Lakeland Regional Switches to Cloud-based System for Airfield Maintenance Records

Kristin Vanderhey Shaw
Published in: 

Mowing an airfield requires an organized process - especially in Florida, where grass grows quickly thanks to never-ending sun and ample moisture. Lakeland Linder Regional Airport (LAL), situated on 1,700 acres of land between Tampa and Orlando, enhanced its approach last summer by changing from one-dimensional paper recordkeeping to a more integrated cloud-based software system.  

"Before we made the decision to go with the new platform, we didn't have a clear process for mowing," recalls LAL Operations Manager Brett Fay. "We were on a two-week cycle, and the groundskeepers mowed what needed to be mowed. Now, we have a visual real-time plan for what we need to do." 

The growing airport switched to Veoci, an airport operations software system that manages Part 139 compliance/reporting, facility maintenance and property management, in July 2014. Changing to the new system has helped the airport make better decisions about airfield management, says Fay. "We can see who mowed it last, the height and condition of the grass, and how long it took to complete." 

Project: Cloud-based Recordkeeping
Location: Lakeland (FL) Linder Airport 
Vendor: Veoci Software
Contract Signed: Oct. 2014
Cost: Negotiated on a "per seat" or user basis
Key Benefits: Better allocation of labor & equipment for mowing operations; increased ability to track airfield maintenance issues; easier Part 139 reporting; no computer server to maintain

LAL management emphasizes the importance of keeping airfield turf cut to the appropriate length, especially during Sun 'n Fun (the second largest U.S. fly-in/airshow) and several other events the airport hosts. By using a computerized database, supervisors can allocate labor and resources more efficiently because they now know how long it should take to maintain specific areas of the property. The team even developed a color-coded map to provide a quick reference about when to mow various areas.

"In the field, our employees can input the necessary five or six pieces of information in their smartphones, and we can see what's actually happening in the field in real time," Fay comments. "It's not about them doing it faster, it's about collecting good, usable data."

Data-Driven Decisions

The search for a system to replace LAL's paper records began in summer 2013. The airport first used another software program, but it proved rigid and inflexible for Part 139 purposes. "We needed something that would include property management and maintenance operations," Fay recalls. "We needed something that could cover a wide variety of uses."  

LAL considered several different vendors before making its final choice. Ultimately, a demo convinced the selection team that the Veoci system would provide the flexibility and customization the airport needed. 

"We recognized that we had been operating in reactive mode," Fay explains. "We were not able to take a proactive approach to airfield management, and we wanted to make better-educated decisions."

Vishu Rao, director of solutions at Veoci, categorizes his company's product as a platform rather than a software system. He compares it to Lego(tm) bricks: "Each piece serves a purpose, but more importantly, you can put the pieces together to make something. We give you the blocks and you can build any system you want."

The ultimate goal for LAL was tracking data to improve airfield management and save money. With a lean staff of 16, doing more with less is always a challenge, comments Fay.  

"Being able to communicate effectively and follow up on (Part) 139 work orders and discrepancies is important," he elaborates. "We can track those from discovery to closeout and hopefully gather useful information."  

Reporting airfield discrepancies on paper is adequate for corrective action but doesn't provide airport operators with insight to make substantial improvements, adds Rao. If the same light at a given intersection breaks repeatedly, an endless string of repairs isn't the most efficient answer. "The FAA wants airports to be proactive," says Rao. "You can only do that if you have a systematic way to collect information."  

LAL has used its data to demonstrate systematic failures in lighting circuits to help secure FAA funding for infrastructure improvements. "Without the ability to track the data and trends, it would be hard to prove the need," says Fay.  

Because its new system is cloud-based, LAL does not spend time and money maintaining a server. It does, however, maintain control of the data stored in the cloud, Rao emphasizes. "Everything they do in our system is still theirs, and they maintain ownership," he explains. "We also give them an automatic local backup of all the information stored in our system. The whole idea of keeping it on the cloud is that we take care of all of the procedures related to servers and the hardware required for running the software. We have redundancy and backup, so that in case a server fails, the system is automatically made available from another server."

LAL personnel access data stored in the cloud with a username and password. The system's two-factor "bank-level" security prevents others - including Veoci staff - from obtaining LAL's information, notes Rao. 

"We empower the airports to make their own changes," he adds. "Once the staff learns how they want to use the data, it's very simple to use."

Learning Curve

Using paper records, LAL personnel could fulfill compliance requirements but couldn't track trends. The airport passed its certification inspections but didn't have the information needed to improve procedures and policies. Converting to a computerized data-driven system changed all that, but the transition required extra effort from the operations team. 

"The biggest challenge, in the initial stages, was wading through the data," says Fay. "There are various ways to set it up, and we had to figure out how we wanted to manipulate the data once it was up and running."

LAL Operations Coordinator Adam Lunn describes the data entry process as easy but long. "We spent a lot of time inputting the data," he recalls. "Sometimes, we could complete a mass upload using Excel. Otherwise, a lot of what we were doing was new - the airport had never captured the information before."  

Rao notes that initial data entry is a one-time project worth the investment, because important details about airfield assets and properties remain accessible for as long as the airport needs them. 

Lunn recalls that the hardest part of the process was establishing the relationships between forms and determining how to use the data. The operations team gathered all of the managers in one room to brainstorm about leveraging LAL's new information. Together, they decided how to segment data and make specific pieces interact to create useful reports.   

Within the properties department alone, the team built three different interrelated forms - a tenant database, a properties database (elevators, heating/venting/air conditioning, etc.) and a physical address form. Because all three forms work together, it's easy for staff to quickly find correlating data, explains Lunn. 

"The primary component was deciding what we wanted to capture," he reflects. "We knew we had to change from paper records due to the rapid growth of the airport, and we wanted to be sure that what we captured was useful and would be beneficial."  

The computerized system has definitely reduced the amount of time employees spend on recordkeeping, reports Fay. "Handwriting or typing in data takes a lot of time," he comments. "With the software, it automatically populates different forms, eliminating the need for redundant data entry."

Untapped Potential

In addition to improving the efficiency of airfield mowing operations, LAL's new computerized system also helps the airport manage data about wildlife hazards and other facility issues.

"We have some 15 miles of ditches that have to be sprayed quarterly to prevent weeds and trees from growing," Fay reports. "Ditch maintenance is a major struggle in Florida." 

Personnel use LAL's cloud space to store photos of airport signs and track their condition over time. 

"The map function is light years beyond where we were," Fay adds. Airfield employees can fill in entry points from their trucks, ensuring that the real-time data they provide is as accurate as possible, he explains. Workers can also geotag the latitude and longitude of a sign, building or other airport asset based on their current location. 

"I'm not sure exactly what data we're going to see yet, in total; but the software offers a lot of options," Fay concludes. "This program is constantly evolving and constantly changing. As of right now, we have really just scratched the surface of what we'll be able to do with it." 


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