Info at your fingertips
Digital tools have helped airlines shrink a mountain of paper while boosting productivity and fleet reliability
BY DICK SCHLEH
Boeing in recent years has launched major initiatives to apply digital technology across a broad range of information products and services supporting airlines, and the company is shrinking a mountain of paper in the process.
New digital tools arising from these initiatives help airlines boost productivity and fleet reliability while enhancing safety. Cumbersome paper manuals and microfilmed reference materials are being replaced as a growing volume of airline support activity is conducted electronically.
Just how big is the benefit? Lou Mancini, Boeing vice president of Maintenance Services, puts it in a unique perspective. "Picture a stack of paper 24 miles high," said Mancini. "If you stacked up the 310 million pages of technical information we once shipped in a single year, that's how high the pile would reach into the stratosphere."
That pile has been steadily shrinking, however. "By the end of 2004 we expect to reduce paper shipments by 90 percent as more and more of our airline customers take advantage of the digital offerings from Boeing Commercial Aviation Services," Mancini noted.
Offerings include MyBoeingFleet.com, one of the most successful business-to-business Web sites in the air transport industry. This password-protected portal is rapidly becoming a single point of customer entry into Boeing for maintenance, engineering and flight operations data. Millions of engineering drawings, a full range of maintenance manuals, service bulletins, fleet statistics, flight manuals and other documents are accessed quickly via the portal. Updated daily, its contents assure users access to the latest and most accurate information for safe, efficient fleet operations.
"MyBoeingFleet.com is more than simply a repository of data," said Barb Claitman, director of e-commerce for Commercial Aviation Services. "It offers interactive and collaborative features as well. For example, it provides direct access to the Boeing PART Page, where airlines order and track their spare parts shipments. Another feature, known as the FLEET TEAM Digest and Resolution Process, provides a forum for airlines and Boeing to identify, prioritize and resolve technical issues."
Today the portal receives over four million hits a month, has more than 25,000 registered users and serves more than 550 operators and aircraft-servicing firms. "Those statistics attest to the success of the portal," said Claitman. "And it's all the more impressive when you realize it's been up and running for only a little more than two years."
Another significant digital tool from Commercial Aviation Services is the Portable Maintenance Aid. This advanced software reduces aircraft troubleshooting time for mechanics and is a valuable tool for airline engineering staffs as well.
The PMA consists of key maintenance information contained in a few compact discs that can be loaded into a laptop computer and taken directly to an airplane or installed on a local area network. Mechanics can quickly pinpoint technical problems in the gate environment instead of making repeated trips to a reference center to look up information on paper or microfilm.
"The PMA has advanced search, navigation and networking capabilities that can be customized by each airline," said John Gibson, director of Maintenance Solutions and Support. "Its built-in hyperlinks quickly connect the user to related references in text. We've also incorporated intelligent graphics technology that connects drawings to text and speeds up fault isolation by instantly displaying the next choice of options at each step in a fault-tree diagram."
Gibson noted that the user base for the PMA has grown to 85 airlines. "Many of these customers are experiencing up to a 40 percent reduction in the time required for information search and retrieval compared to using conventional paper-based reference systems."
Still another breakthrough for the digital paradigm stems from a Commercial Aviation Services program to integrate the data generated throughout the air transport system from the flight deck to the maintenance station to the operations center at the airport into a seamless whole.
Known as Crew Information Services, this program will create new efficiencies and cost savings while enhancing safety by allowing all parts of an airline operation to use and share data.
A key part of the program will be to install, integrate and certify the Jeppesen Electronic Flight Bag for Boeing aircraft. "This suite of digital tools increases pilots' situational awareness, maximizes efficient operation, and minimizes time-consuming paper manual searches," said Ray Marzullo, vice president of Flight Services for Boeing.
Functions contained within the Electronic Flight Bag include electronic navigational charts and flight operations manuals, electronic aircraft and pilot logbooks, aircraft qualification information, and the Enhanced Situational Taxi Awareness tool that shows pilots exactly where an aircraft is on a taxiway.
"But the Electronic Flight Bag will grow and improve," said Marzullo. "In the future, it will even include realtime weather and aircraft health management. It will serve as the airplane flight deck interface of an overall effort to integrate all the information systems in an air transport enterprise into a single network."
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