Imagine you were the caretaker of hundreds of kids permanently flying around the world. Imagine they were never at the same place at the same time and you had to dress them, feed them and even perform some minor medical procedures on them if needed. That could be material for a movie, right? Now imagine each one of those children is actually an airplane.
In a way, Greg Van Hooser’s task is of similar complexity, with immense challenges. Greg is the senior program manager of Panasonic Avionics’ Technical Services department (PTS). His group is in charge of keeping the inflight entertainment communications (IFEC) systems on thousands of aircraft up and running around the clock, every day of the year.
We asked Greg to shed some light on what goes into making sure the IFEC systems aboard 2,300 aircraft a month are always picture-perfect.
UP: What are PTS’s primary objectives?
Greg Van Hooser: PTS’s objective is to offer customized maintenance solutions that provide a guaranteed performance at a guaranteed cost, and ultimately peace of mind to our airline customers. This is delivered through a network of line stations, infrastructure, expertise, supply chain and experience. Substantial maintenance planning is required to successfully and consistently service 40-plus airlines at more than 60 airport locations.
Each month, our team services more than 2,300 aircraft representing 37,000 transits – we call them ground opportunities, on a wide variety of system hardware and software configurations.
“Each month, our team services more than 2,300 aircraft representing 37,000 transits - we call them ground opportunities, on a wide variety of system hardware and software configurations.”
UP: Can you tell us more about the people who are responsible for servicing the aircraft?
Greg: Our workforce tops more than 1,200 aircraft maintenance and repair technicians who have expertise in IFEC system hardware and software configurations. PTS maintenance engineers are extensively trained in maintaining Panasonic Avionics Corporation IFEC systems and are very effective in clearing reported (logbook) defects on first opportunities.
The work takes place at 62 maintenance stations and eight repair facilities strategically located around the globe.
UP: How is PTS different from an airline’s own maintenance services?
Greg: From a qualification perspective, there are no differences. Airline maintenance staff members generally work on crew-reported defects in the IFEC system; unreported defects may not get addressed before an aircraft’s next flight. PTS implements a focused, proactive maintenance approach, using reporting tools on- and off-wing, and performing scheduled cabin checks to detect system anomalies that may not have been logged. The result is that, on average, we find and correct 30 percent more defects that have gone unreported over the course of the month for each fleet we service.
UP: Why is maintenance planning such a crucial aspect of servicing IFEC systems?
Greg: Fundamentally, correcting defects requires effective labor, time and material. Time is a variable that is managed by the aircraft schedule, and today’s fleets typically have high utilization, so ground time can be very short. Additionally, IFEC systems can comprise thousands of LRUs (line replaceable units), which include both repairable and consumable units. Each LRU can impact a single seat or multiple seats.
We manage spares from the time the part is removed until the part is returned on the serviceable shelf at the station, resulting in very few deferrals for no spares at the service location. Combined with our proactive approach to finding unreported defects, PTS commits to SLAs (service level agreements) that are very high. At departure, we guarantee 99.5 percent seat availability — the equivalent of 398 seats being issue-free on a 400-seat aircraft.
Technically that’s a very high number but our mind is set on zero impact for any passenger.
UP: How does PTS interact with an airline’s infrastructure?
Greg: As part of its maintenance planning, we coordinate with different divisions within an airline, including MOC (maintenance operation center), planning and line maintenance. Effective maintenance is achieved by matching labor and serviceable spares to the ground opportunity as defects occur, and this requires close coordination with PTS’s supply chain, operations and OCC (Operational Control Center) resources, among others.
UP: Why should airlines contract PTS to service their planes?
Greg: When airlines contract with Panasonic Avionics and its PTS division, they get performance guarantees covering the number of fully operational seats – that’s the 99.5 percent departure target I spoke about earlier. They receive cost guarantees in terms of fixed fees with no surprises. And finally, they get peace of mind knowing that serviceable spares are on-hand, fully managed by PTS and covered in the cost agreement; reported defects are resolved quickly and proactive maintenance processes are in place to find and correct non-reported defects.
“At departure, we guarantee 99.5 percent seat availability — the equivalent of 398 seats being issue-free on a 400-seat aircraft.”
UP: Name some other services that PTS offers airlines.
Greg: Media loading and self-certification are two other key benefits. Let’s start with Media: The process involved and the time it takes to load media on IFEC systems — sometimes terabytes of music, television, movies, e-books — have been largely streamlined over the past 10 years. However, loading media across a fleet of aircraft during a very brief window of time (five to 10 days, depending on the size of the fleet) must be balanced with maintaining the SLA performance. This requires a great deal of coordination — and the larger the fleet being serviced, the greater the challenge.
Self-certification is a key differentiator for Panasonic Avionics. Unlike many third-party line maintenance providers, PTS operates under its own 145 approvals at nearly all 60-plus airports where it services IFEC systems. The advantage is that the PTS quality system has been approved not only by applicable National Airlines Association entities for the aircraft and stations being serviced, but also for the airlines’ own quality systems. This allows PTS maintenance to self-certify the work performed.
Together, these services provide optimized system performance that benefits the airline passengers and cabin crews, guarantee fixed costs, and relieve airlines of the burden of having to coordinate IFEC maintenance and planning themselves.