T&E: Increasing Efficiency for MROs With Communications Technology

Sept. 5, 2014

A recent study on the state of the aviation maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) industry identified a number of factors that are causing MROs to take a hard look at the way they operate. They are facing increased competition because of the reduced market that has trickled down from the economic troubles experienced by the aviation industry as a whole.

In addition, competition is increasing because outsourcing has started leveling off and original equipment manufacturers are increasing the aircraft maintenance services they provide. As a result of this increased competition, MROs are revising their business models to operate more efficiently and better meet the needs of airlines. Technology can help MROs address these goals, specifically the technology they use to communicate.

The aviation industry is an extensive, diverse, and mission-critical environment that requires reliable and robust communications at all levels. When it comes to communications, aircraft maintenance professionals are caught in the middle, so to speak – they are at the crux of business efficiency, quality control, and passenger safety. Their ability to communicate quickly and efficiently between industry stakeholders makes the difference between available aircraft and passenger satisfaction. Whether you are an airframe mechanic or an avionics technician, your ability to convey technical requirements, provide status updates, and relay project completions or delays is what keeps the industry moving forward.

Mishmash of technology

As with any large, diverse, and evolving enterprise, the communications infrastructure for the aviation industry is often a mishmash of technologies that were installed over many years and intended to serve individual groups of users or specific functions without consideration for how they might interoperate with other technologies.

Take radio networks as an example. Airport operations, airlines, and their service officers are major users of this group communications technology. In fact, most airside operations like security, airplane marshalling, refueling, baggage handling, catering, and maintenance are managed by staff equipped with radio handsets. Most of these radio networks are private, as are the dispatch services that are typically provided from different locations.

Within terminals and operations buildings, however, telephony is the mainstream communication technology. Employees that have to interface directly with airside operations staff from their desks are required to also have one or more radio handsets available. This can become an expensive requirement for large airports and airlines that may employ hundreds, if not thousands, of workers with cross-functional communications needs.

Two-way radio systems used by the majority of aircraft maintenance professionals were never designed to interoperate with telephony, intercom, and other broadcast systems commonly used in the passenger terminals and at operations centers. In addition, the business processes designed to mitigate these incompatibilities are themselves a contributor to inefficiency and higher costs.

The state of the aviation industry and its broken communications system provides MROs with an opportunity to improve operations, solve communications inefficiencies, and increase business. While the study noted that airlines are looking for additional revenue opportunities in a return to outsourcing, opportunities to increase efficiency, and reduce costs, while improving communications reach and effectiveness already exist internally. And, according to the study, increased efficiency and reduced costs could be the key to new business.

Total maintenance support

The study identified the selection criteria airlines use in choosing MROs and other suppliers. The results showed that airlines identified total maintenance support as the most important factor in selecting an MRO provider. In addition, airlines identified quality, turn time, and lowest cost as the top three criteria used in choosing suppliers in general.

For those mechanically servicing planes, the speed at which they can again make planes operable and safe requires communication up and down airline operation and management channels. If those personnel are communicating with the old, disparate devices common in traditional aviation communications environments, an MRO's ability to provide total maintenance support is decreased, their turn time is increased, and, as previously mentioned, their costs are high.

It becomes apparent, then, that the biggest opportunity to improve communications reach and effectiveness and, therefore, increase efficiency, reduce costs, and increase business, is to allow shared communications between fundamentally disparate technologies like two-way radio, telephony, and other systems.

Software solutions

MROs can achieve greater communication and collaboration between all groups of users, including those that do not have access to radios using software technology. In fact, rather than continuing to invest in aging and disparate communication systems, and aware of the high cost of new digital radio and group-wide IP telephony solutions, many airport and airline operators are already looking at how standards-based software can deliver an unprecedented level of communications interoperability using existing systems.

Software solutions leverage Internet protocol (IP) to radically improve on the effectiveness and efficiency of aviation operations by creating a convergent, interoperable communication environment that removes the need for employees to access multiple devices in order to communicate and collaborate. Software allows users to connect together their radio and nonradio users without the need for expensive desktop radios or additional dispatch services.

With software, two-way radio communications from any network can broadcast from a legacy, overhead public-address system, or pushed-to-broadcast and alerting systems. A single personal computer (PC) can handle the dispatch operations for multiple radio systems, creating substantial savings in a traditionally high fixed-cost operation. Software can directly integrate with IP telephony and unified communications solutions to provide seamless unified and interoperable communications.

Reducing operating costs

More than ever before, MROs are looking at new ways of adding incremental revenue from new services while simultaneously reducing their operating costs, all without adversely affecting the safety of travelers and crews. Improving the performance of a complex and diverse communications infrastructure is one area that many executives are now closely looking at.

By allowing two-way radio networks, for example, to be accessed from other communications systems such as telephones and PCs, aircraft maintenance professionals can fully optimize their mixed communications infrastructure for more flexible, efficient, and cost-effective operations.

Software exists today that can tie together disparate communications platforms and devices to bring everyone together over one channel. This simple upgrade provides the truly unified and interoperable communications on which the aviation industry relies. It can not only improve the process MROs use to get planes back in the air, but it can also help them reach their business goals. While MROs reevaluate their business models, they should look internally to the processes and technologies they employ to improve air maintenance services and save money.  

James Mustarde is the marketing director for Twisted Pair Solutions, which is headquartered in Seattle, WA. He can be reached at [email protected].Twisted Pair Solutions is a leader in software technology used to solve the communications interoperability problems that occur between individuals and groups using incompatible equipment. Twisted Pair Solutions’ WAVE software lets partners and customers build and operate secure and scalable communications systems in the world's most demanding environments, providing mission-critical capability for all branches of the military, for federal, state, and local government agencies and for commercial end users of all sizes. Visit www.twistpair.com for more information.