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It is widely accepted that airline maintenance divisions and MROs need robust IT systems to work as the backbone of their operations across hangars, offices and warehouses. Despite a plethora of market options in tailored maintenance solutions for customers—many of which are becoming increasingly favored over conventional enterprise resource-planning (ERP) systems—finding the right one is dependent on many factors, ranging from the size of the fleet a company maintains to how many parts it has in its inventory.
Dealing with increased data levels and operating under strict regulatory frameworks means investment in the right MRO software is as important as ever, yet undertaking IT projects in aviation is still fraught with challenges. “MRO applications by their very nature are sophisticated and particularly industry-specific,” says Nadine Etong, director of the MRO product line at the aerospace and defense business unit at ERP specialist IFS, which more than two years ago bought Canada-based Mxi Technologies, vendor of MRO management software Maintenix.
Etong identifies several challenges for companies undertaking IT projects of this nature. “Problems can arise when commercial aviation organizations look to implement solutions for maintenance using traditional all-encompassing enterprise software that is, by its nature, inflexible, difficult to implement and not designed to deal with the unique intricacies and granular requirements of aviation MRO,” she says.
“Secondly, there is often a belief that implementing a modern MRO system must be done in one fell swoop—or ‘the big-bang’ approach,” Etong continues. “Unless properly managed with complete buy-in from the board room down to the users, there are risks of projects running off course.” A phased rollout with clearly defined milestones is a more effective method, she adds.
Some airlines in North America have taken this approach as they look to move past legacy systems and implement newer systems better suited to the changing demands of their modern fleets. Southwest Airlines has used two maintenance software systems: a legacy Wizard system, a version of Maxi-Merlin, along with a Trax system acquired when Southwest took over and integrated the operations of low-cost carrier AirTran Airways in 2010. It has long-held plans to consolidate its management systems into a single product by this year through implementing them across different variants of its Boeing 737-family fleet.
American Airlines, the world’s largest carrier by fleet size, has made major changes to its maintenance IT systems since its 2013 merger with US Airways, and its efforts are ongoing. Pre-merger, American used three primary systems: a legacy transaction processing facility mainframe system, a custom midrange application and a newer SAP system, which was being implemented at the time of the merger.
US Airways, meanwhile, was operating on Sceptre, which ultimately was selected for the integrated airlines. American plans to harmonize all aircraft parts and move the pre-merger American components to Sceptre, followed by fleet migrations.
Sceptre is used by several other large U.S. carriers, too, one of which is Hawaiian Airlines, which uses it specifically for management of its Airbus A330 fleet. It also uses a Trax system for its technical records; the software handles all time-controlled maintenance, aircraft operational data and configuration controls as well as tracking all engineering and inventory needs.
Tracy Hassell, managing director of Tech Ops IT for American Airlines, says systems integration on such a large scale encompassing more than 900 aircraft was a major challenge. “[It involved] harmonizing the large number of aircraft parts across the enterprise and building the necessary bridges to support a phased migration of aircraft to a single solution,” Hassell states.
From the perspective of a parts repair specialist, AJW Group prefers to operate off one core system. It deploys a point solution in the form of Component Control-developed Quantum Control MRO & Logistics Software across its business units, including its AJW Technique components repair business in Montreal, Canada. This integrates personalized MRO data and logistical information for all operational, production and billing purposes. This software supports warehouse, supply chain and customer service management; the sales and marketing of parts and components; and accounting and financial modules.
Han-Ley Tang, chief information officer at AJW Group, says using this enterprise software has enabled the Montreal facility to repair more than 35,000 units a year across 6,000 separate part-number lines.
The software also has enabled the parts specialist to develop specific reporting and automation techniques. Upgrades are regular, but never too drastic.
“We upgrade the Quantum Control software at regular intervals as recommended by the software vendor to utilize advanced software functionalities,” Tang says. “Our approach is to keep the software as vanilla as possible, using change requests through to component control for any enhancements.”