October 10, 2012
Tablets are becoming easy to find in airline aircraft cockpits but their use is less so in maintenance environments. They can be ruggedized to withstand MRO working environments and weather conditions, but this still does not seem to spur their implementation in hangars. Two examples from Aviation Week’s MRO Europe Conference of how airline MROs are using different devices for mobility projects underway provide insight as to what they are seeking.
Airberlin Technik identified that it took its maintenance technicians too long to find information they needed to do their jobs, so it evaluated various Android and Apple iOS operating system devices to deploy information to line mechanics. While it liked the fact iOS updates are less frequent than Android systems, the airline MRO did not like the cost of Apple’s hardware.
Airberlin Technik selected ASUS Transformer notebooks that each include an RFID (radio frequency identification) reader, RFID scanner, barcode reader and 3G access. The devices, powered by Android, operate in the Citrix environment, the same as Airberlin Technik desktop stations, so they do not require training. They are secured through use of an RSA token, an app locker and Airwatch, which is a software-as-a-service mobile management tool. Each notebook also comes with 16-hour battery life so a notebook can last for two shifts without charging. Keyboards with touchable keys were required for entering data, but technicians like the face the keyboards comes off come so the devices can be used like a tablet.
Because the devices only cost 400-600 euros, they cost less than iPads and Toughbooks and make the business case for the investment much easier to justify, says Miguel Amengual, project manager for Airberlin Technik’s business development group.
Airberlin Technik is rolling out these devices for line maintenance but it is looking into mobile devices for base maintenance, as well, says Christian Wolter, head of IT systems and projects for the MRO.
TAP Maintenance & Engineering developed a different mobile platform for line maintenance. Largely driven by its upcoming first Airbus A350 delivery projected at the end of 2014, its line technicians use smartphones to see assignments, update job status, report defects, interact with the maintenance and engineering department, and release aircraft.
While the current version will evolve and gain additional functionality, such as time stamp tasks and photo reporting, in the future, TAP is taking a big step to “delivery the right information at the right time to the right person, says Carlos Mendes, TAP line maintenance managaer.
TAP hosts all of the data in its maintenance control center and maintenance information system, so it just needed smartphones with reliable connectivity.
While Airberlin Technik and TAP did not choose tablets for their line maintenance projects, Christian Kloppel, CSC head of mobile devices, suggested that if airlines or MROs that are considering tablets for line or base maintenance, they should use them as front-end devices and “make sure to set up reliable connections to back-end” systems for data storage. “Use tablets as an access point” and “keep as much in the back-end,” he suggests.