JetBlue technician using a mobile device to view, diagnose, requisition and clear discrepancies. JetBlue
By the end of this year, JetBlue hopes each technician will use mobile devices to view, diagnose, requisition and clear discrepancies.

JetBlue’s Tech Innovations For Operating At JFK

From LiveTV for each passenger to NextGen and DataComm upgrades, the airline continues investing as it grows its fleet.

Printed headline: JetBlue Live

For JetBlue Airways, innovation is more than just a buzzword or a trendy concept—it is adopted enterprise-wide and used to improve service delivery now while planning for the future.

As part of its continued growth, JetBlue is preparing its operations—from fleet size, flight and systems operations to maintenance—to support a bigger airline serving more cities, with more flights and more crewmembers. As of March, it had more than 20,000 crewmembers and surpassed 1,000 daily flights last summer.  

JetBlue flies 227 aircraft—60 Embraer 190s; 130 Airbus A320s; 37 A321s, with 100% equipped with Fly-Fi. There are 17 aircraft configured for Mint service, JetBlue’s upgraded, premium-class cabins. Last summer, the carrier placed an order for an additional 30 A321s that Airbus should start delivering this year, to expand Mint service. Fourteen out of the 15 A321s expected to be delivered this year will be configured for Mint. The carrier’s first A321neo is anticipated in first-quarter 2018.

JetBlue Planning For Expansion

• Increasing fleet from 242 to 300 aircraft

• Ahead of schedule with NextGen ADS-B upgrades

• Implementing maintenance mobility, giving iPads to technicians

Efficiency is a fine-tuned orchestra at JetBlue. To minimize downtime of the aircraft as much as possible, the carrier is seeking an MRO provider that can take on heavy maintenance checks along with capabilities for a “cabin restyle” interior modification, as well as installation of NextGen technologies on their A320s. Although it will be quite complex to strategically align all these modification projects, the same process has already been completed for its A321s, by VT Aerospace Mobile and Aeroman. Jeff Martin, JetBlue’s executive vice president of operations and the “conductor” of it all, is optimistic: “It is very complex but now is the perfect time to do it. We [already] brought our A321s in and put in the 200-seat configuration, and [automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast]-“Out,” satcom and Data Comm.”

As one of the first airlines to deliver broadband to its passengers, JetBlue continues to strive to deliver fast and reliable connectivity on its entire fleet. The original hardware was installed by LiveTV, once a JetBlue subsidiary and now owned by Thales, which still provides current serviceability and software upgrades. JetBlue just finalized Wi-Fi installations on its E190s last year. For the newer aircraft being delivered, LiveTV continues to be installed by various MRO providers or OEMs.  The entire fleet is still homogenous in terms of connectivity.

NextGen Plans

In keeping with its theme of always thinking ahead, JetBlue has been one of the biggest proponents and early adopters of NextGen technology. Its entire fleet is already capable of flying RNP procedures, and all its crewmembers are trained accordingly. This has already delivered benefits at JFK Airport during runway closures. The carrier continues to show interest in Satcom and space-based ADS-B. Twenty-six A321s are 100% complete with NextGen installations (ADS-B Out, satcom, Data Comm and traffic collision avoidance system), and datacom is in a proof-of-concept phase for A320s. JetBlue is working with the FAA on proving the business case for Data Comm on its A321s, and it has trained pilots on Data Comm usage on the A321s.

On March 19, JetBlue made its first Data Comm flight. It will immediately start gathering data, evaluating the benefits after about three months and then will determine whether to invest further in this capability. Martin has high hopes for Data Comm and is targeting saving 1-2 min. per flight by using the system.

JetBlue’s A320s will also have ADS-B Out and satcom installations done during their heavy maintenance work.  

JetBlue

By the end of this year, JetBlue hopes each technician will use mobile devices to view, diagnose, requisition and clear discrepancies.

By the end of this year, JetBlue hopes each technician will use mobile devices to view, diagnose, requisition and clear discrepancies. Credit: JetBlue

Because JetBlue’s main hub, New York’s JFK International Airport, is one of the world’s busiest airports, Martin says that they will “continue to make investments to serve this airspace in the best way we can.” The aircraft have “become very sophisticated, and the crewmembers have been trained, but does the infrastructure match the capability of the aircraft?” he asks. There has been a minimal increase in downtime from adding the NextGen modification work to the heavy checks and interior modifications, as that work is mainly in the cockpit. To meet the 2020 deadline for ADS-B Out, the carrier started mapping out installations across its fleet in 2015 and 2016. Because of this advance planning, the carrier says it is on time and on budget for the project and does not foresee any supply chain issues for meeting the ADS-B Out mandate.

 When it finishes the A320 modifications, the entire JetBlue fleet will have 100% NextGen capability, which means each aircraft will have performance-based navigation aids, plus ADS-B Out and Data Comm. “We didn’t look at NextGen just as a flight ops project. We looked at it as an enterprise, so we involved flight ops, [systems operations center], maintenance, financial planning and analysis,” says Martin. Each member of the senior executive team at JetBlue has a “full understanding of NextGen, so it was a corporate decision to make that investment. I think that’s one reason why the project is pacing the way it is,” he says.

Technology

Tech Ops 300 is a broad and vast program within JetBlue to prepare for operating 300 aircraft. (By the end of this year, its fleet will number 242 aircraft.) Started two years ago, Tech Ops 300 is a top-to-bottom project plan to ultimately drive down operating costs, deliver better efficiencies through enhanced planning, and maintain and enhance high fleet utilization and reliability. As an airline that prides itself on being an early adopter of technology, JetBlue has identified new opportunities for using IT tools to enhance maintenance operations. One of these projects is the Maintenance Mobility initiative, which brings mobility (in the form of iPads) to frontline MRO technicians, automating current manual functions and refreshing with real-time support while working the line. It is in the test phase with two different platforms to see which is more compatible with technicians, and JetBlue hopes to completely roll out the initiative by year-end.

By the end of 2017, Martin “would like every technician to (1) use the iPads they have in their hands and (2) be able to view, diagnose, requisition and clear discrepancies. Now, in 2018 and beyond, my goal is for us to have tools that allow us to be proactive and preemptive.” That will be a big step toward acting on preventative maintenance and using the data coming from the aircraft, in partnership with inventory control.

In addition to the Maintenance Mobility initiative, other Tech Ops 300 projects include automating long-term planning; new inventory optimization and forecasting tools; and an onboard parts-bin project to reliably track and send nonhazardous aircraft parts to clear deferred maintenance issues.

All of these projects are closely coordinated with JetBlue’s Chief Technical Officer Eash Sundaram and the systms operations center to integrate them across the enterprise. 

 JetBlue continues to look forward, which is part of the reason the airline formed Tech Ventures. “What we’re being exposed to through technology is phenomenal. The technology that some of these startups are thinking of [is amazing] . . . but they don’t have the boundaries [that we do] because they don’t live in the aviation space,” says Martin. “Tell them to go solve something and they come back with these unbounded thoughts, and you’re like ‘Wow!’”

JetBlue has an open approach to generating ideas and accepting change and innovation. “It’s bottom-up, top-down, and we meet in the middle,” says Martin. Change is a necessity for expansion and yet is also an opportunity. With a lot of change going on, JetBlue invests in education and communication to ensure everyone understands the ultimate goal: deliver service safely, and deliver it on time.

 

 

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