gaining at the expense of airlines—causes him to be very concerned for the future of the industry.
While MRO Americas 2012 had plenty of dialog about OEM information policies, it didn’t resolve the current impasse between OEMs, airlines and MROs regarding access to technical content. The people I spoke to agreed that OEMs have a right to protect their intellectual property but there is significant disagreement regarding whether or not MRO information constitutes intellectual property. Unfortunately, just as the automotive industry is now grappling with “right to repair” laws, the aviation industry seems to be headed in the same direction. It would be better however, if all three parties could find a way to work together to avoid legislation and lawsuits.
According to an article in the December issue of MRO News Focus (“TAP M&E Takes on the OEM Bullies”), TAP M&E is being denied access to critically important repair information. The article says that certain OEMs have dramatically changed the quality and quantity of technical content they provide to airlines and MROs. In TAP’s case, some maintenance and repair manuals have been cut from 50 pages to five pages. This results in two significant problems for TAP, 1) as an airline it becomes impossible to diagnose and repair certain aircraft components so they must be sent back to the OEM; 2) as a third-party MRO provider it becomes impossible to fulfill maintenance contracts already signed with other airlines.
The experience of TAP is essentially an extension of a trend that started back in 2003 when some OEMs stopped providing rich SGML-based information and instead switched to delivering dumb PDF documents. At that time, according to one MRO facility, the lost productivity on the shop floor increased costs by a million dollars per quarter. Naturally, this MRO was forced to pass on the higher costs to the airlines (who then passed it on to the travelling public).
Since that time, many large airlines have found ways to get the original OEM content (SGML/XML), which they need for their internal maintenance planning and inventory systems. On the other hand, smaller airlines have been forced to work with PDF, which is more challenging to load into the ERP. The key point is that the current battle over who has rights to usable service and parts content began years ago when OEMs started reducing the quality and quantity of service and parts information they provide to their customers. Now, some OEMs are refusing to make any technical content available in a format that is useful for the airlines, insisting that they use proprietary systems to gain access.
Surely, OEMs have certain rights and expectations regarding the information they publish, and some of that data may truly qualify as intellectual property. On the other hand, since airlines have always relied on this data to maximize aircraft safety and uptime, they too have certain rights and expectations. (This was described in a previous blog, “Safety Held Hostage?—FAA Enters the Debate” where we highlighted that airlines are responsible for safety, costs and schedules.) It appears these OEMs are trying to leverage service and parts information to: 1) recapture parts revenue that is being taken away by PMA sales and; 2) capture or control the maintenance, repair and overhaul services business. And they are doing this with fancy names and marketing pitches like “Boeing Edge.” (You can see their new glossy brochures glued into almost every recent aviation publication.)
The issues at hand really come down to one question, “Who do airlines trust to keep their fleets airworthy?” The answer depends on who has access to accurate service and parts information and who has the demonstrated expertise. For years airlines have used tools like Enigma to fully-integrate technical content into maintenance and inventory processes. (For PDF data the Enigma InService MRO product actually allows it to perform like XML.) As a result, airlines have gotten very good at safely maintaining their own fleets and those of other airlines. In fact, according to this article 2011 was the safest year yet. To continue this trend, airlines must have access to service and parts data.
For OEMs, as aircraft reliability increases they've seen a reduction in the number of spare parts they sell. To counter that trend, these OEMs are now limiting access to technical content, preventing airlines from fully leveraging it within their own maintenance and inventory systems. From a business standpoint it is fair to ask, “Is this a good thing for airlines or for the public?”
According to the MRO News article, TAP doesn’t believe the OEM's strategy of limiting service and parts information is good for the industry. As a result, TAP is now joining with other airlines to consider legal options. Clearly there’s a battle heating up with OEMs on one side, and airlines, MROs and PMA providers on the other side. With the MRO Americas conference right around the corner, it will be interesting to hear what the OEMs have to say for themselves.
Aviation Week reported that the FAA is entering the debate about instructions for continued airworthiness (ICA). Specifically the FAA is trying to define what is, and is not, included in the definition of ICA. According to the article, “FAA proposed the policy to clarify its position on the availability of instructions for continued airworthiness (ICA), saying it was not acceptable for manufacturers/design-approval holders (DAHs) to limit the distribution of ICA by placing contractual requirements or adding restrictive language to control the use of the instructions.” The article goes on to say that the FAA’s attempt to clarify ICA has generated a lot of resistance from a number of sources.
At the heart of the problem is Boeing and Airbus (and probably others) who find themselves in a price war, with profits becoming scarce even as they roll out expensive new airplanes. In response, they are trying to generate more revenue by controlling the maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) market. Their strategy is based on restricting access to service and parts information, which is considered to be ICA by the airlines, MRO shops and FAA. The OEMs restrict information in two ways: 1) by making ICA available only via their own proprietary software applications; 2) by imposing highly restrictive contract language that limits what airlines can do with ICA. As a result, airlines that purchase the newest breed of aircraft must agree to these terms or they won’t be able to keep those fleets airworthy. (The whole situation is quite ironic because the OEMs have been advertising S1000D data compliance but the purpose of the S1000D standard is data exchange and re-use across multiple software systems. Prohibiting airlines from re-using ICA eliminates the very basis for S1000D.) If they submit to the OEMs' demands, airlines are then forced to learn new software systems and integrate those systems into their own maintenance and engineering (M&E) environments, both of which cost a lot of money. (This assumes the Boeing and Airbus systems work as advertised.)
The reason the FAA is getting involved now is that any restriction on ICA is detrimental to safety—not to mention fair competition. There seems to be a fundamental conflict of interest when the DAH (Boeing, Airbus, et al) has the ability to decide what information qualifies as ICA and what information is proprietary. Any OEM trying to dominate the maintenance business would consider all forms of service and parts information to be proprietary, which is exactly what Boeing and Airbus have done.
Boeing and Airbus' strategy has been emerging for years. It all started with parts, which are typically sold at a big markup (>300% in some industries). To help fight price gouging, the FAA authorized alternate parts (PMA) as a way to lower airline operating costs (and ticket prices) without sacrificing safety. However, that hasn’t stopped the OEMs from (mostly) eliminating PMA through restrictive warranty and lease agreements that prohibit the use of PMA. They now appear to be doing the same thing for maintenance services by controlling ICA and creating restrictive contracts.
This Aviation Week article supports what Enigma has heard from a number of airlines, that Boeing and Airbus are now moving past their (near) monopoly on parts and are starting to dictate which organizations can maintain their products and when the work must be done. The new contract language defines who may access, use and modify the airline’s manuals, bulletins, catalogs, etc. From what we’ve heard, if an airline comes up with new ways of repairing those aircraft then Boeing and Airbus claim to own the new procedures. If this OEM strategy is successful the result will be a complex environment where airlines are responsible for maintaining safe aircraft but Boeing and Airbus will define how much it costs to be “safe.” In other words, airlines will hold all the responsibility and OEMs will hold all the authority.
As described in Aviation Week, the FAA now believes that certain manufacturers have gone too far. FAA Order 8110.54A Chapter 2 Paragraph 3 says, “As stated in paragraph 1 of this chapter, we require DAHs to furnish acceptable ICA to product owners per 14 CFR § 21.50(b). We also require that they make the ICA available to any persons required to comply with the ICA.” That is a clear statement that the people responsible for keeping aircraft flying must be given the information necessary to do their jobs. Since airlines are responsible for airworthiness, how can OEMs restrict critical information? Apparently, Boeing and Airbus are putting their lawyers to work debating the meaning of words like safety, instructions, maintenance, airworthy, etc.
None of this bodes well for airline profits or ticket prices. Monopolies are illegal because they create an unfair business environment. If the OEMs restrict access to ICA then they control the supply chain and can dictate prices. Although we’ve heard that airlines are fighting the Boeing and Airbus strategy, it’s unclear what kind of short-term incentives the OEMs might offer to make the airlines surrender. However, as stated in a previous blog airlines should realize that short-term savings often turn into long-term costs. The OEMs will probably even lean on government politicians to slow down the FAA, but if this isn’t resolved soon only two things are sure: 1) lots of lawyers will get rich; 2) the flying public will get poor.
According to the December 2011 issue of MRO Management magazine (p. 56), Boeing plans to exploit their service and parts data and use it as a profit driver. Not surprisingly, Boeing is trying to position this as a good thing for the airlines. Let’s see if we can decipher what Boeing actually said.
“One of the criticisms of GoldCare was that Boeing was trying to lock in the aftermarket services traditionally competed for by third-party MROs. Joe Brummitt, Director, Material Management Services [at Boeing], has two responses to this. First, he says, the airframe OEMs have increasingly decided to go to a single source for components, as multiple suppliers inevitably lead to higher aircraft purchase prices.”
In other words, when Boeing created GoldCare they limited access to technical information unless you were a GoldCare customer. In response, lots of airlines and MROs complained because it seemed to make Boeing the only player capable of working on Boeing aircraft, forcing others out of the maintenance business. When asked about monopolizing maintenance data and services, Boeing changes the topic to say that they’ve switched to single sourcing components. They claim this will decrease the cost of aircraft but what will it do to the cost of spare parts and inventory?
“[Brummitt] adds that a lot of OEMs have failed to recognise the commercial value of their intellectual property rights and have let them ‘leak out’ to be exploited by other people – a situation that is now changing."
In this one sentence, Boeing is clearly stating their intent to maximize profits by limiting access to aircraft service and parts information. (I.e., when it comes to maintenance data Boeing will prevent it from “leaking out,” which might harm Boeing’s commercial value.) Since restricting maintenance information will seriously impact the airlines, Boeing must have a good reason for doing this but nothing compelling comes out in the article. The most obvious reason is to make it too difficult and expensive for airlines and MROs to perform their own maintenance, so only Boeing can fix the airplanes. This may be one of the ways that Boeing plans to ‘exploit’ that so-called intellectual property.
According to MRO Management magazine, “The argument also goes that no one knows the aircraft better than the OEM does, significantly reducing the risk of new aircraft introduction surprises. The OEM is also the only source of new aircraft technical information and is best placed to apply lessons learnt supporting the entire world fleet. Being involved in revisions to an airline’s maintenance programme further reduces risk by ensuring regulatory authority acceptance.”
The airlines we talk to claim they know their aircraft much better than Boeing does. Boeing builds them, but the airlines are operating them all day (and night). That’s why airlines hold the operating certificate. That’s why airlines are responsible for safety. That’s why airlines hold the profit-loss of flight operations, aircraft maintenance and parts inventory. That’s why airlines are the ones who must answer to the FAA, their shareholders, their employees and the general public for how well they meet those responsibilities. And the airlines we talk to believe they get the greatest value when they have choices about who, where, when and how their aircraft get serviced.
The article goes on to talk about Boeing’s resistance to PMA, “not from a wish to diminish a free market,” Brummitt says. The idea that Boeing would expect us to believe that statement is ridiculous. The article also describes Boeing’s ability to improve spare parts pooling, and how they have developed IT systems that can fix the airline’s inventory. “[Brummit] notes that airlines with larger purchasing departments, especially in the US, are far more reluctant to move to these newer business models with the result that many are holding too much inventory at a considerable cost to their companies.” This looks like a second way for Boeing to ‘exploit’ that so-called intellectual property. They plan to kill PMA and own the parts channel by restricting critical service and parts information. Combine that with single source parts, and their real objectives become clear: increased parts revenue and skyrocketing profits for Boeing.
The opening sentence on a Boeing web page says the following, “Boeing Commercial Airplanes, a business unit of The Boeing Company, is committed to being the leader in commercial aviation by offering airplanes and services that deliver superior design, efficiency and value to customers around the world.” I understand the meaning of superior design, Boeing does build nice airplanes, but it’s the airlines that determine if they’re receiving efficiency and value (not Boeing). And while most companies exist to make profits, how those profits are made says a lot about a company.
Since Boeing admits that airlines aren’t buying into their schemes, especially with regard to inventory, maybe the airlines understand that the short-term savings that have been promised will quickly turn into long-term costs once Boeing restricts access to technical information.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Boeing really is a good partner to their airline customers, as well as the MROs and other third party vendors that help keep Boeing airplanes flying safely. But if so, I’m left wondering what else Boeing might mean when they threaten to “recognise the commercial value of their intellectual property rights.” Whatever it means, it doesn’t sound very profitable for the airlines does it?
Boeing and Airbus are fierce competitors; it’s a well-documented fact. What’s not well-documented is their competition with the rest of the aviation industry. Boeing and Airbus compete on the following fronts: with each other, for big deals; with smaller OEMs, for smaller deals; with PMA manufacturers, for spare parts; with 3rd party MRO shops, for maintenance/repair business; with their own airline customers, for maintenance/repair business; with independent software vendors (ISVs), for the technology that drives MRO and parts decisions. Boeing and Airbus apparently compete with (almost) everybody in the aviation ecosystem.
Why do I bring this up? Because once you look past the quality of their airplanes, their products are just not that good. Certainly most airlines know more about what it takes to keep these airframes flying than the OEM does. Most airlines know more about what they need out of their IT systems than the OEM does as well. But the OEM marketing messages make it sound like they can solve any airline problem and their sales force makes offers that the airlines “can’t refuse.” Just remember, caveat emptor (buyer beware).
What’s becoming more clear is that Boeing and Airbus have done a masterful job of hiding their true objectives, which seem to be aimed at limiting access to aircraft maintenance manuals (AMM), illustrated parts catalogs (IPC) and other critical information…unless the airlines agree to use the OEM’s proprietary MRO and tech pubs solutions. Contrary to their public affirmations about being good corporate citizens, they appear to have no interest in cooperating on initiatives with vendors, customers or standards bodies (like ATA). I’ve now had several conversations with ISVs that tried to partner with the OEMs to improve operations at joint airline customers however, the OEMs told the ISVs…no. (I’m being polite about the “tone” of the OEMs’ rejection.)
This mimics what was said at Aviation Week’s MRO Americas 2011 Conference. During this event there were a number of senior airline executives publically expressing their displeasure over the tactics employed by Boeing and Airbus. (Here is a link to our blog about that conference.) Many IT vendors, including some of the largest in the world, also voiced complaints about the challenges of working with the OEMs. The OEM policies make it difficult for airlines to deploy fully-integrated solutions. Without the ability to integrate each IT component (i.e., MRO, ERP, SCM, ECM, tech pubs, configuration management, etc.) and make them readily accessible (to engineering, planning, logistics, hangar/line mechanics, etc.) the airlines cannot drive down costs and increase uptime. (Here’s a blog about Gartner’s report on KAL’s integrated system and a report on KAL’s presentation at an Aircraft Commerce event.)
Last spring I met with a senior ATA executive to discuss the OEM role in maintenance IT systems. Once we examined the OEM strategy from several perspectives—maintenance schedules, service revenue, parts selection/sales, inventory management—this ATA executive began to understand why many ISVs view Boeing and Airbus as competitors.
The competitive situation with the OEMs was highlighted in a recent article from MRO Global magazine (p. 12), “…it is hard to see the aftermarket remaining independent of the OEMs and this will lead to lack of data and choice for the operators on a scale not imaginable just ten years ago. Once the OEMs control the data then there is no going back.” The article continues (p. 14), “[Ronald Schaeuffele, CEO of Swiss Aviation Software] adds: ‘When Airbus delivers a new aircraft, the documents delivered with the aircraft – including the component list of the aircraft – are completely different from those Boeing delivers. The two manufacturers don’t seem to communicate on this issue; they don’t seem to be preoccupied with the data format of information they provide.’”
Contrary to this quote (above) Enigma’s experience indicates that the OEMs are very preoccupied with data formats, management and control. In fact, the negative impacts of the OEM strategy were highlighted at a SAP user group meeting for airlines (SUGAIR) back in 2010 (as reported in this blog). Clearly the OEMs know that aircraft MRO data is the key to increasing their aftermarket revenues. If OEMs control the data and IT systems used by the airline, they can lock-in parts and service business and set whatever price they desire. And while regulations require this same MRO data be provided to airlines so they can use it independently, the OEMs seem to be looking for ways to avoid this responsibility.
Fortunately, Enigma can cope with almost any data format, regardless of how bad the OEMs try to make it. While we would prefer clean standardized data, it appears that’s not part of the plan at Boeing and Airbus. As a result, airlines that recognize the value of MRO information—for providing competitive advantage around cost, service and asset utilization—are actively seeking out tools like Enigma as a key enabler of their strategic plans.
Roni Pollack, Program Manager at Enigma, staffs the Enigma table at SUGAIR 57
I just returned from SUGAIR 57 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The SAP User Group for Airlines (SUGAIR) is a semi-annual conference for experts, executives and managers of maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) operations in the aviation, aerospace and defense industries. Enigma was invited by SUGAIR members to present Enigma’s capabilities with SAP and discuss the business impact of current and future integrations. SUGAIR 57 offered an impressive array of airline expertise and the feedback received by Enigma was overwhelmingly positive.
SUGAIR 57 was hosted by Malaysia Airlines in cooperation with SAP and HCL-AXON. Each of the attending airlines, MODs and MRO shops, delivered presentations detailing their SAP implementations, current challenges and strategies moving forward. SAP and HCL-AXON provided updates on their joint solution, as well as presentations on best practices, tactics and strategies for using SAP to maximize business success.
There was a long and intense discussion, led by several airlines, regarding the strategy of Boeing and Airbus to withhold service and parts information as a way to lock-in spare parts sales and control who can provide maintenance and repair services. The way it was reported by these airlines, Boeing and Airbus plan to limit airlines’ access to the aircraft maintenance manual (AMM), illustrated parts catalog (IPC) and other critical technical information unless the airlines agree to use the tech pubs solutions sold by Boeing and Airbus. The airlines on-hand, who had investigated these products, had the following comments about the OEM-based solutions:
- immature/incomplete functionality
- inflexible/difficult to integrate with existing M&E solutions
- limit airline’s ability to customize and control technical content
- risk exposing an airline’s confidential information and intellectual property to competitors (in the case of MRO services, competitors include Boeing and Airbus themselves).
This was a very animated discussion and I was surprised by the nearly universal anger and suspicion expressed by the airlines toward Boeing and Airbus.
For the Enigma presentation, SUGAIR members expressed particular interest in the ability to extract information from the IPC, AMM and maintenance planning documents (MPD) and then update the master parts list (MPL), maintenance requirements (MR) and job cards (task cards) in SAP. Beyond the ability to accelerate maintenance and improve compliance, the airlines, MROs and MODs on-hand quickly recognized another key implication of this functionality—helping identify inventory problems like “dead” parts that no longer apply to an airline’s fleet and can be safely purged/re-sold from stock. All the attendees commented on the huge opportunity this represents for cost reduction.
If the goal of SUGAIR is to generate meaningful discussions between companies with common objectives and to highlight topics that have implications on operations and compliance, then SUGAIR 57 was a success. Although the audience was varied—airlines, MODs, MROs, SAP and ISV partners—all the conversations I heard focused on increasing maintenance efficiency, consistency and compliance.
For Enigma, it was a pleasure to participate in SUGAIR 57 and to help facilitate the knowledge-sharing that’s required to solve tomorrow’s aftermarket and MRO challenges. This was a valuable opportunity for aviation and aerospace operators from around the world to learn how to maximize their business success using SAP, HCL-AXON and Enigma.
Aircraft Commerce held their Airline & Aerospace MRO & Operations IT Conference—APAC in Singapore this week. It was the second year that the publication has hosted part of its MRO conference series in Asia; last year’s event was in Bangkok. It seems the change of venue was a wise move, as attendance this year was considerably higher. More than 30 airlines and MROs sent delegates (except for the Chinese airlines, who seem not to attend these events unless they are held in the PRC). Floor “traffic” throughout both days was lively and the conference proceedings were also well attended.
Many of the speakers talked about the importance of “data cleansing” and the “data integrity” in the various MRO IT systems. Sharhabeel Lone of SAKS Consulting opened the proceedings by highlighting “key strategic mistakes in MRO technology implementations”, and provided examples of failures in this domain and their consequences (a news item about a CFO losing his job due to an IT systems glitch drew some audible gasps from the audience). The fact that he kept returning to the obvious need for “clean data” might have seemed unnecessary to an IT crowd, but it says a lot about the persistence of this problem in MRO IT implementations.
A different, and also well-known issue, came up in the case study presented by Cathay Pacific, who presented their lessons learned in the implementation of an MRO IT system (Ultramain): the crucial need for proper management of process change. A survey conducted after the system went live found that many engineers were having a hard time adapting to the new way of working and found “clever” ways to continue working as they were used to. Some were exporting data from the new system and using it in “private” databases and spreadsheets. Insufficient and inadequate change management procedures are another obvious trap that everybody keeps talking about but many keep falling into.
But the presentation that most caught my attention, and not in a positive way, was the one given by InfoTrust Group’s VP of Sales, Jason Duffey, who spoke about the new documentation standards: S1000D (for technical publications) and Spec2300 (for flight operations). Mr. Duffey lauded the new standards as “consolidating” existing standards and enabling airlines to re-use and distribute content as they please. S1000D in particular was portrayed as heralding a “new age” in the industry, one in which airlines will be free to do as they please with technical documentation. Documentation nirvana is just around the corner.
When the time came for questions from the audience two people spoke up. The first, a representative from Lufthansa, asked how the new standards would set the airlines free, especially when OEMs are forcing them to use proprietary viewers. He went on to question why the OEMs won't provide the data in standard formats that allow airlines to make real use of it by integrating into their IT systems. (As an example of this policy, he mentioned the A380 content, which may only be viewed with Airbus’s application and incorporates tags in a way that cannot be re-used by Lufthansa.) The second comment came from a software vendor who asked (sarcastically) how one could talk about “consolidation” of standards with S1000D when technical documentation for all existing aircraft will continue to be provided in ATA iSpec2200 (or older standards) and PDF for decades to come; only new aircraft (B787 and A350) will use S1000D. Mr. Duffey could only concede that he agrees with this statement. If most aircraft rely on data that is not S1000D compliant, and new aircraft use S1000D data that cannot be integrated with existing IT systems, then where exactly is the “huge business benefit” for the airlines?
These two comments highlight the problematic situation in which airlines and MROs find themselves as a result of the OEMs’ anti-competitive policies regarding technical publications. Instead of allowing the airlines to make best use of the technical content for their MRO operations, Boeing and Airbus are adopting policies that restrict airlines by forcing them to use proprietary systems that limit airlines' IT choices and infringe on their ability to realize technological advantages and savings. Airlines are thus unable to leverage the wealth of information contained within their current technical publications to enhance their maintenance operations: work scheduling, job card generation, parts list synchronization, inventory cleanup, etc.
While this may not seem like a major issue for a small, single-fleet airline, it is. Airlines that get “kidnapped” by the OEMs will find themselves with few options when it comes to reducing maintenance costs, optimizing inventory and sourcing alternate parts (PMA). This trend can already be seen as Boeing has become a competitor in aftermarket MRO (see Boeing Shanghai) and their S1000D policy will further reduce the ability of independent MROs to develop efficiencies that are possible only with proper data ownership. This seems to be an effort on Boeing's part to take MRO shops out of business and to compete directly with airline maintenance organizations. In the words of the Lufthansa representative: “this is a disaster for the airlines”.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out between the OEMs and the airlines/MROs. Hopefully, the strong message that came out of this conference—that “content is king” when it comes to successfully implementing MRO IT systems—will prompt the airlines and MROs to adopt a more independent approach vis-à-vis the OEMs and take control of the content that shapes and determines the efficiency of their maintenance operations.
"Flying fortress" was the nickname of the Boeing B-17 WWII bomber, and indeed it was. It was a high flying, long range, durable, versatile, complex (and in many ways beautiful) piece of machinery.
Today's modern airplanes can be compared to a flying fortress, factory or retail store. They consist of multiple complex systems that must work seamlessly, and continuously, to produce value. Keeping airplanes flying is hard work. However, it's the word "flying" that makes airplane maintenance more complex than a factory or retail store.
Just like a large factory, airplanes need to be serviced and replenished so that they can keep generating revenue. For that, ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) systems exist: managing inventory, resources, planning and scheduling. In simple words, the ERP determines "who does what, when, and where?" Unfortunately, the technical documentation provided by manufacturers, which describes "how" to fix the airplanes, is not built to support modern airlines and their ERP systems. Using the B-17 analogy, it seems that OEMs care less about the "flying" and more about the "fortress."
The OEM maintenance applications are built like a fortress, or a prison, designed to protect those critical user manuals. Boeing and Airbus assume that airline customers are willing to work inside their private little dungeons. In fact, even the very latest "tool box" by Boeing is a closed application that's difficult to break into, and even harder to break out of.
The problem is that most airlines have a diverse aircraft fleet including Airbus, Boeing and other brands. Airlines need a single maintenance system to manage them all, rather than a separate maintenance application for each fleet. Further complicating the situation, airlines use the OEM documentation as "reference only" with best practices constantly being written and implemented by the engineering department.
The reality is that each airline has different maintenance practices that reflect their own needs, and every airplane in their fleet is handled differently—different missions, different options, different repair history, different configuration. Airlines need to load the OEM information into their own ERP systems to manage inventory and maintenance processes across locations—including those provided by 3rd party MROs.
Outsiders may find it surprising to learn that airlines have better maintenance knowledge than the OEMs. Airline maintenance plans are based on the real-world experience of daily operations, as well as the heavy responsibility of ensuring passenger safety. Airlines need an easy way to connect or import OEM maintenance information to the ERP system so that they can quickly implement an "as maintained" view of maintenance requirements that augments the OEM data.
Unfortunately, the document fortresses built by Boeing and Airbus don't make this easy to do. Whether this stems from poor programming or is done as a way to force airlines to use OEM parts, the fact is that the data required for airlines' ERP systems is not readily available. As a result, it costs airlines a fortune (in money and time) to load maintenance data into their ERP systems, which creates a fragmented maintenance information system.
The ATA spec that governs the presentation of maintenance information covers most of the data needs for ERP integration. It's the ability to actually implement the OEM data according to these specs, and make it portable, that is the issue.
In future posts, I will discuss issues pertaining to ERP-based aircraft maintenance and how it is supported, or not, by the OEM documentation. We will cover maintenance requirements, maintenance tasks and equipment lists, forecasting and inventory management, as well as the lack of alternates (AIG) information, which is critical to the master parts list and drives every aspect of the ERP. Airlines need all of these processes to be based on "as maintained" practices, reliability, cost and distribution across multiple locations.
Maintaining a plane is a non-stop operation—around the clock and around the world. Unlike the B-17, the new "flying fortress" built by the OEMs is not a defender of liberty and freedom, it is a prison for maintenance information. In today's world, the complexity of airline operations cannot survive under such constraints.
Mr. Rashidi Saidin, Malaysian Airlines (left) and Mr. Takashi Sasaki, Japan Airlines
AviationWeek held their annual MRO Asia show last week in Hong Kong. Enigma's CEO, Jonathan Yaron, moderated one of the sessions: "IT Considerations in a Modern MRO Facility". The panel included representatives from two airlines - Japan Airlines (JAL) and Malaysian Airlines (MAS) - and from one MRO shop - Boeing Shanghai Aviation Services.
Mr. Takashi Sasaki, Staff Director at JAL Engineering & Maintenance, spoke about the implementation of Enigma and SAP at JAL and how the airline is now starting to reap the benefits of these new IT systems. The Enigma implementation at JAL went live in mid-2008, enabling thousands of engineers, inspectors and mechanics 24-hour access to the most up-to-date technical documentation. Mr. Sasaki stressed the seamless integration between the Enigma system and JAL's Engineering Workflow System (based on Documentum), enabling fast and efficient review of technical manual revisions from Boeing and the fast publishing of JAL Customer Original Changes (COCs) into these manuals.
Mr. Rashidi Saidin, General Manager of Engineering & Maintenance at MAS, outlined the considerations of implementing advanced IT systems in MRO from the perspective of an airline that is still using old legacy systems. He spoke of the troubles arising from the current setup: too many systems that are not integrated properly and contain inaccurate and out-of-date data. Significantly, Mr. Rashidi noted that engineers and mechanics waste 60% of their time searching for information about the appropriate part or maintenance task.
Mr. Bernard Hensey, CEO of Boeing Shanghai Aviation Services, spoke about the need to utilize generic IT systems in an MRO environment, implementing lean projects that avoid a footprint that is too wide. He urged airlines and MROs to "take a serious look" at the IT systems offered by the OEMs (i.e., Boeing and Airbus) when evaluating a new system.
What Mr. Hensey neglected to mention is that most major airlines have either already moved away from OEM-provided technical documentation systems or are seriously considering doing so, in favor of implementing a "best of breed" solution. Indeed, what may be a good system for a small airline operating a Boeing-only or Airbus-only fleet, does not work for an airline operating a diverse fleet from various OEMs. This is especially true when the airline also wants to benefit from integrating the technical documentation to the planning system and produce dynamic job cards.
Generally speaking, and in line with the times, fewer companies attended this year's show. It also seemed like the delegate attendance at the conference sessions was markedly lower. Last year, after the MRO Asia show in Singapore, I wrote that most speakers expressed uncertainty about the future and warned to expect bad times. This year, there was no uncertainty; everyone spoke about how they were licking the wounds from 2009 and expressed hope for better times ahead. The fact that some vendors did not even show up at this show (see pictures below) is an indication of how deep and painful these wounds are.
Empty booths at MRO Asia 2009
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