Over the past five years, the AirAsia Group reduced costs by $11 million from collaboration with GE Aviation Digital on improving operating and fuel efficiency, according to Flight Operations Manager Jonathan Sanjay.
These gains came from a variety of small changes in operations, generally in line with recommendations from IATA for saving fuel in a high-price environment. But GE’s help was crucial in gathering, managing and analyzing data, in obtaining regulatory approvals, and in training pilots and other airline staff to implement the changes. AirAsia recently signed up for another four years of collaboration with GE for ensuring safety and increasing efficiency.
Sanjay says the biggest single saving came from single-engine taxiing. “Our Airbus A320s taxi out with single engine power, then start up the second engine about three to five minutes before takeoff.” He credits GE’s experience with this technique in the U.S. as a major aid in getting regulatory approvals and in training pilots. “Otherwise, it would have been difficult to implement.” GE also had its own technical pilots, formerly with major North American airlines, to advise on implementation.
Even with help, it took six months of working with regulators to get approvals, after identifying risks such as engine fires and methods of mitigating these risks. Training pilots in all six of the Group’s airlines also took about six months of working in CAE simulators.
For all the operating changes, GE also helped ease massive data analytics burdens. Each A320 generates 700 parameters per second of flight data. Previously, AirAsia had to integrate aircraft data, pilot reports, flight plans, fuel data, weight and balances and more in Excel spreadsheets, severely limiting the analyses that could be done.
GE took over collection, management and analysis of all this data. At AirAsia, only Sanjay and his chief pilot had to dedicate substantial time to the improvement effort.
Andrew Jones, global leader for customer success at GE Aviation Digital, worked closely with Sanjay. He says improving AirAsia’s efficiency was particularly challenging because the carrier already was one of the most efficient in the world, with very low seat-mile cost and break-even load factor.
GE combined data from the flight data recorder, from pushback to application of brakes at the destination gate, with flight plans to look for all the fuel-saving opportunities. The goal was “change management driven by data,” Jones explains.
Jones says there were in all 25 to 30 efficiency projects, many small in individual impact but cumulatively large in impact on an airline group with more than 300 aircraft. These projects involved all phases of flight, from pre-planning to optimized headings, descents and approaches.
Initially, GE’s analytical tool was its event management system, or EMS, which resided in GE’s Aviation Data Center. During work with AirAsia, EMS migrated to GE’s Predix platform for data storage, management and analysis.
In February, AirAsia signed a four-year agreement with GE to use its electronic Flight Operations Quality Assurance (eFOQA) to manage 355 A320s and A330s and FlightPulse mobile applications for 4,000 pilots. eFOQA uses flight data from aircraft to improve efficiency and fleet management, while FlightPulse helps pilots fly more efficiently.