American Eagle Uses Wireless Technology to Manage DFW Ground Fleet

Author: 
Robert Nordstrom
Published in: 
May-June
2009




American Eagle Airlines is tightening control of its ground support equipment at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) with the use of radio frequency identification (RFID) and other wireless technologies - a first at any U.S. airport, according to the system's manufacturer.




Larry Terrazas, vice president of Customer Service Policy and Planning for American Eagle, expects the airline's new system, AVRamp(r) by I.D. Systems, will produce gains in safety and efficiency while decreasing operating costs.

The driver authentication feature, for instance, prevents an equipped vehicle from being started without the swipe of an identification card. If the software acknowledges that the cardholder is trained and authorized to use the vehicle, the ignition will activate.

"We had nothing to prevent an employee from jumping on a pushback tractor, for example, and using that vehicle without proper training," Terrazas explains, noting that the same is likely true at other airlines.

AVRamp also requires operators to run electronic vehicle safety checks at the beginning of each shift. Results of the checks are automatically logged into a database for the airline. "This is a feature we find very appealing," says Terrazas. "Trying to do that on paper for hundreds of pieces of equipment spread across the airport is an almost impossible task."





Tracking Technology

The new system uses global positioning satellite (GPS) and RFID to control, track, monitor and analyze the operation of American Eagle's ground support vehicles. Some airports use the same technologies for access control; other organizations use RFID to track inventory, collect tolls and store passport information.

AVRamp's real-time equipment tracking and "geo-fencing"- electronic boundaries that define vehicle operation areas - are designed to reduce the risk of ground vehicle runway incursions.

Developed in part with funding from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), I.D. Systems says AVRamp is the first and only wireless equipment management system approved for use at U.S. airports by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).




Facts & Figures

Project: Ground Support Equipment Management

Location: Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)

Product: AVRamp

Vendor: I.D. Systems, Inc.

Cost Range: $1,500 - $6,000/vehicle

Technologies Used: GPS, RFID

DFW Installation: April 20 - May 15

A suite of sensors that measure vehicle engine temperature, water levels, fuel, etc. was also attractive to American Eagle. "Most ground support vehicles are pretty basic pieces of equipment," explains Terrazas. "There aren't a lot of gauges."

In addition to sensors that monitor mechanical and operational aspects, impact sensors alert supervisors to collisions.

The ground support fleet will also gain a new green feature that automatically shuts vehicles down if they're left idling for a predetermined length of time. In such instances, a supervisor is needed to restart the vehicle.

AVRamp will initially be installed on approximately 100 baggage tractors, because they "cover the most ground," explains Terrazas. More than 500 pieces of other ground support equipment are next in line. Eventually, RFID tags will be added to 500 non-powered ground support vehicles.





Return on Investment

Preventive maintenance and vehicle usage analysis are two areas where the airline expects considerable cost savings.

Under the old system, preventive maintenance ran on a calendar basis. Maintenance was performed at regular intervals regardless of how much equipment was used during that period. With data captured by AVRamp, maintenance will be scheduled based on a vehicle's run time. "We can even break run time down into idle time and time in motion," Terrazas notes.




He believes that the system's ability to generate reports on vehicle usage patterns will allow management to make money-saving decisions on vehicle deployment. "We'll probably find that we have more equipment than we need," he says, "which will allow us to take assets and deploy them elsewhere."

Because DFW is the first AVRamp installation in the industry, estimates of airport-specific cost savings are not available. The company does, however, track statistics from customers using its vehicle management systems in other sectors.

"Our vehicle management systems can reduce fleet size 20% to 25%, preventative maintenance costs by 50% and labor costs by 10% to 20%," says I.D. Systems president and chief operating officer Ken Ehrman.

The company highlights Toyota, Target, the U.S Postal Service and other notable organizations on its customer list.

Ehrman underscores the safety risks of operating support vehicles in an airport environment without access controls or accountability. He says AVRamp's capabilities to reduce such risks are "fairly simple but extremely powerful."

Laying the Groundwork

American Eagle secured permission to use AVRamp at DFW by working with airport management. Ensuring that antennas were installed properly and that the new radio system would not interfere with any of the airport's existing systems were important preliminary steps, notes David Magana, DFW's manager of public affairs.

I.D. Systems administered eight hours of training to teach the airline about its new devices, software and the reports they generate. American Eagle invited management and supervisory staff, local leaders from the Transport Workers Union and randomly selected frontline personnel to attend the sessions.

"We're trying to give everyone solid baseline information about what the system does," says Terrazas. "As we mature with the system, I believe everyone will benefit from working in a safer, more efficient and more cost-effective ground support environment."

American Eagle, he adds, sometimes serves as a testing ground for new products and services that eventually move over to American Airlines, its fellow AMR Corporation subsidiary.

Subcategory: 
Ground Support

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