Tom Griffin interviews Matt Murray, Head of Aircraft Maintenance UK, Regional & Overseas

A year on from handing each aircraft engineer their own iPad, Matt reviews the process and explains how a diversion into Goose Bay, Canada provided the perfect test.

Why did the subject of connected engineering first appear at Virgin Atlantic?
It came about as a result of a study to make our operation more efficient. With the next generation aircraft VAA were in the process of taking delivery of, it was felt we needed to provide our engineers with the latest technology to enhance the way we work. Enabling improved touch time our teams had with the aircraft at the same time as reducing the administrative burden on their duty managers.

Engineers are famous for having a methodical, scrutinising thought process. Did they accept the new technology well?
The concept was embraced on arrival and once the system had evolved to our needs, the benefits were clear to everyone. A big factor in the successful uptake was down to us choosing the latest hardware for speed and reliability. We were very keen that the engineers viewed their iPads as personal tools, to be taken home if they wish. Access to emails and the company intranet is packaged alongside the engineering apps.

You worked with Boeing during implementation. What did they bring to the project?
We were already utilising Boeing’s Toolbox suite as a maintenance aid so the natural choice was to partner with them to integrate a mobile app. Their support staff were on site during the trial and subsequent roll out to address any issues directly with us.

There must have been teething problems. Can you give a few examples?
The first and biggest obstacle we faced was connectivity in airports. The nature of airport construction coupled with having multiple WiFi hotspot overlaps caused us issues. The solution was to use a sim card enabled 4G/WiFi device, meaning access to updated manuals was the same anywhere. Another factor related to the maintenance manuals for new gen aircraft. Without getting too technical, these contain hyperlinks between documents for ease of navigation, and there is a need to be vigilant on their correct operation.

And the benefits?
There have been significant changes. In one location we saw a reduction of around half of our longest aircraft delays, whilst engineer travel time fell by a quarter [time from office to aircraft stand to office]. We’ve also witnessed a big drop in the number of radio calls to our control offices as engineers can now access the maintenance data in real-time wherever they are. First-time fix rate has improved noticeably.

What happened in Goose Bay?
We had a diversion into Goose Bay. There are many people to thank for limiting the impact on our operation and a big factor was how we leveraged their connectivity. We were able to call up specific troubleshooting data and identify the failure remotely and with incredible speed.

Will all aircraft maintenance go digital?
There is no question that the future is paperless. We are beginning to see that with electronic sign-off and EFBs which are now well established. Planning led instruction will take the form of daily agendas, stipulating the order of work and live checking spares and tooling.
The goal has always been a better use of aircraft touch time with minimal administration, the arrival of connected engineering is now making this a reality.