More Than Maintenance


More Than Maintenance

Delta Air Lines GSE Maintenance group is involved with a lot more than just equipment maintenance, writes Michelle Garetson

By Michelle Garetson/p>

By Michelle Garetson

October 2002

Same old, same old is not something that would apply to the Delta Air Lines' GSE Maintenance group at the airline's headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. In a recent interview with Neil Wright, General Manager - GSE Maintenance for Delta, Wright explains that his employees are involved with more than just maintenance.

The main GSE Maintenance hangar provides 17 bays and that personnel can enter and exit from either side of the building for GSE equipment. Also within the building are 3 bays for paint, a body shop, a radiator shop, a component shop, a transmission shop, 3-bay weld shop, and a wash bay. The outlying line maintenance and stationary maintenance facilities at the airport each have 6 to 7 bays.

In Atlanta, Delta has 108 GSE maintenance employees in the main building with 7 lead mechanics. The ramp has 78 employees with 8 leads. In the main shop, there are 2 Hub Managers. Hub Managers are responsible for budget, performance metrics — "pretty much for the total operation for that location," says Wright. "Leads are responsible for ensuring that the work is scheduled and done correctly and making sure that technicians are up on their training."

Neil Wright - Delta
Delta  - passenger boarding bridge

"All our GMTs go through recurrent training on safety, HAZMAT, and we've started human factors training. A human factors training program has been developed for all of technical operations that we're sending all of our people through. Supervision is also attending these courses."

Delta offers its maintenance technicians assistance to obtain ASE training and certification. Twice a year, in the spring and fall, there is a test for certification and this certification is good for five years. 'Delta U.' pays for the books and pays for a one-time testing. Any subsequent testing is up to the individual. GMTs' with five ASE certifications are afforded a license premium.

"The whole operation is going through a corporate initiative "Our Airline, Our Business" to get technicians more indoctrinated with the business side of Delta Airlines — how we look at the profits, the financial sheets, and they actually play a game where they are running the airline," explains Wright. "They have to make decisions to make a profit. Get them involved to invest in 'ownership' of the company and understand why we do the things we do."

Wright says that Tech Ops started about 4 to 5 years ago to get the technicians involved in the "local issues" to discuss budgets, safety issues, what's going on with their local shop. It gives employees ownership to help them with business decisions to reduce overtime, what to insource, whether or not to buy tools, increase capacity to bring in more insourcing.

"Each shift has a team — High Performance Work Team (HPWT), explains Wright, "and in that work team you'd have Star Points — a Finance Star Point, Safety Star Point, and others, and these people bring talking points to the table to get things rolling."

Wright says there are 19,131 pieces system-wide for Delta and of that total, 6,103 are motorized. The remainder is stationary (passenger loading bridges) and not-motorized, items (bag carts, transporters, and towbars). Of the 6,533 total pieces of GSE at the Atlanta facility, 2,039 pieces are motorized. He happily offers that their in-service rate is 98.5 percent on all pieces, availability is 97 percent, and PMI (Preventative Maintenance Inspection) completion rate is 100 percent.

"We're trying to standardize [equipment] as best we can - cut down on maintenance costs, parts, training, and compliance issues, says Wright. "Tim Wix's, ACS side of the GSE group have done a tremendous job of trying to standardize the fleet and keep it modernized."

He adds, "We have teamed with SkyTeam members in a working group on GSE equipment to standardize the fleet worldwide and we communicate on a regular basis."

"We use laptops to diagnose and troubleshoot," says Wright. "All Ford products are computerized to note failure codes. On the supertugs (towbarless tractor) and diesel engines, we're hooking up laptops to troubleshoot, as well as on baggage systems. Our technicians have also developed a troubleshooting program for baggage systems. It's in the first phases of where we can see our Savannah location's baggage system and tell how it's functioning before the technicians leave Atlanta. This is a trial program, but as we update the baggage systems throughout the system, we will put our piece into where we can tie into more and more of the systems."

When asked which squawks get a top priority rating, Wright responded, "Supertugs at Atlanta. Systemwide, the biggest things are jetways, baggage systems — anything that will impact the paying customer in a negative way will get top priority."

John Francis - Delta GMT

He adds, "We really do pay attention to that. A baggage system could go down in a small city that's connecting up to a larger city, and that will mess up the entire system for 48 hours because there are missed bags. When we have missed bags, Delta is responsible for getting them to the customer, and there are additional charges that we have to pay to deliver that bag. A lot of times, you can generate ill will from the customer and that impacts you negatively."

Delta's maintenance tracking software is from SAP and this system tracks labor but Wright hopes to evolve it into where they can get historical data and can back it all the way down to the piece/part level.

"What we'd like to use it for is to track patterns," says Wright. "Whether it's for specific components for equipment or a pattern emerging in our regional facilities - historical data to help our operations improve. We want to be able to look at global issues as far as how I increase my productivity, what are my resources doing? What is my usage? When I get into developing the operating plan in October, I can see what are my costs of doing business."

Currently, the system is not meshed with parts inventory but is apparently on track to interface with that inventory in the future.

Wright contends that one of the biggest challenges for the ground support maintenance group is with baggage tractors, transporters, and baggage convey systems, which is a result of increased security procedures at airports.

"Passengers are checking 20 percent more of their baggage, which equates into more utilization of our bag tractors our transporters, our baggage convey systems and it really puts an enormous amount of load on the existing infrastructure," he explains. Without capital money to buy newer equipment and more equipment, and to better utilize the equipment, our technicians are being asked to perform the maintenance on it whenever it's down. It has really impacted us."

Cheering points? "Our Continuous Improvement teams. We're always looking for ways to 'insource' business," claims Wright. "Tampa owns all the jetways. When that contract comes up, we will be very active in pursuing the jetway maintenance in Tampa. We have just signed an agreement with ASA as far as providing maintenance on their fleet in Dallas. We do GateGourmet in Dallas and Cincinnati; and Ogden in Seattle. We do maintenance work for the city of Atlanta and local work for Coca-Cola on ground maintenance equipment for their corporate jets. We're always looking for ways to grow the business. That's part of the High Performance Work Teams - always looking for ways to open up available resources to grow the business and increase our insourcing revenues."

When asked if Wright had any suggestions for GSE manufacturers with respect to design and maintainability, he responded, "We always want them to look to the future. Give me something with the alternative fuel requirements. Look to the warranty - I'm big on warranty - ties to performance, reliability, standardization - version 1 to version 4 - I got a whole new set of parts to be worrying about. Let's get some standardization throughout the system. I know the computer systems are coming in, but I know the transmissions systems stay relatively the same. Look at what can be standardized. Interchangeability between one piece of equipment that they manufacture with another piece of equipment — let's say a bag tractor versus a belt loader. Is there some interchangeability that you can get me there? How can you decrease my total cost of ownership? We're all being challenged to reduce our operating costs and to increase our reliability and increase our performance."

Delta GMT Phil Lyles

He continues, "Be creative with how they're doing their training. I want a week when I first get the equipment, then a week six months later, and then a week at the end of the year. Until you get working with the equipment, or software, you don't know what you're going to run up against and that's when you need to be able to ask your questions and get some answers. Training is critical to help adapt to change."

"I think the changes that were seeing are going to be good," says Wright. "The electric is going to help reduce my total cost of ownership as far as reliability. I think we're going in the right direction."

When asked about Atlanta's infrastructure for handling more electrics, he answers, "Well, we were on our way, but when September 11th hit, everybody's resources went in opposite directions. But, we're still under the mandates that we're going to have to go to alternative fuels in the future. Maintenance-wise, I think we're all right, but we need to get the charging systems in place."

He continues, "We've just gone to putting our paper manuals to web-based and CD-ROM formats and availability. Any changes can be made quickly and we're getting the most up-to-date information. We'd love to have everything online, but we're just not there yet.".

For Wright, the biggest impact of 9-11-01 on how he and his employees do their jobs is with airport access. "If we have a tech who never has been into an airport and has never been badged, they have to be escorted. Or, they have to take a day out of their time to get badged. - we'd love to see a universal badge.
Wright humbly offers that he's confident about the future and credits his employees for that confidence.

"I'm always impressed at the ability of our technicians that they continue to rise to whatever obstacle we throw in front of them and they continue to meet those objectives. They've made my job extremely easy."