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Airlines

Digital revolution

Paul E Eden speaks to the key players in the MRO software market and finds that new technology will be critical to operations
 

In an increasingly digital world, customers are demanding adaptability and connectivity from their MRO software systems. Many legacy products aren’t up to the task, and the market is busy with established users upgrading and a new breed of start-ups and CAMOs buying into the digital MRO revolution.

 

Airlines, maintenance providers and continuous airworthiness management organisations (CAMOs) have been using MRO software for many years, yet the market is witnessing an upsurge in interest. QAZAQ Air recently signed with the UK’s Rusada for its ENVISION MRO solution, for example, and Product Manager Ian Kent says:“I think all airlines, new and established are seeing MRO software solutions as critical to their operation. There was a period where subcontracting was seen as a way of reducing cost, particularly for new airlines with smaller fleets, but that trend seems to be reversing as operators realise that significant

gains can be made by having greater control of their maintenance. Having a good software system is especially important if maintenance operations are managed in-house.”

 

Nick Godwin, Managing Director at Commsoft, says: “The market is busy with start-ups and CAMO organisations, while a large part of our business comes from our established customer base, although we’ve also put a lot of effort into the MRO side, which is beginning to open new doors.”

Godwin confirms that competition in the market is fierce, with a number of companies offering high-quality products, many of them modular, allowing customers to choose the functionalities relevant to them. Add together all ENVISION’s modules and it begins to look a great deal like an all-encompassing ERP system, but Kent says its focus is on solutions for MRO with additional support for flight operations. Also, as is common with MRO software, Rusada would typically interface ENVISION with a customer’s standalone financial package.

That said, he explains: “The Fleet Management module lies at the heart of the ENVISION solution, certainly for those customers who are responsible for airworthiness. It includes functions for managing asset configuration, maintenance programmes, maintenance planning and reliability monitoring. Together, these functions meet all the regulatory compliance requirements that an operator must adhere to.”

 

The aviation software line offered by IBS is even more comprehensive, covering MRO and flight operations, but also cargo and passenger handling, ticketing, staff travel, loyalty schemes and more. Couldn’t an integrated product therefore be created to cover every aspect of an airline operation? CEO VK Matthews says such a solution is unlikely.

“We often see an airline take one system and then select others, but they tend to look at each area of their operation and take the best-in-class product for that. There isn’t a software that will take care of every area, because each is so complex that a single, monolithic application would be suboptimal for all of them.

 

“But there’s a big argument for having relevant systems loosely connected – like flight operations, crewing and even MRO, for example. They can share relevant data, but shouldn’t be closely integrated.”

 

Adaptable solutions

Swiss Aviation Software (Swiss-AS) CEO, Ronald Schaeuffele is an industry stalwart and the company’s first programmer; he initially wrote MRO software on computers made obsolete by Crossair’s finance department in the 1980s. Swiss-AS recently added low cost carrier Air Arabia to its portfolio and Schaeuffele agrees the software market is buoyant. He reckons the number of competitors to Swiss-AS’s AMOS MRO suite has remained pretty much stable, but the market for systems is expanding.

 

Referring to the process of defining a customer’s AMOS requirement as a ‘project’, he confirms: “We are doing well, adding perhaps ten to 14 new customers per annum, and with around 20 projects currently running. As well as Air Arabia and others, we have two other low cost airlines in the pipeline, but also some medium and large airlines, plus MRO providers – most recently HAECO.

 

“But all sizes of airline, down to small regionals, benefit from our system. If I were the technical director of an airline with just two ‘tails’, I’d be considering AMOS rather than Excel. We also see airlines coming under pressure from their technicians. Having worked with AMOS, they don’t want to use low-end, smaller packages. They recommend AMOS strongly, even for small numbers of tails.”

 

With Air Chathams and Manta Air among other recent regional customers for Rusada’s ENVISION, it too is obviously attractive to smaller operators. Along with QAZAQ, all three operate turboprops, Air Chathams also employing pistons, demonstrating ENVISION’s suitability for mixed-type operations in small fleets but, Kent adds: “Large numbers of jets and helicopters are also managed on ENVISION. There is no optimum fleet size, since our software is fully scalable to match the needs of the customer. It can manage a fleet of one, or a fleet of one thousand.”

But that’s not all that brings airlines to Rusada’s door. “We have a proven track record in the industry,” Kent emphasises, “Many regional and low cost airlines already use our software, which is cost-effective and highly configurable, with a simple, easy-to-use interface.”

At the same time though, industry veteran Swiss-AS has no shortage of customers. “Our software is very adaptable, offers great richness of functionality and depth within each of its functions. Over its 30 years, AMOS has grown – it’s now in its fifth generation. We have a very active AMOS community, defining new functionality and making it a community product. We also have good working relationships with the OEMs, with a large team dedicated to cooperation between them and our customers, helping deliver optimised functionality. In 30 years, I’ve never lost a customer because AMOS no longer fulfilled their requirements. I still have my original customer, from 1992, Rega, the Swiss Air Rescue Guard.”

 

AI future

Ramco Systems has also been in the business a while. Sam Jacob, VP & SBU Head – Aviation Solutions, says it saw a market need in the 1990s, establishing Ramco Aviation to address the specific requirements of the aviation industry. Today, its offering covers technical records, maintenance planning and execution – including line, hangar, assembly, components, tools, GSE, advanced materials management and more.

 

In common with several of the correspondents in this piece, Jacob suggests that the industry is entering a paperless, ‘digital age’ of cloud-based solutions accessed via desktop and mobile device as the customer wishes. “With the technology now available,” he says, “we believe complete digitisation is a very achievable objective in the near future. Digital task cards/manuals and full interoperability of system across the value chain are becoming increasingly relevant.

 

“There will also be a growing demand to improve aircraft operational efficiency, by reducing the dependence on resources that can lead to errors – artificial intelligence (AI) will be the natural solution. The future is all about infusing intelligence into aviation ERP. AI will undoubtedly be the next major technological disruption. It will become important to leverage historical data to help AI provide intelligent solutions to technicians, engineers and others based on their work within a specific context.”

 

Commsoft’s Godwin also sees a trend towards increasing digitalisation, typified by the company’s recent deal with Aurigny, the UK’s second oldest regional airline. The carrier replaced a legacy system with Commsoft’s OASES and Godwin confirms: “Most of our recent growth has been through airlines replacing legacy systems and, in some cases, newer best of breed systems where they haven’t been happy.”

 

Jacob notes the importance of historical data to generating high quality AI, but well-run maintenance campaigns have always benefitted from a little crystal ball gazing, operators relying on experience and shared knowledge to predict future, especially unusual or changing, trends. Accurately modelling such events can enable airlines to input forward-looking data into their MRO systems with considerable confidence. Steve Osborn, the original architect of Aerogility, says the system allows airlines to do exactly that.

“Aerogility creates intelligent agent models that provide a virtual representation of an airline operator’s maintenance and engineering operations. We can use the model to simulate and predict future operational activity and maintenance requirements, identifying potential issues, such as capacity bottlenecks, insufficient spares inventory or lack of skilled resources.”

“Effectively, we create a ‘digital twin’ of the business – a safe and trusted software sandbox, where fleet managers and planners can analyse the future impact of their decisions, predict outcomes and compare one option with another.”

 

Aerogility is applicable to slightly larger fleets, very quickly becoming viable as aircraft numbers increase. “The complexity of managing fleet operations increases exponentially with fleet size, especially when factoring in the planning of systems and component level maintenance, as well as the fleet view,” Osborn says.

 

“There comes a point where conventional tools are not productive owing to the time it takes to construct the maintenance plans and continually update them as the current state of the world changes. This happens sooner than operators think. Even at the lower fleet size level, Aerogility offers advantages in terms of ease of use, visualisation of maintenance plans and speed of response to changing operational scenarios.”

 

Aerogility has rapidly progressed to become an accepted and trusted maintenance planning system, with customers including easyJet. Osborn reports: “Airline operators are enthusiastic about its potential, especially the ease and speed of creating and updating maintenance plans. Traditional approaches using Excel and manual planning are too cumbersome and time-consuming. Customers have told us they now carry out planning analysis thanks to the fast planning automation Aerogility provides.”

 

Separately, IBS’s Matthews says there’s an increasing realisation among airline executives that they should use best-in-class systems. “The airlines’ systems were often developed over the past 15 years and many still use legacy technology. New-generation technologies are coming, helping airlines improve profits and avoid the convoluted working methods of the past – we’re seeing many spaces where existing software is being replaced and new areas are being computerised.”

 

Godwin’s big-picture view of the market echoes that of many in the industry: “We’re finding that as we move into the digital era, with a paperless, electronic environment, the ability to adapt and connect to operations, human resources, accounting mobile solutions and electronic tech logs is increasingly an important factor. Customers are thinking about data flow through the entire organisation; OASES can interface with other systems, helping this data flow, but many of the older legacy systems can’t.”

 

Manual Tasks

“From our experience, airlines can have up to 25,000 different pages in over 2,500 manuals, with more than 5,000 updates every year,” Martin Lidgard, CEO and Founder of Web Manuals says. “Being able to digitize this process saves airlines thousands of working hours per annum.”

The Web Manuals product simplifies the task of keeping an airlines manuals current, highlighting changes to help ensure understanding and compliance, while ensuring the right people see all the information relevant to them.

 

“Using Web Manuals to write and publish their company manuals, all users receive updates and amendments instantly, no matter where they are in the world,” Lidgard confirms. The system’s burgeoning popularity has seen 50 regional and low cost airlines sign up, with European regional airlines the fastest-growing area of the business.”

 

Lidgard, too, is realising the digital era. “There has been an improved understanding of the benefits of digitising processes over the past few years. We’ve definitely seen an increase in the understanding of the and money-saving benefits of software systems.”


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