British Airways Engineering is upgrading its IT system and testing the use of Apple iPads and iPhones for line maintenance staff at London Heathrow airport ahead of the Airbus A380 and Boeing 787 introduction at its parent company in 2013.
The UK maintenance provider needs to adapt its IT system to the increased technical data flow from the two new-generation aircraft. The current infrastructure, implemented in 2006, is based on standard SAP software that was subsequently tailored to the company's requirements.
BA Engineering assessed over the past 18 months how the additional data - much of which will be automatically transmitted in-flight - can be plugged into the existing software. Rajan Bindra, engineering systems manager, says that the MRO provider is now developing solutions to accommodate Boeing's 'Airplane Health Management' (AHM) and Airbus's respective 'Airman' aircraft systems monitoring and fault diagnosis tools.
The raw data will not be beamed from the aircraft directly to BA's facilities but will instead undergo basic processing at the airframers before being transmitted to the airline.
BA Engineering is already receiving real-time technical data from its aircraft, such as its 747s and 777s. However, the new types will generate a greater scope and volume of information.
A central feature will be a network-connected technical log as part of the factory-fitted electronic flight bags on the 787 and A380. Such a networked technical log is currently being trialled as retrofit equipment on two 777-300ERs, says Bindra.
A small team of line maintenance personnel at Heathrow's terminal 5 - BA's main hub - has been equipped with Apple iPhones and iPads to manage their work on the two 777s.
BA Engineering has developed a number of custom-made applications for the off-the-shelf smartphone and tablet computer. The WiFi- or 3G-based devices should give engineers access to information - such as routine maintenance tasks, any additional defect work, and the MRO provider's inventory status - ahead of the aircraft's arrival.
Staff will be able to order material from the airline's warehouses similar to ordering goods at an online shop, says Bindra.
Applications will also give access to documentation, such as the maintenance manual, illustrated parts catalogue or wiring diagrams. While this kind of information has thus far been available via stationary computer terminals in airport and maintenance facilities, BA aims to cut processing time and costs as technicians have all documentation at hand without needing to leave the aircraft to look up information.
BA Engineering will roll out the system across both the future and existing fleet, except for aircraft nearing their retirement such as the carrier's 737-400s. Bindra says that will be implemented throughout Heathrow terminal 5 and Gatwick airport by the end of 2013, and could be further expanded to large overseas stations, such as Paris Charles de Gaulle and New York JFK airports.
Aside from upgrading the network for its parent airline's operations, BA Engineering also wants to offer its management software and experience to third-party customers and has thus teamed up with Indian IT developers Tata Consultancy Services.
A "very large far-eastern flag carrier" became the first customer for the 'Swift MRO'-dubbed software package in October, says Bindra, while negotiations with a second airline in Asia are in "reasonably advanced stages".
He adds that the increased activity is part of BA Engineering's return to market as a third-party maintenance provider.