Air Transport World

Difficult, unavoidable choices: airline maintenance organizations weigh pros and cons of upgrading IT systems.(MRO - IT)

REPLACING OR RENOVATING maintenance IT is probably the least favorite item on a CIO's agenda. MRO activity is messy, full of unpredictable events not easy to automate. It involves many internal departments and external partners whose IT systems must be considered in any update.

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Always there are the safety and regulatory factors, which require extreme accuracy and proof of both systems and procedures. Further, existing data must be cleaned and converted, a huge job when fleets are old and large. Finally, people must change their roles and alter long-familiar tasks. For all these reasons several major MRO IT projects have run way over budget and beyond schedule, not a record that appeals to CFOs.

But many carriers are looking hard at their IT choices now. Legacy systems are getting more expensive to support and even more expensive to adapt for new needs, such as wireless connections to new jets and ramp mechanics. Asia/Pacific, European and Middle East carriers have been the most ambitious. Perennially cash-strapped North American passenger airlines have been slower and warier.

In ascending order of ambition and confidence, carriers have four basic choices: Continue struggling with legacy systems; add functions with "point solutions"; adopt best-of-breed maintenance software, or install an Enterprise Resource Planning application that includes maintenance, engineering and other functions.

TeamSAI Chairman Chris Doan suspects that most major US airlines will combine the first two choices, at least for awhile. "They have been financially stressed and must set very high ROI and short paybacks for discretionary investments," he says. Point solutions bolted on to legacy software can add functions like wireless access for mechanics, diagnostics on new jets, better tracking of labor costs and better long-term planning. …

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