For a hundred years, tools in aircraft maintenance were mostly limited to handheld devices used by mechanics to keep up and repair aeroplanes. When thinking of tools, a screwdriver or torque wrench would come to mind, stored inside a red metal container – the toolbox. While these elements are still critical to a mechanic’s daily work, they are complemented by a digital toolbox – an array of software applications providing technical information and communication possibilities. Today, both physical and digital tools are essential to perform aircraft maintenance.
Our team, Application Management, is part of SWISS Technics and we support various digital solutions revolving around aircraft maintenance. We work closely with end users, for example mechanics, to understand their needs and support them on-site. All our solutions are developed externally and we collaborate with our suppliers to troubleshoot issues and provide development ideas based on user feedback and latest technological advances. Additionally, we coordinate and perform system upgrades and implement new digital solutions.
AMOS is our central application – it is a software suite covering different areas revolving around aircraft maintenance such as engineering, material management, logistics and planning. We resolve technical issues, manage user access rights and write functional specifications for new developments, for example. Additionally, we are overall responsible for a high system availability and data quality. For example, if AMOS were unavailable for several hours, this could quickly lead to flight delays or even cancellations.
Replacing paper and reducing weight
Another application we support is CROSSMOS – an electronic logbook installed on each SWISS aircraft. In 2015, every SWISS aircraft still had physical logbooks aboard where the crews and mechanics would enter technical issues with a pen on paper. Carbon copies were hand-delivered to the different departments to ensure the information was available where it was needed. All this changed in 2016 when the physical logbooks were replaced by a digital solution – two tablets (one in the cockpit and one in the cabin) running CROSSMOS, a software application that digitizes the technical logbook. Currently, we are in the process of rolling out the next-generation electronic logbook, which includes over 200 new and faster tablets as well as various software improvements, for example more detailed cabin layout visualizations.
From microfilms to tablets
Back in the day, all aircraft maintenance manuals were in paper form, which resulted in a manual containing thousands of pages just for one aircraft type. Microfilms offered an improvement, but the significant efficiency gain came with the possibility of viewing manuals on a personal computer. Initially, this required CD-ROMs, meanwhile we have solutions that allow aircraft mechanics to view maintenance manuals online on their laptops. This year we are rolling out a new solution optimized for viewing manuals on a tablet. This will allow mechanics to access maintenance instructions and diagrams faster and more intuitively.
Our team is in charge of keeping the tablets fully functional and up to date. While we use a device management software to remotely monitor the tablets, we regularly work with the mechanics at the aircraft to troubleshoot and resolve issues on-site.
At SWISS’s main hub ZRH, there are around 500 aircraft mechanics who maintain and repair the fleet. In 2017, we implemented GroundStar, a resource allocation tool that allows one person to optimally distribute maintenance tasks to all the mechanics on duty depending on qualification, availability and location. Each mechanic is equipped with a smartphone and receives information about which task to perform on which aircraft.
The potential of digitalization in aircraft maintenance
Digital tools are already utilized in many areas of SWISS Technics – nevertheless, we are only at the beginning of our digitalization journey. Our first goal is to completely remove paper from our maintenance processes. Not only does this make sense from a sustainability standpoint, it also increases overall data quality and speed at which information is available. Additionally, paperless processes lay the foundation for implementing new technologies such as augmented reality and artificial intelligence – and we are excited to be part of this journey.
Text & Photos: Mario Wenger