A couple of weeks ago, Blair Gregg (American Airline’s Managing Director of Technical Systems Strategy for Maintenance & Engineering) presented a case study at the MRO & Operations IT Conference on American Airline’s deployment of more than 1,700 tablet devices to its aircraft mechanics.
He started by drawing attention to the quick adoption of tablets for use in the cockpit. American Airlines was, after all, the first major carrier to get approval by the FAA for use of Apple’s iPad in the cockpit for all phases of flight.
That was back in September 2012. In the world of technology, that’s a long time. Nowadays, most major airlines have embraced mobile devices on the flight deck, partially because their pilots are using the wildly successful consumer devices anyway and also because mobile devices are a direct path to shedding unwanted paperweight.
The rollout of tablets to pilots has caused much more than envy in the aviation industry. Thanks to the consumerization of IT, using a tablet at work – whether an iPad, Android, or Windows tablet – has opened up access to information at employees’ fingertips. Along with direct and immediate access to information come new thresholds of productivity.
Pilots know this because they’ve been accessing flight information from tablets for a while. Now aircraft mechanics are getting in on the productivity-boosting capabilities of tablets. Just consider the five main reasons AA’s mechanics gave when they started exploring the use of tablets for line maintenance:
- They wanted technical data at their fingertips to cut back time spent running back and forth between the airplane and the break room.
- They wanted to know if a part is available to fix the airplane, rather than, as Gregg said, “MELing it” or pushing maintenance to the night.
- They wanted to know what the status of the airplane is, such as what changed last time.
- They wanted real-time visibility into where the aircraft actually is, given that with more than 70 gates at some airports it can be hard keeping up with changing gate assignments.
- And they wanted to spend less time waiting in the break room for someone to give them an assignment on paper.
American listened to its mechanics and now has 1,722 tablets in the field across the globe. 1600 are Samsung devices and the rest are iPads.
What do the mechanics like the best?
According to Gregg, “The number one thing mechanics like about tablets is the speed at which IT is delivering solutions to them. We didn’t sit around and wait for the perfect solution before we deployed our tablets.
“We worked with Flatirons Solutions and wanted a really nice user experience in which mechanics could use dropdown boxes (because mechanics don’t like typing), so they can touch things, so they can zoom. And within six months Flatirons Solutions delivered a solution and the mechanics loved it.”
As timing would have it, I witnessed this excitement on my flight back from the conference. A slight delay for a mechanical issue gave me occasion to snap this photo of the mechanics putting their tablet to use.
The mechanics were thrilled to show off their tool, and, thanks to the productivity enhancement given by the tablet, we were quickly back en route to our destination.