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By Scott White, Manager of Capability Portfolio, Airbus Australia Pacific
I have now done a full circle in my career, having started in military aerospace, then to public transport and back to military aerospace. The common question I was asked when I was managing a fleet of over 1200 buses was ‘how did you end up there, buses are so different to aircraft’. Well ‘yes’ and ‘no’. Obviously, buses and aircraft are quite different in appearance and application. However, they are both assets that require operations, maintenance and engineering. On that level they are no different. And both require fleet management systems to support these activities. While much can be said on this topic, I will briefly share my experience of the complexities of fleet management.
Whether it is an aircraft fleet or bus fleet, each has its own levels of complexity that an IT system must be able to handle. I recall listening through presentations by ERP providers that were contending to provide a solution to an organisation that provides a wide range service offering, including public transport. While they said their products could provide a public transport solution, it was clear that they had never done that before, nor had they adequately researched the industry (hint). While their products could manage the asset in terms of maintenance, cost management and supply chain, managing a large public transport bus fleet is much more than that.
Each bus model is different (fuel type, seating capacity, length, licence requirements), each depot is different (fuel type, capacity, location, garage personnel experience and qualifications), each route is different (service frequency, stopping frequency, busway/suburban, flat, hilly) and each driver is different (authorisations, roster type, home depot, medical restrictions, award and EBA conditions). All this interacts and occurs under a number of pieces of legislation, different hourly and daily traffic conditions, and unexpected events (such as accidents and driver illness), over the life of a bus (up to about 20 years), while carrying around 60 passengers per bus, each with certain expectations.
An IT system that can manage such complexity, not only for fleet management over the long term, but for individual buses within minutes to minimise impact on the travelling public would give a real competitive advantage in a very low profit margin industry.
An effective fleet management system should enable a company to succeed in reaching its objectives, not defining what success looks like for them based on generic principles
Operating an aircraft fleet has its own challenges. Flying at high speed, low to the ground and in harsh and hostile environments creates a huge range of fleet management issues: usage and condition monitoring, parts obsolescence, maintaining an appropriate maintenance stagger, avoiding repetitive flight profiles and managing the maintenance policy of individual configuration items, to name just a few. It is this last point that keeps fleet and maintenance planners on their toes. Maintenance of components could be based on ‘time since first installed’, ‘airframe hours’, ‘calendar days’, ‘shelf life’, or a combination of these acting concurrently. A fleet management system must be able to adequately handle these possibilities as an over-fly could be catastrophic.
Other challenges include:
• Digital technology provides a number of benefits over paper-based publications, but the downside is that hyperlinks and attachments can increase complexity for users.
• No matter how good the fleet management software is, to get the real benefits fleet managers need to be trained in applying contemporary maintenance planning and scheduling techniques.
• Having the ability to conduct detailed analysis and run scenarios will enable determination of the best maintenance policy structure that reduces the maintenance burden while increasing periods of operation.
• An integrated resource planning tool for the identification and management of resources available and required. For example, manpower, parts, support and test equipment, tools, etc, over geographically dispersed locations, often for short periods of time.
• Even where fleet management software exists, there is often a large array of software tools, spreadsheets and philosophies that are not aligned or integrated. Is this because the software is inadequate, or that there are a number of organisational behaviour/change management aspects hindering its uptake?
One final point: I have heard it said that managing the fleet must conform to the logic of the software. While I understand the reason for that, if the software has not allowed for dealing with the complexities of certain industries, then I believe it will always sub-optimise the outcome.
So, after reading the above you may conclude that I used different words to express similar challenges for managing both aircraft and bus fleet. I would have to agree. As I said at the start, bus and aircraft fleets both require systems to manage operations, maintenance and engineering. So it should be no surprise. And secondly, each industry has its own language. If you are providing a service to an industry, you need to understand its language, it pain points and what success looks like. An effective fleet management system should enable a company to succeed in reaching its objectives, not defining what success looks like for them based on generic principles.