PrimeFlight’s Data-Driven Ground Support

A management information system puts employees where they need to be when they need to be there.


PrimeFlight Aviation Services, based in Nashville, TN, employes more than 3,500 people in ramp services, baggage handling, cabin cleaning and passenger assistance to airines across the United States.

"To support our customer's customer service needs is our basic core philosophy," says Mark Marudas, executive vice president of operations and business development. "To accomplish that task, we put a lot of emphasis on ensuring that we develop exceptional people and have a system in place that supports our various services that can be standardized through a large network to enhance passenger experience and add value to an airline's brand." Buried in that long quote is the phrase "have a system" that's one key to the company's focus on brand management.

We’ll get to that system in a moment, but consider the company’s latest service. The new PrimeFlight X-Wash is a specialized division that cleans a plane’s exterior from crown to tail.

There can’t be too many bigger representations of a company’s brand than a gleaming aircraft parked and ready to go at a gate dressed in its distinctive livery.

Acid rain and sleet, however, not to mention deicing spray, runway salt and even improper cleaning can all take their toll on an expensive plane’s skin.

There are two ways to clean the exterior of an aircraft, relates Steve Leonard, senior vice president of business development. A “wet wash” done with pressure washers isn’t all that different from a scaled-up version of a car wash.

However, the soapy discharge left behind creates an environmental problem since government agencies from federal to state to local do not want wet wash leftovers overwhelming drainage and wastewater systems.

“As a result, there’s been a movement to take a different approach,” Leonard adds. “It’s not unlike a wax process for a car except obviously on a much larger scale.”

That’s the process that Leonard says is the future of exterior washes and what the company rolled out recently in Newark, NJ and Sacramento, CA.

A lot of work goes into preparing a plane even before the extensive cleaning process begins. PrimeFlight X-Wash crews conduct extensive filming of each operation to highlight, for example, that landing gear and brakes are covered with secured tarps to prevent any chemical splash. Or that additional protection is installed to take care of airspeed and altitude-sensing ports.

Leonard says cleaning one plane the X-Wash way can take 20 man-hours. The operation also includes further detailed service to engines, pylons and landing gear.

Afterward, the protective covers and tarps are placed in sealed containers for inspection. And a final filming of the cleaned aircraft takes place, including from the crown, top of the wings, APU, engine insides, cowlings and landing gear to ensure no equipment or FOD is left behind.

The PrimeFlight X-Wash service extends paint life by removing oxidants and potentially harmful chemicals and adding a protective UV coating that further protects a plane’s appearance.

PrimeFlight’s other specialty cleaning services include cleaning and disinfecting cargo bins and cleaning wheel wells and flap tracks, all of which contribute to a clean, smooth aircraft – and that adds up, Leonard says, to less drag and, therefore, increased fuel economy, as well as minimized corrosion.

Although PrimeFlight started offering the service at two locations, the company also has service proposals to almost all the major domestic airlines. In addition to exterior cleaning, its crews have always been busy taking care of the interior cleaning, too.

“Our appearance operations currently make up about 30 percent of our service base and we’ve seen a significant expansion on those services over the past eight years,” Marudas says.

THE SYSTEM

Keeping much of this activity humming behind the scenes is a management information system called SynTrack.

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