Air Transport World

Seeking the IT Holy Grail. (use of information technology by airlines' maintenance and engineering departments)(includes related articles on TransNet Maintenance Information Network and information technology products from Unisys Corp. and Computer Resources International A S)

Airline pursuit of the fully integrated M&E information-technology system goes on

For years, airline maintenance & engineering departments have been questing after the Holy Grail of a fully integrated information-technology system that would manage and control every aspect of their activities. Some, such as American, say the quarry will be bagged by year end. Others, e.g., Delta and United, feel it may remain forever elusive and are even beginning to question its value.

In the U.S., those three are among the acknowledged leaders in M&E integration. As chronicled in these pages, each has developed cutting-edge IT systems to help keep maintenance down time of their 500-plus-aircraft fleets at a minimum, and each is ahead in one or another aspect of automation. Now, each is spending millions more dollars on programs to tie at least some of the pieces together.

American is "looking at total integration by the end of this year," says John Simmons, senior director-M&E consulting and system development for sister company Sabre Decision Technologies. That is assuming that parent AMR Corp. OKs the necessary investment or that a joint-venture partner is found, says John Johnson, managing director-power plant maintenance, who directs the automation program at American's Alliance Airport base.

As American Airlines Decision Technologies, SDT began life as a developer of decision-support tools, then found that the information base needed to apply these tools often didn't exist, says Simmons. Over the past few years, it has been concentrating on creating the appropriate core modules in relational databases and now, it is matching the addresses of the various standalone systems that make up and surround the core.

The first core module is aircraft records, "which keeps track of hours, cycles, components, the airframe, the engines and tells you exactly where you stand, whether a part is attached to an aircraft or is in a shop or a warehouse," he says. The second is materials, which encompasses inventory, purchasing, warehousing, warranty tracking and related activities. The third is the training module, which tracks mechanic and inspector licenses, recurrent training requirements, "all the personnel records." The fourth is production control, which develops the maintenance package for a specific aircraft's base visit and then transfers the package electronically to mechanics anywhere in the world.

"These are all real products," says Simmons. "This is not vaporware anymore." SDT is offering them to customers either as modules or as a complete package called EMTECH (engineering maintenance technical system). FAA is using the aircraft records, materials and training modules while Matrix Aeronautica is using the production control module. SDT also is negotiating with "three major carriers ... their primary concerns are their legacy systems--how to move this history over. We want to sit a piece of our system, like aircraft records, next to their system and develop an interface between the two. When there is an update, we'll pull the base information from their system and update both. In a year or so, we will have pulled the vast majority of the data down and there will be only a small amount that we may have to write a program to transfer over. …

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