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Thursday, April 1, 2004

Software Makers Merge to Offer Mx Docs Solution

Roy Allen Jennifer LeClaire James Careless

Flightdocs combined its total aircraft maintenance management solutions with Doberdocs's maintenance document tracking software and services to create a comprehensive maintenance software package. The first fruit of the merged companies–called Flightdocs–is Maintenance Tracker, integrated maintenance software for corporate jet and charter operations.

"Before designing our Tracker service," said Flightdocs president Rick Heine, "we asked many aviation professionals about the maintenance tracking challenges facing jet aircraft mechanics who must often balance erratic travel schedules with rigid inspection rules and timeframes. They told us that only a powerful back-end service paired with a simple interface would give mechanics the timely control they need to optimize aircraft flight time."

Tracker is designed to simplify compliance with FAA maintenance regulations and relieve the record-keeping burden on jet mechanics by helping them easily identify and plan current and future required maintenance inspections for one aircraft or an entire fleet. Flightdocs has partnered with IBM on the technology.

A unique aspect of Tracker is the scheduled maintenance analysis (SMA) process. SMA repairs inaccuracies and report discrepancies found in existing tracked maintenance items. Once SMA is completed, the corrected data is migrated into the Tracker system.

Tracker's developers claim the software enhances mechanic productivity and requires no up-front training. A crew of experienced aircraft professionals who know the business of aviation maintenance provide the software support. Tracker is available via secure Internet access from anywhere in the world or on a CD-ROM to run on a stand-alone PC. Built-in security features ensure that mechanics can access only pre-determined aircraft.

Flightdocs also offers eLogbooks, a software-based alternative to paper logbooks and recordkeeping. Like Tracker, eLogbooks is available via secure Internet access anywhere in the world or for a stand-alone PC. Flightdocs's eLogbooks is a legally acceptable replacement for paper logbooks and speeds research time compared to searching through paper logs. "Our eLogbooks service converts paper logs and records into digital images that can be searched through advanced optical character recognition technology and indexing," said Heine. "We eliminate the time-consuming process of manually searching paper logs and records.� Our eLogbooks also eliminates the risks and cost of lost or damaged paper-based logbooks."

"Reliability and security are extremely important," said Gerry Hesse, vice president of sales for Flightdocs. "When your aircraft is in your facility, you are in great shape, but if your plane is in another city then you may not have the ability to get that data unless it's on a web-enabled program like Maintenance Tracker. A charter jet operator using Tracker can always have a well-maintained plane ready whenever a customer calls, eliminating a key reason for lost revenue." – By Jennifer LeClair

As of January 2004, 32 airlines had become customers for Airbus's AIRMAN trouble-shooting tool, which provides real-time receipt and management of on-board maintenance system messages. AIRMAN, which stands for aircraft maintenance analysis, does this through the aircraft communications and reporting system (ACARS) and allows mechanics to prepare for a maintenance action while the aircraft is still in flight. For each aircraft in the fleet, AIRMAN also provides a daily task list of preventative maintenance measures.

Reporting on progress with the new maintenance tool, M. Tallay, director of maintenance software development at Airbus, said the original AIRMAN 2000 model had been received so warmly that the original six customers had grown to 32. The 2000 version was superseded by a 2002 version featuring the ability to manage pilot reporting in relation to maintenance action reports.

Most importantly, Airbus is working on a complementary system with a direct read-across to AIRMAN, Tallay added. This is the electronic logbook, by which all of the aircraft's software will be linked to AIRMAN. "Everything will be connected and tied together," he said, "which is our mission. Instead of the pilot filling in a sheet of paper reporting on any systems failures in flight, the linked software will address these to AIRMAN, which will relay them to maintenance. This is important because it complements the AIRMAN software as it is today."

Also planned is the connection of AIRMAN with the aircraft's systems directory, by which direct access is provided to all of the aircraft's technical manuals.

The electronic logbook will enter service shortly and is already in demand. "The demand for this is already greater than we can satisfy," said Tallay, "but we always want to work closely with operators as this is our commercial policy. All customers for AIRMAN are automatically upgraded to the AIRMAN 2002 system and beyond, as we charge an initial fee for usage and they do not have to pay again. In working together our aim also is to work with some maintenance information service providers in order to integrate these products with their systems."

An early customer for AIRMAN 2000, Virgin Atlantic Airways has the system on its A340-600 fleet. When asked how the program was working for the company, Virgin technical manager Martyn Haines replied, "very good indeed. So far we're very pleased as the potential of the system is quite enormous. We've found that, as indicated, messages generated in flight indicate maintenance measures that might need to be taken and these can be signaled ahead and dealt with at the stop as necessary. If there is any failing it is on our part in that we do not yet have enough human resources on the ground to apply to the system."

Does Virgin have an interest in the e- logbook? "Yes," said Haines, "and that will be incorporated in the A380." Virgin has six A380-800s on order, for delivery about 2007.


Wearable Computers Target Aviation

Tired of toting bulky technical data binders and heavy high-tech gizmos? Aviation maintenance technicians are lightening their loads with wearable computers that offer hands-free access to maintenance and repair manuals.

Xybernaut and REI Systems have joined forces to offer aviation mechanics computer-embedded work vests with panel displays in belt pouches that put maintenance and repair data at their fingertips. The software integrates technical instructions and procedures, diagrams, illustrated parts manuals, inventory data, computer-based training tools, subject matter expert advice, and other information resources into a single portable system.

The next-generation maintenance tool leverages the power of Xybernaut's (www.xybernaut.com) Mobile Assistant and Atigo wearable technology and REI's MAINT-X software (www.reisys.com) to help aviation mechanic teams stay on schedule, keep in contact with service and ground crews, and track significant events and changes with up-to-the-second accuracy.

"The mobility and point-of-task computing power afforded by the combined Xybernaut-REI solution allows field employees increased flexibility and greater accessibility to asset data and detailed maintenance information at critical moments," said MAINT-X program manager Roger LaPlante. "With access to mission-specific information at the job-site, technicians are able to make more accurate decisions and perform better under pressure."

IBM manufactures Xybernaut's wearable computer hardware, lending the platform credibility, and REI adds the software that brings real-world application to the hardware.

"We parse manufacturer data and reorganize it and then present it on the Xybernaut unit in the way that maintainers logically use the information," said LaPlante. "So if you are troubleshooting an aircraft problem and the particular step says to check voltage at a certain connector, then the connector location, connector part number, the schematic that relates to that connector, and some embedded training is all available on the same screen."

Companies like FedEx and American Trans Air and Boeing are already putting the new technology to the test, and with promising results.

"This technology will provide FedEx Express's line maintenance technicians with wireless access and updated information concerning aircraft location, and all information required to inspect, maintain, repair, and subsequently confirm the airworthiness of our 350 trunk aircraft during FedEx Express's time-critical hub turns," said Don Barber, senior vice president of FedEx Express Air Operations.

FedEx has seen maintenance, repair, and inspection costs drop and also saves labor costs because technicians no longer have to travel back and forth from a central maintenance library to the airplane they are working on.

The incorporation of wireless technology into the wearable computer not only enables the technician to access and update key information, it also allows technicians to receive maintenance alerts and communicate with other technicians for on-the-fly troubleshooting.

"Providing critical situational awareness allows individuals and organizations to make faster and better decisions," said Xybernaut president Steven Newman, "which adds considerable value to our Mobile Assistant and Atigo platforms."

The software also collects information to set benchmarks for maintenance activities. If most technicians take two hours to perform a maintenance task, but some take four hours, then management can identify training needs of inefficient technicians. Manual entry errors are avoided and the wireless transfer of information from the device to the central database cuts down on paperwork time for technicians. This also saves data cleanup time in the office due to mistyped part numbers.

"The Mobile Assistant has been a valuable asset, empowering our employees to work more efficiently," said Kevin Allen, systems engineer for American Trans Air. "It is a quality product that has greatly helped increase worker efficiency and productivity."


Sikorsky Software Tracks Customer Histories

Customers or commercial aircraft operators calling Sikorsky Aircraft's 24/7 help desk can now count on being known, no matter who they speak to. The reason? Sikorsky has developed and implemented its own customer relationship management (CRM) software. Every time a customer calls Sikorsky's customer service engineering help desk, the customer service representative who answers has access to a complete online history of the customer's aircraft, technical inquiries, and points of contact and can update that information immediately. Moreover, every inquiry is electronically time stamped in the database, both when the initial call is received and when the problem has been resolved.

Sikorsky's new CRM software complements its 24/7 help desk, which the company says is staffed by employees with an average of 20 years' experience. Moreover, even before the CRM software was implemented, the help desk already had the ability to access every blueprint for every aircraft ever made by Sikorsky and to search electronically for parts, operators, and aircraft online. Finally, the 24/7 help desk is staffed around the clock, including weekends and holidays. "When you call, you don't get an answering machine," explained David Adler, Sikorsky's senior vice president for worldwide customer service. "You get answers."

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