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Emirates tests new software for long term lifecycle maintenance

Posted 27 March 2017 · Add Comment

Emirates Airline is in the final stages of testing a new software system that should control its operations for the next 50 years. Steve Knight found out more at the IFS World Conference in Gothenburg, Sweden.

Emirates Airline is currently scheduling total lifecycle maintenance for many of its aircraft that have not yet been built.
That was one of the staggering revelations to come out of a case study looking at the way a trailblazing customised new software system will affect the company.
The product – IFS Tail Planning Optimization and Assignment – was jointly launched in Gothenburg and at the Airline & Aerospace MRO & Flight Operations IT Conference in Bangkok.
The need for such a system is obvious, because optimising fleet utilisation and allocation within a broad set of constraints, such as routes, schedules, maintenance, aircraft type and disruptions, is hugely complex.
How do you, for example, minimise inefficiencies in aircraft allocation, drive effective aircraft planning, integrate unplanned maintenance constraints, cope with capacity variability, operational changes, short-term maintenance, route restrictions and disruption problems that are beyond your control?
Currently, a typical large airline like Emirates, could have a team spending some three-to-four hours to prepare a single day’s optimised plan and a 24-hour shift to cope with unplanned variability and dynamic disruptive events. Complexity can quickly compound with each interlinked, unfolding issue. It means that tightly planned schedules can quickly be thrown out of kilter by last-minute impacts – weather, airport delays, airframe or engine failures, or crew non availability – which jeopardise the airline’s cost base, bottom line and operations.
IFS’ new software solution was developed in collaboration with Emirates and its impact was described by the airline’s manager operations planning, Andy Jones, in a case study at Gothenburg.
“When we look at aircraft planning, Emirates starts very early,” he explained. “We’re planning for 2050 now – because we need to look at airport infrastructure. The new Dubai airport has a bigger footprint than the whole of the city.
“When you think about capacity planning, you need to think about fleet mix – what aircraft will you be looking at?
Seat capacity calculations are also really hard to do – it’s a dark art. Capacity adjustments around countries is a big issue. How much access are you going to be allowed to different counties and continents?”
The planning is not just about resources – it covers maintenance as well.
“We have maintenance planning for aircraft that haven’t been built yet – and we’ve planned for their whole operational life,” said Jones.
Slot planning is also one the airline’s biggest concerns. “You can fly anywhere, but if you haven’t got the slots to land when you need them, you have a problem. That’s why airlines trade slots,” he explained.
Step forward IFS, the global enterprise applications company, with its new 24/7 tail planning and maintenance allocation solution for the global civil aviation industry.
“IFS Tail Planning, Optimization & Assignment maximises aircraft allocation efficiency, supports aircraft planning and optimally schedules maintenance events –allowing operators to make informed decisions faster,” explained Graham Grose, the company’s, industry director for aerospace and defence.
The system is designed to “provide full visibility and dynamic optimisation” within a single solution, well in advance of planned flight tasking and maintenance events. Planners can now handle a wider planning window and manage both hard and soft constraints that affect aircraft scheduling, such as destination or maintenance requirements, and analyse the impact of these events on the flight schedule.
“The solution maximises fuel savings by reducing maintenance inefficiency through better allocation of aircraft to long-haul routes and assigning an aircraft for maintenance, within the ideal window,” said Grose. “It will play a key role in helping airlines achieve business goals and grow even further in what is an extremely competitive market.”
Smith explained that when Emirates first starting talking to IFS, scalability was a key concern.
“We needed a solution that scaled everything, from a lightbulb in the cabin to the whole of European airspace shutting down because of a volcanic eruption. We currently have a 20-strong team just looking at the reliability figures of our aircraft,” he said.
“There are more than 250 aircraft. We have A380s and 777s. But these are divided into 19 sub-fleets. We have aircraft with low flight cycles and high flight hours, and those with high flight cycles and low flight hours. That makes maintenance uneven, so you need to manage your fleet to balance that.
“We do have some predictable disruption: we get bad fog in Dubai, but it is predictable. We have back-up plans there, ready to go. But there are unpredictable ones, like stand changes, where you end up with aircrew and passengers in the wrong place.
“Unrest and political situations can also create problems that erupt at any moment. We fly to Kabul and Baghdad. Disruption there can start propagating through the schedule, unless you react quickly.”
Smith explained that it currently takes the tail planners up to four hours to prepare an optimised schedule against flights and planes, taking into account disruptions and maintenance.
“In 1985 they hand wrote the tail planning schedule. It looks much the same in 2016 – but it’s built in Excel and is 12 pages long. When we went to the board with the proposal to automate the tail planning, they saw the manual sheets and approved straight away,” he said.
“IFS came up with a tail planning solution for us. The dynamic scheduling engine (DSE) is at the heart of what we do.
“The tough part of this job was change management – the guys in the tail-planning department have been working in one way since they joined. Stopping them leaping to the giant chart again is a big task. They get 150 change requests on a single day.
“We needed a workflow management tool to manage those requests in a sensible way. The solution gets the guys focused on the exceptions, rather than the whole schedule – the DSE does that for us.”
Smith said the built-in business intelligence was vital. “We have utilisation key performance indicators (KPIs), ground time KPIs and compliance KPIs. The ever-changing nature of the industry means we use the configuration capacity. We’re being asked to do different things every day – and the configuration capacity allows us to do that.
“The service level agreements (SLAs) we’ve got are key. Every single maintenance event we’ve got across those 253 aircraft is run through this SLA. There’s a sweet spot for regular maintenance, which were can run everything around.
“The algorithms that IFS has presented us with for many of the scheduling challenges we’re dealing with are looking good.”

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