Printed headline: Efficiency Drivers
While most of EasyJet’s maintenance for its aircraft fleet takes place outside of its hangars using third-party providers, its investment in technology across its UK facilities has remained consistent. In 2014, it began trials using drones for inspection work on airframes to identify potential damage after events such as lightning strikes. More recently, it has explored predictive analytics, and this year it signed up to Airbus’ Skywise platform aimed at helping its engineers anticipate problems by removing and replacing at-risk components ahead of failure.
With operational and cost advantages important for any airline, particularly low-cost carriers, EasyJet is now using an artificial intelligence-based simulation tool to help with the day-to-day maintenance planning for its entire fleet of Airbus A319-100s, A320-200s, A320neos and, starting in July, the A321neo. Last year, it teamed up with London-based logistics software startup Aerogility to roll out the system, which went live last November.
Operational data about each aircraft in the fleet is extracted from EasyJet’s existing AMOS management software system and integrated into Aerogility’s system. Aerogility says the planners can then forecast when heavy maintenance must be scheduled, factoring in existing plans with third-party suppliers while incorporating other fleet upgrades and modifications programs.
The first discussions about a possible collaboration took place in 2014, with EasyJet looking for more effective ways to manage its maintenance workload given the anticipated expansion of its fleet in 2017-22. In the development phase, Aerogility built a test system for the British low-cost carrier, which allowed it to explore the capabilities of the software at its Luton headquarters before committing to it long-term. “The test environment allowed us to implement different scenarios and explore what various outcomes would arise from them,” says Swaran Sidhu, head of fleet technical management at EasyJet.
EasyJet’s planning requirements for its maintenance operations are perhaps less standard than for most carriers. The airline’s MRO strategy previously focused on operating on an equalized maintenance schedule—combining A and C checks into a schedule of work packages performed overnight, rather than the more common block maintenance workload. However, as of last year, this was adjusted somewhat, Sidhu says. “Last year we carried out another detailed review of our maintenance philosophy and took the decision to convert aircraft to a block program after six years,” he says.
Despite a relatively smooth implementation process with the Aerogility tool, Sidhu says there were some challenges, which is not uncommon in IT-related projects. One of these was around standardization with the AMOS interface. Another was inputting some scheduling data into the existing IT system. “Given our equalized maintenance philosophy, the combined A and C check packages are classified as light base maintenance inputs performed overnight at our five MRO network stations,” Sidhu says. “The number of inputs ranges from 25 to 45 packages per week based on our 300-aircraft fleet size, and factoring them through the planning tool in addition to the heavy base maintenance inputs would have created a very congested view of the plan.” He adds that EasyJet is working with Aerogility to develop the software’s capability to include the equalized checks.
EasyJet is also implementing plans for its engine fleet and its landing gears using the Aerogility tool, with the latter set for completion first. “This will be an enhanced version of the software delivered last November but with this added capability,” says Gary Vickers, CEO of Aerogility, who previously worked on military aviation maintenance planning projects, including Lockheed Martin on the F-35 and F-22 fleets, as well as BAE Systems, before expanding into the civil segment.
Having linked up with EasyJet for its first commercial aviation collaboration, Vickers believes Aerogility has been on a learning curve but is continuing to build a solid foundation. Talks are now ongoing with airline operators. In the future, he predicts software innovations will have an ever-greater role to play in commercial aviation. “Airline operators work in a business involving competitive pricing through to managing complex engineering assets that have to be maintained to critical levels of safety, availability and cost management,” he says. “Airlines have to be innovative with the software they employ.”