More than 25 years in the making, Horizon Air is one of the largest regional airlines in the U.S. with major hubs in Seattle and Portland and secondary hubs in Denver, Boise and Spokane. The airline shares its activities, bookings and connection services with Alaska Airlines, Northwest Airlines, Continental Airlines and KLM. A three-year partnership with Frontier Airlines will terminate at the end of this year and nine CRJ-700s will be re-introduced into the Horizon route structure. For any airline, but particularly a regional the size and scope of Horizon, tracking every aspect of the company’s operations is imperative.
ON THE RIGHT TRACK
Project management, schedule maintenance and tracking are important functions in any industry. However, since the enactment of the SOX legislation in 2002, the intent of which is “to protect investors by improving the accuracy and reliability of corporate disclosures made pursuant to the securities laws,” these functions are mandatory. The act, administered by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), sets deadlines for compliance and publishes rules on requirements, but it does not specify how a business should store records; rather, it defines which records are to be stored and for how long.
Though SOX may have impacted the airlines’ IT departments initially, tracking and maintaining historical data such as flight status, runway and gate times, delay times and most airline operations is certainly not new. Collection of information and data, particularly due to the nature of the industry and importance for extreme safety measures, is an institution.
This has not always been the case with ground support equipment and GSE departments. In fact, not only has equipment maintenance tracking been overlooked in the past, but anecdotal stories of misplaced towbars, bag carts or even tugs as being part of the GSE culture, abound. “It can happen many different ways, especially at large airports,” says Brad Wegner, system manager of GSE for Horizon Air. “Somebody has a need for a bag cart, hooks it up, tows it off and it may be missing for a month. Or the airline doesn’t have a good system to track their assets and a GSE manager at one station decides to swap a piece of equipment at another station and somewhere along the line loses track of it.”
“As we have grown, GSE has grown,” Wegner explains. “With more equipment, more shops, more technicians and more assets, all of which are dollars to us, we determined we needed a more efficient system of tracking our assets — how many hours, how much money we are spending on them and when they become BER (beyond economic repair).” GSE such as a tug or a belt loader, according to Wegner, cannot simply have an end date of five, 10 or 15 years placed on it. Equipment can be 10 years old and cost very little to operate, yet there are other pieces of equipment that can be only five years old but very problematic with huge costs attached.
Computers and information systems have been a common part of the business environment for more than 20 years, replacing manila filing systems, binders and accounting ledgers, but according to Wegner, even the Excel spreadsheets and databases are ineffective because “the piles of information are not interfaced and you can’t make sense of it.”
LEAVE THE ELEPHANT GUN IN THE MERCEDES
“[Horizon] has always explored areas of our operations that could be more efficient and effective — researching methods that will give us more comprehensive information about how to steer our course through the industry,” Wegner says. With this as the “philosophy”, Wegner was directed by
Gary Williams, Horizon’s director of customer services, to find a way to automate the GSE department and make it more cost effective and reliable.
“The GSE market has been completely ignored by technology,” Wegner says. “And now, [software application companies] try to adapt really huge, robust equipment maintenance products to GSE that will have advanced features like predictive part replacement that a GSE shop simply doesn’t need and is very complicated and costly.”
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