Thai Airways streamlines maintenance work

Airline carrier expects to save about US$500,000 with a new Microsoft-based system that automates service job assignments.

SINGAPORE--Thai Airways is betting on Microsoft to ensure its maintenance crew turns up quickly to service the right plane.

In operation for almost a year before the airline moved to the new Bangkok International Airport, which opened in Sept. 2006, the new Line and Light Production Control System (LPCS) has allowed Thai Airways to assign aircraft maintenance jobs in an automated manner. The application runs on Microsoft SQL Server 2005 and Intel's Itanium 64-bit servers.

According to Kamol Toleb, senior data processing specialist at Thai Airways, the carrier had previously relied on manual processes in assigning technical crew to service its own aircraft, as well as those of rival carriers.

For example, workers at the airline's maintenance control center had to manually prepare maintenance schedules, assign aircraft mechanics and record man-hours clocked by service crew. These processes were carried out based on data stored in partially-automated information systems, Kamol explained, in an interview with ZDNet Asia.

However, the complexity of flight information--coupled with manual processes--meant more time was spent on assigning maintenance jobs, he said. For instance, by the time assignment sheets physically landed in the hands of technical crew, the scheduled flight that a crew member had been assigned to may be close to taking off.

With the new LPCS, mechanics at aircraft landing bays can retrieve assigned jobs at PC terminals. The amount of time spent servicing an aircraft can also be entered into the system, allowing the airline to track the availability of its technical crew to take on new jobs.

Dilip Mistry, Microsoft's Asia-Pacific general manager of developer and platform evangelism, said the old system had caused dissatisfaction within Thai Airways, as well as the carrier's other airline customers. "There was an impact on the number of jobs they could handle, and they took a longer time to service the aircraft," he said.

Kamol said the new system was custom-built by Microsoft Thailand and Thai Airways' four-man IT development team at a cost of about US$500,000. According to Microsoft, it follows similar systems deployed at Singapore's Changi Airport and Malaysia's Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

Mistry said: "This is a mission-critical system. If they don't service the aircraft, the planes can't take off."

Kamol expects Thai Airways to reap cost savings of US$500,000 within three years because fewer people are now required to assign technical manpower. He said it took only half a day to train airline employees.

He added that Thai Airways will also extend the system to other operational areas by year-end.

Mistry noted that different customers will approach their IT needs in varying ways. While some may opt for off-the-shelf applications, other may choose build their own.

Microsoft's position, however, is to ensure it continues to provide the latest technologies, and at the same time, ensure that applications built by independent software vendor (ISV) partners can fulfill mission critical requirements, Mistry said.

"Equally, there are some customers like Thai Airways which want to develop applications in-house," he said. "We will partner with them to get them up to speed with our technology…and also work with third-parties when necessary."