With more than 16 million annual enplanements, Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) is the undisputed grande dame of Massachusetts. What many people don't know, however, is that during summer, the state's second-largest airport rivals BOS' flight operations due to its own volume of general aviation traffic.
Located on a small island just off the coast, Nantucket Memorial (ACK) prefers to operate its own fixed-base operator (FBO) to accommodate the influx of summer visitors arriving and departing the picturesque area on private aircraft. Because the airport also accommodates regularly scheduled commercial service, ACK needs staff and systems that can manage traffic on both sides of the tarmac. An onsite fuel farm and fleet of fuel tenders carrying 100 LL and Jet-A help the airport accommodate its bustling summer traffic without being overstaffed during the slower winter months.
As ACK grew, however, management realized that some of the airport's processes needed to be tweaked. A recent migration from paper to cloud-based systems proved to be a major move for the small island facility.
Project: Cloud-based Recordkeeping
Location: Nantucket (MA) Memorial Airport
Vendor: VEOCI Software
Contract Signed: Jan. 2015
Cost: Per-user vs. per-module
Key Benefits: Easier, paper-free Part 139 reporting & purchase order processing; no computer server to maintain
Jamie Sandsbury, ACK's finance and business manager, notes that the airport's previous internal processes were redundant and not optimally efficient. Personnel handwrote purchase orders, maintenance requests and other standard reports, and then carried them to the main office for required signatures. If the appropriate executive was busy or out of the office, employees had to wait or return later, sometimes making multiple trips.
"We were basically 100% paper driven," says Sandsbury. "When processes are completed via paper, things get lost. Handwriting is sometimes messy, and the purchase orders or maintenance orders weren't always easy to read. Also, we're in different buildings across the property; whomever needed to have something signed had to stop what they were doing. That became a time-waster when staff would have to come to the main building and wait for one of us to sign off."
Thinning the Paper Trail
Historically, the airport completed most of the processes associated with Part 139 inspections manually, but in late in 2014, it began interviewing several vendors to help automate them.
"We believed that Part 139 inspections would be easily adaptable to other processes we wanted to automate, allowing us to overhaul several departments in succession," says Airport Manager Tom Rafter. "It's a fairly simple process."
Ultimately, the airport chose VEOCI, a cloud-based software system for managing Part 139 compliance/reporting, facility maintenance and property management that Sandsbury and a colleague discovered at a conference.
Rafter and the operations team liked the system's "building block" approach and the company's pay-by-user (vs. pay-per-module) pricing model. In terms of hardware, the airport only needed a few additional tablets for airfield personnel.
At fist, Rafter was skeptical. Changing from paper to automated processes seemed like a giant leap. His operations team, however, liked the flexibility of addressing a number of different areas without having to purchase individual modules. They also appreciated being able to create new applications on their own. After the ACK team tested the new cloud-based system, Rafter was also convinced.
"You don't even have to be an IT person to manage it," says Rafter. It was important to everyone that the new system would not require a great deal of hand holding, he adds.
Vishu Rao, VEOCI's product manager for airports, says his company's strategy identifies a given process and breaks it down into bite-size pieces users can follow.
After ACK's staff was comfortable with the Part 139 process, they were able to create several other solutions to common in-house challenges with the same building blocks. First, airport staff laid out the process, step by step. Then, they used a point-and-click interface to automate that process. This method allows them to easily improve the process, because
they can make changes and tweak what they have automated, explains Rao.
"Once the airport understands this model, they are off to the races," he says, noting that users familiar with platforms such as LinkedIn and Facebook become comfortable using VEOCI building blocks very quickly.
The opportunity to get the new system up and running very quickly also proved attractive. Once the needs and processes were established, ACK launched its new FBO system within five days, from concept to implementation.
Now, each fuel truck on the airfield is equipped with a computer tablet and alerts pop up whenever fueling requests are approved. Assigned drivers can head straight for airplanes needing fuel, because tail numbers are included on each request. After drivers fuel aircraft, they add comments to that task on the tablet stating how much fuel was used, what was offered, etc.
ACK Operational Supervisor and Aircraft Rescue Firefighter Blain Buckley describes the new process as safer and more efficient. If airliners need fuel, requests with specific amounts are generated at the FBO and pop up for operations staff, who populate them into the dashboard. Personnel inside the "watch room" at the main building distribute work orders as they arrive, thereby reducing the potential for mistakes.
"We specify which truck gets which fueling job, which is one of the critical factors for efficiency for us," says Buckley. "If we weren't paying attention, it would have been possible for an aircraft to be fueled twice."
Rao believes it's important for customers to be able to manage their own software and make changes without having to call a vendor.
"Typically, software is frustrating because it's designed by a bunch of software geeks who force you to call them to fix a problem or a bug, and suggestions fall by the wayside," he says. "We don't believe in that. Our philosophy is twofold: first, when a customer calls, we get to the root of what is bothering them...it is an opportunity for us to improve. Second, our customers can make most changes and tweaks on their own. Adding custom instructions or fields for additional data is much easier and faster than emailing the supplier and waiting 'til next year for the new version."
Recently, ACK added a function to process employee requests for time off. Rao describes the project as fairly complicated, with a myriad of moving parts, because the software had to be set up to follow the hierarchy of seniority within the airport staff when processing requests. Before switching to VEOCI, ACK used an Evernote process in conjunction with email.
The new system also helps ACK track wildlife hazards. When birds or other animals are spotted on the airfield, personnel mark their specific location on a map and record the associated flight path, weather conditions and actions taken. Later, they can generate summaries to present during visits by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
"Now we can see exactly where wildlife has been, including the track of which way birds are flying from the airfield," says Buckley. "We break it down to details, like which particular species are on the airfield at 7 a.m. That collection of data is much easier to go back and look through and figure out what is going on. It's much easier for us to do that onsite and then look back at the history."
The ramp log works with Windows, Android and iPhone, and all the data is available for inspectors to look at on demand. Each reference number is a live link inspectors can use to pull up work orders, Buckley notes.
"Over the years we have used many different databases," Rafter reflects. "Now that we have cloud storage, it's much easier."
Buckley says that the new process has enabled staff to determine discrepancies more efficiently and improves airfield safety. "In the past, we'd have to come back to the office with our report, issue a work order, put it in a mailbox, maintenance would come pick it up, and so forth," he recounts. "This really mainstreams getting that information to the right people."
The airport also uses its VEOCI system to contact employees who are needed for snow removal or emergency duty. The system sends emails, texts and/or phone calls to staff, records their responses and sends reports to the airport.
Rao reports that the new process facilitates better overall communication among the team. If staff members want to see the status of a purchase order, they can log in and see exactly where it is in the process. The system also tracks how many purchase orders are made and for which vendor.
"Being able to customize each feature is important to us, because-like every other airport- we're unique," says Sandsbury. "We have a small administrative staff, and time-saving components are important, whenever we can get them."