Are you surrounded by mountains of paper? Are you confident all of your data is accurate? Is it likely the reports in front of you may change tomorrow? Are your processes as streamlined and efficient as they could be? Are you struggling with either an old system that fails or a new system without current data feeds?
In an industry where fuel department costs will make or break an airline, creative process improvements can save millions of dollars for airlines, oil companies, brokers and into-plane service providers. Paper processes utilized today have facilitated fueling aircraft for decades; fueling staff accept the time it takes to overcome known problems and work it into their daily operations. But today, information technologies (IT) and fuels management systems can provide a means to make these processes more accurate and more efficient, ultimately reducing operating costs and improving on-time performance at the ramp.
What is wrong with paper tickets for aircraft fueling?
The paper process of fueling begins with purchasing pre-printed tickets. Fueling staff write the required flight and fuel load information on the pre-printed tickets and distribute these to fuel agents in order for the flight to be fueled. After the flight is fueled, the ticket is distributed to typically five separate locations where the data is often manually entered by different people into multiple systems. Reports are then generated and reviewed to assure everyone has entered the same data into each system. After this long, exhaustive effort of paper chasing and data entry, airlines, oil companies, brokers and fuel farm managers can finally process and evaluate the data, send out invoices and adjust book inventories.
This process is prone to many errors. From the operations side, paper processes are creating unnecessary flight delays every day. From the administrative side, paper processes are delaying crucial data delivery by days and weeks.
Daily Fuel Operations Errors:
- Distributing paper tickets and fuel updates in a timely manner
- Fueling the wrong aircraft
- Writing the incorrect fuel order on the paper ticket
- Mathematical error from manual calculations
- Pilot cannot find the paper ticket delivered to the flight deck
Daily Fuel Accounting Errors:
- Tickets not being available for data entry because they were misplaced, lost, destroyed and sometimes not complete
- Handwriting is often illegible and requires extra time and effort to understand or confirm
- Incorrect data entry by multiple people
In today’s industry, every unit of fuel (gallon or liter) counts and should be correctly accounted for. Airlines and service providers are asking what they can do to reduce delays due to fueling operations. What happens to fuel inventories when lost tickets are never found? Are fuel transactions and inventory data changed after the month-end closeout?
These fueling and fuel accounting problems are hindering the industry and can be eliminated through process improvements utilizing automation, fuel management software and electronic fuel ticketing. An example of automation improvements for one major airline involved the implementation of a complete fuels management system. The system addressed each of these significant errors and, in turn, reduced fuel related delays by ten-fold, as well as saved over $1 million per year in operations costs.
The Paperless Electronic Fuel Ticket Solution
Information technology and automation in the aviation industry has evolved considerably during the last 20 years. In the early 1980s, Synergix, a UK-based company was one of the early pioneers of aviation software. Their systems printed flight information onto fuel tickets in the ramp office. These pre-printed tickets were used by the fuel agents to manually record completed fuel transaction data. The complete ticket information would then be entered manually back into a ramp-office computer system for accounting purposes. Later, some airlines adopted similar systems and made small developments, such as automatically adding fuel load information to the printed ticket. However, such systems never provided a completely integrated and automated solution for fuels management.
Technology has reached a point where paper can now be completely eliminated. Fuels management systems now allow fuel request to be generated electronically and transmitted wirelessly to handheld or mobile (vehicle-mounted) computers. The same computers are able to capture data in real-time and transmit the final transaction back to the fuels management system. With open communications and systems interfaces, the data can also be made available to airline or service provider accounting and business systems or deployed as an ACARS (aircraft communication addressing and reporting system) message to the aircraft flight deck. These systems are setting new standards for the aviation fueling industry and many airlines have positioned themselves to process change and deploy this type of solution.
The Wireless Revolution
Few companies are at the forefront of all developments, integrating the latest computer systems, wireless communications and hardware technologies for scalable fuel ticketing solutions. More recent developments are designed to ensure all fuel-related information and fuel updates are passed securely to the fuel agent in real-time to help reduce delays. Wireless technologies, such as 802.11, Bluetooth and wireless VPNs, are being used to ensure security and reliability of data over wireless networks. Varec’s FuelsManager Aviation system utilizes hardware, software and wireless communications with proven success for a “no-paper” fueling process. It begins by communicating flight and fuel load assignments over secured wireless connections to ruggedized data collection computers at the wing tip. Built-in checks and measures ensure all information is valid, including validation that an aircraft is at the correct gate before fueling commences. During fueling, the ruggedized computers collect meter data via Bluetooth communications and perform automatic fuel calculations to create an electronic fuel ticket for the transaction. The validated fuel transaction is then transmitted from the handheld to the aircraft flight deck via ACARS and via wireless LAN or VLAN to the back office systems.
FuelsManager Aviation also utilizes wireless communications to relay updated information in real time; if the fuel load or aircraft changes while the flight is being serviced or a flight is over or under fueled, the fuel agent or dispatcher is immediately notified.
If the airline or service provider still requires paper tickets, they can be printed at the gate, in the back office, at the wing tip or anywhere within the system where there is an available printer; however, the master information is always held electronically.
Partnerships between the solutions providing companies, such as Varec and mobile computer and data collection device manufacturers, will push the boundaries of mobile computing at airports. The ruggedized devices used in fueling applications will soon be used for a multitude of other needs, including gathering quality control information, real-time credit card sales authorizations, two-way voice transmissions, GPS positioning and automatic data collection from aircraft fuel tank gauges. These benefits will be realized quickly by companies that make a step and introduce the new technology.
Moving Forward and Selecting a Solution
Today’s technology has yielded many automation options, although you must know what to look for to assure a solution is right for you. As with any new system, beware of a customized, one-of-a-kind system that soon becomes costly and unsupportable. Ten years ago, major software companies like Microsoft were unable to offer the types of software development tools they can today. Corporations were unsure of future software platform developments and, therefore, developed their own customized systems to support their businesses. These systems are now outdated and unsupportable, yet cost millions of dollars through the years.
If you are currently investigating how you can improve your fuel operations, you should be sure to identify a solution that can provide:
- Real-time electronic fuel tickets at the wing tip with ACARS ticket delivery
- Varied options for fuel data collection, such as batch or kiosk data entry and ticket printing at the wing tip, for your different sized fueling operations
- Innovative web-based systems seen in other industries, such as possible ticket entry over the Internet
- Scalable solutions to fit the needs of all of your operations, from the largest hub to a smallest out station
- A proven, commercial off-the-shelf system, based on a recognized software platform with planned future enhancements and product upgrades to ensure longevity and supportability
Looking Beyond the Product
You should also look beyond the product and to the technology provider themselves. Assess companies for knowledge of the aviation industry and related industries. Look for innovative and creative thinking to streamline all aspects of automated aviation fuels management. You will find companies who employ industry experts and partner with industry associations aiming to offer solutions for the long haul. Associations, such as the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the American Petroleum Institute (API) define and recommend standards for the benefit of the industry as a whole. Also look for companies involved in partnership programs with industry leaders, such as Microsoft and SAP; these are the companies employing the latest in cutting-edge technologies.
From the fuel farm to takeoff, paper tickets have served us well for decades, but with the application of new technologies and computing systems, it is now time to bid them a not-so-fond farewell.