This compares with airlines that customize their programs, which can be a slow process, but they avoid OEM charges by doing it themselves.
Trax sees data-standardization challenges very directly. It downloads OEM maintenance documents online and the airline merely accepts or rejects them. Integration differs by OEM, however. “You can get Airbus documents in SGML or XML, that is straightforward,” Reed says. “Boeing is messing around. They want to keep control of data.” To exploit online OEM documents, airlines need only document-management systems, sometimes added to and sometimes built into their MRO application.
None of Mxi Technologies' customers are returning to OEM standard MRO programs, says James Elliott, product marketing manager. “Bigger operators see opportunities to improve with customization. Smaller operators see fewer benefits or have no engineering departments, so they may outsource this to third-party providers or OEM fleet management.” Elliott sees outsourcing program design as a step toward letting an MRO or OEM manage all the maintenance on a fleet.
Elliot has heard about increasing standardization of task cards, which reduces the burden of updating these cards. “Maybe the OEMs are getting better at task cards, moving away from updating thousands of task cards.”
On data standardization, Elliott foresees a “step change,” as airlines outsource maintenance systems to Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) providers, which may be MROs, OEMs or simply platforms for many carriers. “This will drive standardization of data,” Elliott predicts. “It will compare apples to apples and increase reliability. Spec 2000 is one option, but S1000D is where we are headed.”
These semi-private clouds will store MRO applications and data, and they may give carriers analyses of data based on fleets much larger than just their own, thus reducing costs and downtime. A carrier needs at least 20 aircraft to analyze reliability, and results improve as hundreds of aircraft are studied. Data analysis might be conducted by OEMs, MROs or community providers. Elliott believes the economic gains will range from “noticeable to very significant.”
But the SaaS model may need more than just MRO solutions to be economic. Elliot says it needs to integrate MRO with other applications such as flight operations and technical documents, as well as integrate with in-house enterprise resources planning (ERP) systems.
Air Canada has taken data standardization seriously and expects to reap major gains in improved MRO processes. In 2007, Air Canada Maintenance had 84 different IT systems, the majority of which did not talk to each other, explains Alan Butterfield, vice president for maintenance. “Other major carriers had invested in improving their old MRO system, we had not. So there was a huge opportunity to improve.”
Air Canada reviewed leading MRO systems and chose Trax, partly due to its configuration-control functions. The airline had a lot of cross-connectivity parts: line replaceable units, engine parts and other components that were applicable to several models. So it had to work with Trax on mixed modeling routines for the software.