UK low-cost carrier (LCC) EasyJet is likely to be one of the first users of maintenance software company Output42’s new cabin-damage reporting app, which makes it possible for cabin crew to log faults in 20 sec.
“We aim to reduce the time to do an accurate minimal damage report to about 20 sec. We can’t make it quicker than 20 sec, because fingers can’t move that fast,” Output42 CEO Steve Crabb tells Aviation Week.
Cabin crew make the report via the Cabin Survey app on a phone or tablet; Android, Apple and Windows platforms are supported. The app then brings up a simple cabin map, which can be drilled down into detailed images of the aircraft interior—from lavatories and seats right down to component level. Crew members pinpoint the location on the map, take a photo of the actual damage and circle it. Engineering receives the report through a Microsoft Azure-based Web application and can immediately go to work on a fix.
“They can capture the damage accurately and really quickly, much more quickly than they could with a piece of paper. So often software actually gets in the way of doing a job; we wanted it to be the exact opposite of that,” Crabb says. The aim is to make the system easier to use than grabbing a piece of paper and writing it down.
Aside from speeding things up and eliminating duplicate reports, the system can be used to visibly show passengers that damage is being flagged and that problems are actually being fixed. Meanwhile, engineering can monitor troublesome hot spots. Crabb gives the example of latches that were being regularly broken because cleaners had not been shown how to use them. The airline gave them training, fixed the problem and cut its repair bills.
Airlines upload their own cabin plans—it is simple, but Output42 will help if needed—and each customer can access and copy its own secure database. Output42 charges a monthly subscription per aircraft, with price breaks for larger fleets. There are no up-front fees, no limits on the number of users, and external suppliers can be given access. However, there is a minimum charge because Output42 has to set up the hosting environment.
The system can technically go live within a couple of weeks, but airlines realistically need 2-3 months to roll out portable devices to crew members and set up their own internal processes.
Cabin Survey launched at the 2017 Aircraft Interiors Expo (AIX) in Hamburg, after being developed in response to a request from EasyJet. The airline is working on equipping its crews with tablets so the system can go live. Output42 has another 10 “good prospects,” including large airlines interested in the system. Crabb says the more or less universal reaction to Cabin Survey is “why hasn’t this been done before?” He is not aware of any direct competitors, other than paper reports. “We tend to inhabit spaces where there are no other players,” Crabb says.
Output42 offers a similar app for logging external structural damage, called Dent & Buckle. Customers include Air Europa, Air Atlanta Icelandic and Iceland-based WOW Air, Italian airline Neos and U.S. cargo carrier Air Transport Services Group. Another 20-30 airlines have shown interest. “It takes up to two years to sign an airline. The bigger they are, the longer it takes,” he says.
When Output42 pitched Dent & Buckle to EasyJet, it asked for a cabin version, which led to Cabin Survey. “We have had a fruitful partnership with EasyJet. They have brought us problems that no one else is solving for them,” Crabb says. The two companies have cooperated on two other major projects. The first is BladeFix, which reduces calculation times for fan blade replacements from 3.5 hr. to just 3 min. The system calculates balancing, meaning that an airline can sometimes replace just one $25,000 fan blade, rather than a pair at $50,000.
Crabb says EasyJet was “extremely happy with that,” saving $250,000 per year on stock alone. “This is not a fantastical number, based on notional time savings, this is just the stock. We are now working with EasyJet to get BladeFix to work with the Leap engines on their Neos.” Engine manufacturers and another big airline are also interested.
Output42’s other major project with EasyJet involves the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) for external aircraft inspections, in cooperation with UK-based drone specialist Blue Bear Systems Research.
The drone initiative, known as the remote automated plane inspection and dissemination system (RAPID), uses Output42’s 3D-mapping software to visualize where the drones—and the damage—are in relation to the aircraft. “This isn’t just a drone taking pictures; it’s a full end-to-end system that takes pictures and creates on-the-spot damage reports,” Crabb says. This cuts down the time and equipment needed for visual inspections, giving engineers immediate access to workable data.
“RAPID is probably going to be the biggest thing that we do, and we are very close to our first public trial, which is imminent,” he says. The company has secured letters of support for RAPID from around 15 airlines.
Irish company Output42 was founded eight years ago by Crabb and three other shareholders. Today the company employs around 20 people.
“We don’t have any bean bags, just a bunch of really good guys, who are cutting-edge,” Crabb says. He confessed that the company is called Output42 because output “sounds computery” and the number 42 is the answer to life, the universe and everything, according to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.