When the Malaysia Airlines aircraft MH370 went 'mysteriously' missing a few months ago, a lot of questions came up regarding the tracking issue of aircrafts. At the same time, global carriers also stepped up checks and procedures to improve safety in response.
One of the key issues in airline safety is the problem of "rogue components"-parts within the aircraft which have either failed, are about to fail or could seriously cause other parts of the engine to fail, triggering a catastrophe.
Ramco Systems, a global leader in aviation IT systems, has received specific requests from major airlines to use advanced IT algorithms to detect these rogue components as preventive measures. Ranganathan Jagannathan (Ranga), Vice President and Head of Aviation IT of Ramco Systems, and his team have been approached by global carriers step up this search, while also solving a second major problem - human error.
We got in touch with Ranga who is based in Chennai, India, to find out more about these "rogue components" and Ramco's role in aircraft safety. Malaysian Airlines is one of Ramco's customers.
Malaysian Airlines is one of Ramco's clients. What was your first reaction when you heard about the disappearance of the MH370?
I was deeply shocked and saddened when I first heard about the disappearance. I wished for speedy recovery and safety of all on board and was closely tracking the search process, which unfortunately has not led to conclusive results, four months past the event.
The global aviation industry has grown to become a foundation of the global economy. Events such as September 11 and MH370 have led to heightened attention to various aspects surrounding air travel and related security and safety concerns. I sincerely hope that we soon get to know the complete background of the incident, putting to rest all the conspiracy theories and rumors that are going around and have a plan in place to avoid similar incidents from recurring.
How does Ramco's software help in securing aircrafts? How can technology eliminate human error from maintenance teams, allowing them to focus on checking aircraft on the tarmac for safety and no be stuck with administrative processes?
Ramco Aviation Suite has come up with the revolutionary concept of Work Spaces which has created a paradigm shift to enable the maintenance crew to spend more time on Aircraft rather than keying in data in the maintenance and engineering systems. Our Mobility and Smart Watch solutions enable mechanics on the tarmac to take up aircraft checks with real time information rendered on their wrist and palms. Our application has inbuilt controls and validations with logical process flows, which forces maintenance crews to follow best maintenance practices as prescribed by various authorities without compromising on time. A lot of initiatives have been taken by OEMs like Boeing & Airbus, as well as Regulatory authorities, to automate and reduce human error element in aircraft health monitoring and introduce intelligent maintenance procedures. Ramco has also been keeping abreast of these changing trends and incorporated technological upgrades, whether it is by way of tracking Loadable Software Airplane Parts or Advanced Reliability or Advanced Planning & Optimization, to improve safety and help with creating more secure environment. However, there are still elements of human factor that cannot be negated in totality, but with the right Decision Support Systems and Analytical Tools, one can take right calls with highest reliability.
What are "rogue components" and how do they affect the aviation industry?
"Rogue" unit is a poor performing unit which repeatedly experiences short service periods, manifesting the same or similar faults and whose replacement resolves the system malfunction. Rogue components can paralyze various functionalities in airline operations: operational and dispatch reliability, aircraft systems, maintenance effectiveness, airline/OEM engineering and maintenance support. The challenge is in identifying rogue components in aircrafts amidst millions of parts.
With millions of parts per airline fleet, what are the specific IT technologies that can be used to detect them?
Traditional human inspections of aircraft are simply inadequate and one has to leverage on technology to quicken the process and at the same time minimize human error. Technology helps in eliminating human error allowing mechanics to do their jobs and not administrative processes. There is thus a greater emphasis to shift focus of mechanics away from manual inspections at the hangar to actual work. Big Data and Analytics today are able to help aviation companies interpret and identify rogue components, reducing Aircraft on Ground (AOG) time. Similarly, Ramco's Advanced Reliability Solution makes use of supervised data processing technique for the purpose of detecting rogues amongst other repairable components. AOG can be reduced through a surgical replacement, instead of tearing the whole plane apart to check for a single rogue component.
Which airlines have requested specifically for advanced IT algorithms to track such rogue components?
Most of the Airlines have the need to track and control rogue parts. The problem of intermittent failures in aircraft parts has long plagued operators and it also seems to have caused a bit of friction between the OEMs/Repair Agency and operators. It has always been a challenge to keep track of No-Fault Found (NFF) parts and their dispositions. The part management, reliability management, Ship or Shelf (SOS) disposition, warranty management modules from Ramco helps in managing various aspects of Rogue parts.
More and more new aircrafts manufactured by Boeing and Airbus have parts which require constant software updates. How can airlines cope with these multiple updates?
With over 6 million parts onboard the new 787 Dreamliner, tracking and maintaining the same is definitely a tedious task to perform. With each new airplane model, the number of software controlled systems increases, and so does the size and complexity of that software. Airline operators now have an option to maintain their fleet's complete software information in a central location, with Ramco's Loadable Software Airplane Parts (LSAP) solution. Our LSAP solution allows operators to incorporate design improvements and track updates or changes to the software. It also serves as a useful tool for operators by providing them with the ability to identify the status of the software in the aircraft.
Will these increased safety concerns lead to higher costs? If so, how can airlines strike the balance between improving safety and profitability?
Airlines understand that even as they want to increase profitability, there has to be a balance between yield and safety. Increased safety concerns need not necessarily lead to higher costs. Advanced technology can come to the aid of improving safety with smarter investment of money and resources. Advanced analytics can help on-ground mechanics to leverage on data and retrieve information that can help with increasing productivity and efficiency. Smart Applications can help to comply with regulations while still hitting utilization maximization. Operators must ensure reduced AOG or Flight Delays/Cancellations while still performing adequate maintenance, through assessment of Aircraft without extensive disassembly/reassembly. AOG can be reduced through a surgical replacement, instead of tearing the whole plane apart to check for a single rogue component. Simple surveillance and resolution processes with the help of inbuilt Analytical and Advanced Planning tools in Ramco's solution can help with higher Return on Investment.
How are you helping Malaysian airlines in securing its fleet of aircrafts?
Malaysia Airlines is looking to manage its fleet more intelligently in an integrated environment with better configuration control and aircraft records, through Ramco Aviation Suite. The productivity improvement tools like Advanced Planning and Optimization, Aviation Analytics along with Aviation ERP modules will provide Malaysia Airlines (MAS) visibility, monitoring and alerts on key Operational controls. The system is currently under implementation at Malaysia Airlines and upon going live, we expect MAS to have significant benefits realization in Maintenance operations and overall process improvements.