PrimeFlight’s Data-Driven Ground Support

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.

While management has tweaked the system to fit the needs of an airport service firm, the basic software product actually comes from the hospital industry where its primary purpose is to automate the work flow of transporting patients using straight-forward, intuitive orders transmitted to hand-held devices. (For more on the system’s origins within PrimeFlight, see our sidebar “SSR Services”).

PrimeFlight continues to use it for its original purpose of dispatching equipment and personnel, but management continues to modify it to better track service performance.

“The system, for example, allows us to easily complete quality control checks on cleaning,” Leonard explains. “Our auditors can go through a checklist on the handheld devices and immediately upload the results into a file that is accessible to local management to determine how well we are cleaning aircraft.”

With its version of SynTrack, PrimeFlight gets real-time visibility to the location of equipment, personnel and passengers that the company sees as ultimately tying together all its ground support and passenger services.

“We measure everything we possibly can to ensure we are meeting our customer’s expectations,” Marudas adds. “SynTrack allows us to expand on that capability by setting best practices standards throughout all our locations and giving more immediate feedback to our employees on meeting those standards.”

In summary, here’s what the system provides:

  • Optimizes schedules to support customer service standards based on changing schedules, volume or requirements.
  • Supports seasonal staffing and scheduling adjustments.
  • Benchmarks productivity to ensure optimal performance and productivity.
  • Provides service quality and productivity trend analyses.

The company started using SynTrack in 2010 at two airports and has since implemented the program in nine other locations with a total of 12 sites expected before the year’s end.

Over that time, PrimeFlight also decided to upgrade all its handheld devices to the Motorola ES400 PDA.

“It looks like an over-sized iPhone,” Leonard says. Employees easily get instructions through the device and can “time stamp” procedures from beginning to end.

A key feature is that large touch screen. The SynTrack software allows the company to configure the screen so that any number of activities can be organized and tracked by time and location.

“When events are within our set standards, they stay green,” Leonard says of the Motorola’s screen. “But if we are approaching that minimum time that we’re allowed to complete the job, it will start to flash.”

Those challenges can be communicated to a supervisor who can immediately make needed adjustments. Management, however, can use the important information captured by the process to determine at a later time, if there are bigger issues that need to be addressed in order to get the job done promptly.

“From a service perspective, that’s huge,” Leonard adds, “and it leaves absolutely nothing to chance.”

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