According to an article in Aircraft Commerce magazine, airlines are increasingly looking for fully automated Engineering & Maintenance (E&M) systems. The author claims that airlines are trying to establish paperless processes that automatically stay up-to-date, ensuring that all E&M systems (MRO, CMS, ERP, etc.) remain synchronized with the latest parts, procedure and effectivity information—pulled from AMM, SRM, IPC, FIM, EM, CMM, etc.
The magazine quote says, “The ultimate goal for airlines and MROs may be to achieve a paperless process, by: eliminating or minimising the manual management of data inputs and migration into M&E systems; fully automating revisions to documents and data, and reconciling changes; automating task and job card generation; publishing and distributing job cards electronically; and recording the completion of maintenance tasks and associated findings; and keeping maintenance records electronically.” That goal may sound ambitious, but large carriers like Korean Airlines (KAL) have accomplished it and it is now achievable and affordable for smaller carriers as well.
IT initiatives to integrate the whole E&M environment are not new; the largest international airlines launched such programs many years ago and similar projects are now being pursued by national, regional and low-cost carriers (LCC). The reason is a need for higher efficiency, lower cost, and greater quality/compliance for airline and MRO maintenance and operations activities. All carriers face these problems, even those that try to standardize on a single vendor/fleet often find themselves operating multiple aircraft types, engines and components.
To properly support any kind of mixed fleet requires IT systems that handle a variety of data formats, document types and workflows. While OEM-based solutions, like Boeing’s Maintenance Toolbox and Airbus’ AirN@v, may be buzzword compliant (i.e. they use all the right terminology), they have yet to prove themselves in real world operations supporting mixed fleets.
Airlines that understand the complexities of technical content and fleet requirements want their E&M systems to handle any data format that’s thrown at them (SGML, XML, PDF, etc.) in any data standard (iSpec 2200, S1000D, etc.) from any vendor (Boeing, Airbus, Bombardier, Embraer, GE, RR, PW, etc.). E&M system flexibility is necessary for current operations as well as future growth and potential mergers. Furthermore, airlines don’t want their E&M system to be limited to one file format/data standard (e.g. XML in S1000D v4.0.1) because such an approach would require an airline to convert all their technical content before it could be used within their E&M system—and that conversion (and QA process) would be required every 60-90 days for each revision of every OEM manual. (It’s actually worse than this because S1000D is so flexible that it allows OEMs to implement the same standard in different ways yet still be compliant.) No, most airlines understand that a truly automated and integrated E&M system must utilize technical content in its native format, just the way it came from the OEM.
Maintaining an aircraft fleet requires so many sources of technical content that the responsibility for keeping all the E&M systems synchronized can’t be achieved by the IT department. The difficulty of this task was highlighted by GE Aviation at the 2010 ATA e-Business Forum when they admitted that the manuals in use at many customers are 1-2 revisions behind and as much as 12 months out of date.
Without up-to-date and synchronized technical information an airline’s line, hangar and heavy maintenance cannot become more efficient and consistent. Some airline and MRO IT departments are trying to synchronize the E&M systems using manual labor (or a lot of custom code). Others simply require the maintenance planners and technicians to use multiple IT systems and figure out for themselves which pieces of information are relevant. However, modern software systems have emerged that can automate much, if not all, of this process. To that end, the Aircraft Commerce article highlights many of the concerns that airlines and MROs face when putting together an E&M IT strategy.
Fully integrated and automated E&M systems do exist for airlines and MROs. When evaluating such systems the challenge is to differentiate between necessities and luxuries. Enigma put our thoughts on this subject into a sample RFP (request for proposal) that represents 15 years of implementation experience for multiple airlines, IT systems and data formats/data standards. This tool is extremely useful for airlines and MROs that are seeking to upgrade their E&M systems, and can be downloaded from our website.
As airlines and MROs grapple with the challenges of operating and maintaining mixed fleets, it’s good to know that the “ultimate” MRO IT system can be achieved. We hope that airlines seeking to bring their E&M system into the 21st century find this and other resources on the Enigma web site to be most useful.