If an aircraft encounters a technical fault, there is a complex process to be followed to ensure its resolution and a return to operational service. Unfortunately, it is so complex that there are systemic inefficiencies built in. There are so many different departments involved, along with lack of systemized resources, communication tools and data overload, that delays are inevitable. The knock on effect of these include delays to scheduled maintenance, grounded aircraft, the need for spare aircraft, crew rescheduling because of duty times, passenger compensation and airline reputational damage.
Back in 2016, EmbraerX, the OEM’s innovation accelerator, decided to take a look and see if a new approach could be developed, launching a new concept now called Beacon. Starting out in the executive aviation sector, it has achieved considerable success with airlines in the last nine months.
By applying a human-centric approach and a web-based solution, Beacon brought together all the resources and people that are necessary to resolve a problem. These can be tailored to the requirements of individual operators. Once a problem is raised, it is assigned a case number and everyone is alerted. In addition, Beacon looks at maintenance records and pulls together the repair procedure for the mechanic and the parts required to complete the work. That drawdown can also be passed to the inventory management section of the company’s ERP system. Crucially, it also brings up the average repair time. This early warning allows maintenance control to contact flight operations if a lengthy delay is likely, allowing them find a replacement aircraft and avoid all the crew and passenger issues outlined above.
The size of the problem, says Marco Cesarino, director of product, can be judged from the fact that, in 2019, 24 million flights in the U. S. that were delayed or cancelled cost the industry $33 billion. He adds that 80% of the time needed to resolve a problem in the traditional way is devoted to coordination rather than to the actual fix.
In October 2021, EmbraerX signed a multi-year agreement with Republic Airways for the use of Beacon, which is supporting the airline’s digital transformation and a fleet of over 200 Embraer E170/175 aircraft. The relationship with Republic actually started in January 2020, when the company partnered with Beacon as its launch customer for the commercial aviation segment in the U. S. By implementing Beacon, Republic and their whole suite of maintenance service partners gained a competitive advantage thanks to the platform’s efficiencies in resolving maintenance cases. As an early adopter of Beacon, Republic has been validating and testing Beacon’s product features with its users in the large regional independent operators’ segment.
Over the first six months of 2021, Republic saw an average delay decrease as they adopted Beacon at their base stations. As traveling took off and Republic flight volume increased, their overall out-of-service delay time held steady, making a case for Beacon’s technology in managing interruptions and accelerating return-to-service time.
In June, Aeromexico Connect started to test the Beacon platform, supporting a fleet of more than 40 E190/195 aircraft. Beacon will be integrated into the airline’s line stations with further tests including the airline’s on-call maintenance providers.
Farnborough saw two announcements – JetBlue and Binter Canarias. The JetBlue trial will be based in New York and Boston, with over 50 E190s, and gradually expand to other airports and routes, however, the Binter trial is possibly the most interesting.
This will start in September, with five E195s, but, because Beacon is agnostic, the airline’s 26 ATR 72s can be included later. The airline operates in the Canary Islands, over 1,000 miles southwest of Madrid, with the E195s providing links to Europe while the ATR 72s operate essential air services throughout the archipelago. Obviously, a technical defect on any of the islands can present a logistical nightmare, so a fast return to service using Beacon offers major advantages.