How to Transform Aviation MRO on Time on Budget - Aviation Week MRO IT (Miami)
In late September, Aviation Week hosted an event in Miami called MRO IT. AvWeek claimed almost 400 people were in attendance (including exhibitors), but it didn’t feel that big. There were a lot of software vendors, a number of airlines and manufacturers, and quite a few consultants and analysts roaming the premises. (Like last year, it seemed that the software and consultant audience outnumbered the airlines and OEMs.) The presentations had some good content, but did not seem as deep or insightful as last year. On the positive side, the exhibit hall was more accessible which promoted conversations and demos.
The exhibitors represented a broad range of MRO(ish) technology vendors. PTC was a premier sponsor this year, which was curious because they seemed to be focused on pitching CAD/CAM and Arbortext. I talked to the guys manning their booth about aviation maintenance and repair but they seemed intent on steering the discussion back to technical authoring and leveraging whatever data the OEM was willing to share (which as we know isn’t much). It made me wonder if PTC was aware that airline engineers often modify the OEM’s parts and maintenance recommendations. They seemed unaware of the complexity of regulatory compliance, the challenge of aircraft effectivity, and the amount of non-OEM data that permeates every maintenance activity. Boeing had a significant presence in the demo area and was actively hyping their Edge offerings to anyone that would listen. Oracle was also well represented with their cMRO offering and the out-of-the-box integration to Enigma was viewed as a key differentiator by many attendees.
The conference presentations this year lacked the edginess of last year’s event. Last year Jim Keenan talked candidly about the challenges of integrating the United and Continental MRO systems. Also there had been a panel presentation about supporting legacy and next generation aircraft fleets, a panel presentation that challenged the wisdom of going “all S1000D”, and a closing keynote from Jim Whitehurst, CEO of Red Hat (formerly COO of Delta) about technology adoption and aviation.
In comparison, this year’s theme seemed to be all-iPad all-the-time combined with talks about the technology and security procedures needed to make it all work—on the ground and on an airplane. There were however a few presentations that got the audience thinking about how best to support mechanics and technicians.
Eash Sundaram, EVP & CIO of JetBlue delivered an informative opening keynote, highlighting the importance and opportunity of technology in the cockpit, the passenger compartment, and MRO/ operations. In his (somewhat ironic) words, technology implementation in MRO is all about “improving the most regulated organization in a deregulated industry.”
FedEx and UPS both highlighted their desire to get paper out of MRO but that caused Air Canada to ask a contrarian question, “Why?” Air Canada then went on to say that sometimes a piece of paper is the perfect content delivery tool.
A speaker from the FAA gave a presentation that reminded the audience how they create technology regulations and who/what is involved in getting certified. Basically the FAA said they were trying to write broad specs that govern outcomes, thereby allowing airlines and MROs flexibility regarding how those outcomes are achieved. The FAA leaves much of the certification decision in the hands of local inspectors to interpret the regulations to determine if a technology implementation is allowable and safe.
With regard to the usage of iPads, while a lot of conference attendees were carrying them around, many of the airlines said they were waiting for a Microsoft solution that would be better suited to highly regulated industries—offering faster adoption, more API’s and customization, and better data partitioning and security. (iPads were viewed as being too consumer oriented and insecure with regard to controlling the UI and data access.)
The best presentation of the conference however was by Alan Butterfield, VP Maintenance & Engineering for Air Canada. He delivered a straightforward, no-nonsense talk about how Air Canada is transforming the maintenance and engineering (M&E) department. Air Canada has budgeted $54M to do the task and not a penny more—if some functionality is missing after all the money is spent…oh well. (Alan said that keeps the go-live team focused on critical items.) For implementation they chose to follow the Spec 2000 standard because (even if it isn’t perfect) without strict data definitions even small deviations could slow down the project with endless debates. Another key to Air Canada’s M&E process is a rigid focus on what needs to be done, how it's done and why it's done, without ever defining which job function does it. Alan has been adamant about this distinction, even with the unionized workforce. And after much debate, and some concessions, Alan got the union to agree to the model in way that is a win-win for Air Canada and their aviation maintenance technicians (AMTs).
Aviation Week’s MRO IT conference was good but not great. I think it will be a better event next year drawing a larger audience and hopefully more thought-provoking presentations when it gets integrated with the larger MRO events (MRO Americas, Europe, Asia and Middle East).