Maintaining crucial assets effectively

Published:  11 January, 2010

In the fast-paced world of aviation, seconds and minutes matter as jets jostle for position on the ramp for take-off slots and on the taxiways and arrival piers. Airport authorities and operators face a rapidly changing logistical environment on a daily basis where even the smallest piece of kit requiring non-scheduled maintenance can bring this unique operation to a halt.

Turnaround for airlines is crucial in the current economic climate a Boeing 747 costing $300m (£180m) or even a $97m (£59m) Airbus A321 is quite literally burning money on the ground. And closing an airport because fire appliance or rapid intervention vehicle is unavailable means bad news all round, as no fire cover means no flights.


Costing anything up to $800,000 (£500,000), airport fire appliances are quite possibly the most unique and high-risk pieces of equipment that can be found on the ramp. The number available ‘on the run’ is critical as they govern the size and number of aircraft that can take off and land at any aerodrome or airport under International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) rules. Fire crews must be able to reach any part of each operational runway and any other part of the movement area within three minutes of the initial call made to the Aviation Rescue and Fire Fighting Services (RFFS) and have the first responding vehicle in a position to apply foam.


Power Rangers


With such tight deadlines involved, airport operators are taking a pioneering aviation approach to servicing and non-scheduled maintenance, by moving away from hangers and turning to rapid response mobile maintenance units on the ramp.

In 2009,a number of airports and Fire Authorities in Europe have trialled this to maintenance of emergency vehicles – moving away from drag and fix to servicing in the field.

“Fire appliances are an integral part of a fire crew’s DNA and as vital as the team and kit they carry, saving life but also supporting the protection of the public,” says Simon Purchon, VT Group’s (VT) Business Development Director, Critical Assets.


VT Group manages vehicle fleets and specialist assets for a wide range of customers and is one of the leading providers of outsourced asset management in the UK.


Specialist technicians manage more than 650 ‘New Dimension’ disaster relief vehicles and equipment for the Department of Communities and Local Government, including Urban Search and Rescue, CBRN and high volume pumps. VT’s teams at Heathrow and Gatwick keep 4,500 ground support equipment (GSE) assets rolling for British Airways, while a similar partnership agreement sees VT ensure everything from cargo dollies to Carmichael Cobra 2 Viper emergency fire appliances are available at BAA Edinburgh Airport.

“Whether they are responding to a domestic fire, fuel-spillage, road traffic collision, or are dealing with hazardous materials or trapped persons, fire appliances are being called to an increasingly diverse mix of incidents in complex environments so carry a wider range of equipment from hoses to hi-tech night vision cameras that all need to be maintained,” adds Purchon.

“Whereas the traditional response to a vehicle off the road might have been to transfer a stricken asset for assessment and to then begin repairs, regaining full operational status is key so government and industrial fire teams are adopting maintenance techniques used in aviation environments.


“Our work on the ramp of Heathrow and elsewhere with the UK New Dimension fleet during the recent flooding in Cumbria has proved that getting specialist mobile support units (MMU) to the asset as early in the asset failure cycle is crucial in difficult and fast changing situations. Getting logistical support, 24/7 vehicle and equipment maintenance and other unplanned services such as the provision of fuel is vital to environments where time or service agreements with customers is key. If directed early enough it can mean a difference between a minor failure and a catastrophic unit failure that will take the asset off the run.”


Tooled up


VT supports the New Dimension vehicles and equipment modules on an availability basis wherever they are, including logistics, training and communications management. At Edinburgh, the company manages the airport’s fleet of 200 vehicles and ground support equipment (GSE) – including support of fire crews – 24/7, backed by mobile support technicians. 


The role of an MMU is to support any vehicle it is called to manage in the UK, so specified to deliver for every possible eventuality in its working environment.


For New Dimension, vehicle specifications were designed to create a full-functioning workshop on wheels, including an Auto Mate on-board vehicle AC power and weld system, providing a welding station and battery charging capability as well as a power source for emergency lighting and electrical equipment, whilst other features include a set of tool chests, remote 12V sockets, three swivel work lamps, large interior fluorescent lighting and non-slip matting for all shelves and draws.


Technicians are also equipped with state-of-the-art diagnostic tools and computer-based telemetry software – similar to those used by F1 teams - as a quick and easy way to access the sophisticated on-board mechanical and electrical vehicle systems.


“The very nature of an MMU is to help maintain a state of operational effectiveness wherever it is sent, so the technicians are as equipped as a vehicle manufacturer’s service centre, but in order to respond effectively, the asset management partnership has to be equally as able to respond.


“Use of GPS-enabled telematics on key airside assets can not only make the response faster and more targeted but will also create system and asset efficiencies while increasing vehicle availability during peak periods. In the current ground handling climate, airport authorities and fire services are using a combination of ramp-style servicing and asset availability partnerships to successfully manage high risk assets in order to lower costs and focus on their own core business,” adds Purchon.  


Drive by wire


As well as state-of-the-art communication systems, the majority of fire tenders, whether in the public sector or industrial environment operate with ‘drive by wire’ electronics, requiring MMUs to carry European On Board Diagnostic (EOBD).


With service teams needing to access one or more of over 28,000 fault codes and definitions, covering both generic and manufacturer’s engine related codes, aviation blackbox technology is taking over the tool box.  


Philip Cledwyn, Sales and Marketing Director of Tecalemit Garage Equipment, one of the UK’s largest suppliers of workshop and MoT equipment, explains how EOBD is now the most vital tool to have when working remotely.


“With the help of the latest diagnostic tools technicians can now rapidly establish what work and equipment may be required to correct a fault and whether or not it can be rectified – and all within a matter of seconds of plugging the tool into the diagnostic socket,” says Cledwyn.


Scanners can not only capture and display Freeze Frame Data at the point the fault code was logged, giving the technician a comprehensive view of how the vehicle was performing when the Check Engine light illuminated, but by using this information the technician can also confirm and rectify the problem.


“We are seeing a shift very much away from traditional vehicle diagnosis in this field to remote maintenance from mobile rapid response units when assisting emergency or mission critical vehicles.


“Servicing and repairs that may have once taken two days is now required in hours, so the technicians and garage equipment suppliers have to stay ahead of the technology in the vehicles and react to how it is used by the customer – seeing aviation black box recorders and telematics becoming a more common site on vehicles.”


Diagnostic Trouble Codes can be stored and used to monitor and reset Malfunction Indicator Lights, also known as the “Check Engine” lights, helping technicians to validate a repair whilst performing drive cycles.


With industrial and municipal fire crews seeing seasonal demands as significant drivers of availability, calling on assets to fulfil operational requirements is key, so the advice is to carry out an asset assessment ahead of any peaks. 

 “By introducing a wide-ranging asset management system that can track and monitor assets, historical or hidden operating issues – including breakdowns can be highlighted.

“GPS technology once seen in the cockpit is now in the very vehicles that bring the aircraft to the runway, so remote maintenance is now faster and can offer a new way of freeing up resources and will help fire teams focus on their core missions, without compromising safety and quality,” concludes Purchon.

With ever changing demands in the airport environment with fluctuating passenger numbers, mobile maintenance technology has not only transformed the way in which assets are maintained, but also increases availability and allows fleet sizes to be cost effectively re-scaled.

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