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Building the new technology flight path

How the aviation industry is flying high with IT

Technology underpins almost every part of a business these days, and that is certainly the case when it comes to the aviation industry. Whether it’s internal operations or customer facing, IT is at the forefront, making it happen. But this also means there’s not much room to mess up.

Gordon Dunsford, CIO at Airservices, a government-owned corporation that manages airspace, says when IT systems don’t work it can be catastrophic. “It could potentially mean loss of lives. IT is about helping to ensure more than anything else that we continue with our safety-led way of [operations], ensuring that we have zero loss of separation.”

Peter Nelson, ICT manager at Queensland Airports Limited (QAL), says IT is a 24x7 requirement right across the business. “We have to make sure we are on top of our game and have reliable systems and adequate support resources all the time.”

To help ensure there are no interruptions to business-critical operations, Nelson is in the process of enabling a mobile workforce across QAL’s four airports – Gold Coast, Longreach, Mount Isa and Townsville. He is equipping field workers with iPads so that they can access the systems they need remotely in order to help them carry out their day-to-day activities more efficiently.

In early 2012, QAL decided to replace clipboards and paper forms with an enterprise mobile platform that allows staff to access and enter data through its Microsoft SharePoint system. QAL has deployed about 40 tablets so far.

The mobile platform, provided by Blink Mobile Interactive, is used by aviation safety officers to make sure the runways are clear for take-off and landing; baggage handlers and refuelling staff, who also do daily and weekly equipment safety checks; and customer service officers.

“We estimated the customer service officers and the aviation security officers are saving between one and two hours per person per day [using e-forms on tablets]. These are seven days a week jobs, so the efficiency stacks up pretty quickly,” Nelson says.

“The customer service officer used to do lots of miles back and forth to the office to check records for somebody who lost their sunglasses, for example, and if they have been handed in. Now we have a mobile software platform for tablets and they can [access] a lot of these systems from anywhere so they can give people an answer immediately. That’s brought us huge efficiencies.”

General manager of ICT at Regional Express (REX), Mayooran Thanabalasingam, is also enabling a mobile workforce across the Australian regional airline and developed a number of iPad applications for the airline’s pilot training school, Australian Airline Pilot Academy. The applications allow pilots to carry out load control, fill in flight lesson assessment forms and read electronic performance charts.

“The instructor does everything straight on the iPad, which goes straight into our database,” he says. “They used to spend four to five hours a day just entering all the [hardcopy] forms. We can reduce data entry time down to almost zero.

“It’s not only about saving time; it’s the accuracy as well. In the past, when they would get a hardcopy form, how do you know everything was entered into the system correctly? If somebody disputes it, you need to go back and check if everything was entered correctly and that’s time consuming.”

Thanabalasingam is also developing an electronic flight log application for iPad, as well as an electronic version of its flight operation manuals on-board the aircrafts. It’s also converting an in-house Windows application called FLaPS for flight planning, load control and performance calculations to the iPad.

Estimated cost savings are about $40,000-45,000 per annum, and will help staff save time by having access to systems anywhere, anytime via the iPad. The project is in the implementation phase, and Thanabalasingam aims to have all 110 iPads installed or mounted inside the cockpit across Rex’s 55 aircrafts around April 2014.

On the customer-facing side, Thanabalasingam is working on a mobile-friendly website using Microsoft’s ASP.NET model-view-controller (MVC) framework. The framework allows content to be rendered for optimal viewing across different screen sizes and mobile devices. He expects the site to be rolled out in about a year’s time.

“Our corporate customers are on the run all the time and want to access our online services using their mobile phones or iPads,” he says. “Everything is all about mobile nowadays; nobody really sits in front of a [desktop] computer all the time. So we just need to keep up with the world.”

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Tags AirservicesPeter NelsonQueensland Airports LimitedRebecca MerrettGordon Dunsford

More about Blink MobileBoeingFederal GovernmentInteractiveMicrosoftQantasTechnologyUniversity of SydneyUniversity of SydneyvRanger

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