From Archaic Processes To Streamlined Operations: How Technology Can Transform Airport Maintenance

Shefali Mathur
Technology for Airport Maintainance

Several modern airports continue to rely on manual processes and publicly available communication tools in their everyday operations. These pose inefficiencies and issues that only purpose-built secure applications can solve. 

In the early 1900s when air travel first came into vogue there were many allowances given that would be forbidden in today’s time. For instance, passenger screening rarely happened. Until the 80s, even if you weren’t flying, you could go past security check to see off your friends and family. So much about air travel has changed — yet so many things remain the same.

While in-flight and air traffic control technology have advanced greatly, one area that suffers from the lack of digital transformation is airport maintenance. Even today, some of the most modern airports that see heavy domestic and international traffic continue to rely on several manual processes for their functioning. This impacts not just speed and efficiency of operations but also increases the chances of human error and inhibits scalability.

Here are some operational inefficiencies that impact airport maintenance teams.

Inefficient Issue Management

Maintenance issues in airports, from housekeeping to safety, equipment management and temperature control, crop up daily and have dedicated teams to act on each. However, many of these teams collaborate on work through informal processes and channels such as phone calls and Whatsapp groups. The problem with this practice is manifold:

  • There is no single location where the management can get a historical view of all issues and resolutions. 
  • There is no mechanism to track or update the status of an issue: who reported it, who addressed it, are there any follow-up actions required, etc. Such a view will help improve quality control of processes.
  • There is no visibility for inspections and audits to be performed, again impacting quality control.
  • There is often no individual accountability for issue resolution. This impacts employee morale and performance, not to mention the efficiency and efficacy in the resolution of the issues. 

Paper-Based Processes for Inspection

When the issues are themselves not tracked digitally, inspection of these is also relegated to outdated methods like files, registers and paper-based reports. This poses the same set of problems as above.

  • No timely, unified view of inspection reports and action items.
  • Propensity to errors and miscommunication during manual report writing.
  • Inefficient method of inspection, leading to loss of time and bandwidth.
  • Additionally, the risk of data loss becomes higher when reports are created and stored manually as in the case of fire, water or mold damage to storage spaces.

A Reactive Approach to Maintenance

When there is no bird’s eye view of issues reported and resolved, it becomes difficult for the airport maintenance team to perform any kind of predictive analysis and proactively work on problematic areas. When reports about past issues and their corresponding trends are available, as well as tracked real-time on an ongoing basis, the airport authorities can understand repeating problem areas and direct resources/budget towards fixing them and kick-starting preventive maintenance projects. This approach comes with much lower costs than a reactive approach

Negative Impact On Customer Experience

Imagine maintenance issues not being resolved in a timely manner or recurring frequently because the authorities are unable to predict and fix them? Eventually, all of these culminate in sub-optimal customer experience and on the rare occasion, even a security risk to passengers. 

“Every successful organization has to make the transition from a world defined primarily by repetition to one primarily defined by change.” Bill Drayton, Social Entrepreneur, America’s 25 Best Leaders awardee.

Airports are getting busier and air travel operations more complex. Without a purpose-built application, airport maintenance teams are restricted by time, energy and information to make operations smoother and more efficient. Recently, we had the opportunity to work with a major division of the Airport Authority of India (AAI), a statutory body under the purview of the Ministry of Civil Aviation that manages 126 domestic, international and customs airports all over India. 

This city airport handles about 570 flights and 30,000 passengers a day, and in 2018-19, handled over 22.5 million passengers. It was remarkable that the maintenance team kept the airport running while being handicapped a good deal by manual processes and practices. The city's Airport Authority’s request to us was an easy-to-use application that enables issue tracking, maintenance and inspection to drive accountability and timely escalation. 

We began by studying the needs and existing processes of maintenance and inspection at the airport. Based on our observations, we recommended a custom-built application with predefined workflows and an intuitive mobile application which is easy-to-use even by their team’s blue-collar workers. Our stellar team of senior developers, quality analysts and account managers worked with the joint general manager of AAI to build the application within two months.

Here are the highlights of the solution we developed:

  • A mobile app for issue reporting. We designed the user interface to be simple and intuitive so that employees across cadres and locations would find it delightful to use. Today, AAI staff across sections of the airport such as terminals, city side, air side and admin blocks carry out inspections using this native mobile application.
  • A web application to manage inspections. We designed a centralized issue tracking system with workflow configurability and audit trail using which the admin can create users, grant access, tag departments, assign actions, schedule inspections, and so on.

We also included an escalation module in each application to organize users and roles based on hierarchy, configure owners for different modules, set up auto-escalations based on defined conditions such as issue severity, etc. 

Our application has become a single point of monitoring across locations and has found good acceptance and usage among the staff thanks to nifty features like push notifications when tickets are raised, inspections are due, etc. 

Whatever industry you operate in, if you are exploring digital transformation as a way to improve your operations and eventually your user experience, talk to us