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Ensuring wireless connectivity at 35,000 feet

An airline needed to find and fix outages with their most popular in-cabin Wi-Fi service

Customer Challenge
A large airline had selected a technology and service provider for wireless Internet service in the passenger cabin. The airline had deployed the new system on most of its fleet and had operated the service for nearly two years. Although the service performance met passenger expectations, the airline continued to receive a significant number of reported outages, slow response times and other inconsistencies. Sometimes the unexplained outages were widespread enough that the airline was forced to issue refunds to passengers. Attempts by the service provider to determine the causes of intermittent performance were only partially successful. The airline asked SeaTec to conduct an independent assessment of the connectivity system and its performance.

The SeaTec Solution
SeaTec convened a team of five senior consultants, each of whom brought deep experience and expertise in airborne networking and air-satellite-ground communications. The SeaTec team conducted kick-off meetings with airline engineering, airline IT, airline marketing and the service provider. Following the kick-off, SeaTec conducted a series of structured interviews with over 30 airline and service provider personnel, including executives, managers and key individual contributors. SeaTec reviewed extensive amounts of design data, test data, in-service metrics and passenger reports. The review included an assessment of the physical layer of the system, including specific satellite coverage footprints, communications waveforms and modulation, antenna patterns, antenna tracking and control, and airborne antenna calibration. Various aspects of the Internet Protocol and traffic shaping software including both ground stations and airborne elements were reviewed. SeaTec reviewed and assessed airline and network system provider supply chain component reliability trends. Finally, SeaTec reviewed equipment installation design and inspected representative on-airplane ship sets, assessing application of best practices.

To check the protocol level performance, SeaTec developed and configured a unique on-board Wi-Fi user emulation capability and a lab simulation, and conducted on-airplane testing – jointly with servicer provider personnel. SeaTec’s investigation identified multiple root causes for the inconsistent passenger connections.

Impact on the Customer’s Business
SeaTec delivered a report of its findings, including a detailed recovery plan. SeaTec first coordinated its report with airline engineering, airline marketing and the service provider to obtain their feedback and avoid them being “blind-sided.” Then, SeaTec presented its findings and recommendations to senior management of the airline and service provider in a joint session. The airline and service provider accepted the recommendations and took responsibility to implement the corrective actions. By applying a rigorous systems engineering approach, deep domain expertise, and the ability to serve in an “honest broker” role, SeaTec helped resolve system problems, saving the airline the cost of additional refunds and mitigating service issues that could impact passenger experience.

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Providing waypoints to ensure successful first flight

An aerospace and defense giant needed to improve visibility to a challenging airplane systems development and integration essential for first flight

Customer Challenge
A global aerospace and defense company was approaching the first flight of a military derivative airplane that included 21 new or modified airplane systems. These systems comprised wide variety of both commercial and DOD specific types, including electronics, electro-mechanical, mechanical-hydraulic. With only 18 months before the first flight date, suppliers responsible for design, development, manufacturing and assembly, software, functional test and environmental qualification were at various stages of readiness.   Senior Management felt that traditional status reporting procedures were providing inadequate visibility into the true maturity of the development and integration efforts for the new and modified systems. Senior Management asked SeaTec to organize and conduct deep dive systems maturity assessments of the new and modified airplane systems as a risk reduction measure.

The SeaTec Solution
The SeaTec assessment included both internal and supplier technical efforts. It covered requirements, inter-systems interfaces (electrical power, control signals, flight deck/operational effects), functional testing, environmental qualification, and stress testing. SeaTec planned and facilitated rigorous self-assessments by each team, with emphasis on readiness of new and modified systems for first flight, and ultimately airworthiness certification to military and civil regulators.

Overall, the initial assessment was completed within 90 days. This was accomplished using standard benchmarking checklists that covered all the relevant development life cycle elements. SeaTec provided the planning and structure for the assessment activity, prepared standard checklists, distributed them to each team and then conducted 3-6 meetings with each team, with “homework” assigned between each meeting.

Impact on the Customer’s Business
During the assessment, numerous development, integration and compliance issues were identified and resolved. To improve management visibility, SeaTec prepared rollups to single one-chart report for all 21 systems. Most issues were addressed and resolved within 4-6 weeks after completing the initial assessment. However, nine issues were deemed significant threats to first-flight. For these, the customer provided proactive management, increased visibility, or intervention. SeaTec played a key role in these corrective actions.

Through proactive visibility and management, the maturity status of all 21 systems evolved to being deemed acceptable by six months before first fight, which was accomplished on schedule with no significant issues. SeaTec’s deep expertise in airworthiness certification, rigorous systems engineering approach, and quiet “coaching” style leadership all made an impact. The project was successfully transitioned to the customer’s staff, which implemented the SeaTec techniques for subsequent builds of other flight test airplanes as well as for future military derivative airplanes.

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Selecting the best contract to keep critical engine maintenance humming

An airline wanted the best outsourced engine maintenance solution

Customer Challenge
An airline needed to understand its options for outsourced engine maintenance. The airline’s challenge was to leverage its position as a top tier operator with a large un-contracted engine fleet to attract a quality maintenance provider under favorable economic conditions. The airline wanted to evaluate alternative approaches of paying for maintenance by the flight hour and paying for time and materials per shop overhaul. Primary goals for a deal were: safe and reliable maintenance to support the airline’s high customer service standards and growing overwater operations; incorporate the past lessons learned; be fair and sustainable for both parties, flexible enough to withstand the test of time, and provide price protection for changing industry economics. The airline engaged SeaTec to lead the market strategy, fleet analysis and sourcing process that would result in a new maintenance agreement for the engines.

The SeaTec Solution
SeaTec’s consulting team had extensive expertise in airline operations, specifically engine maintenance for both FAR 121 and FAR 145 facilities. The team brought in-depth working knowledge of: airline maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO); independent /OEM MRO facilities involved with the management of traditional maintenance agreements; as well as direct involvement in the management of risk transfer arrangements. SeaTec formed a cross-functional working team jointly with airline Finance, Legal, Procurement, and Engineering functions. Key airline personnel at the working and management levels were interviewed using structured interview techniques to understand airlines business plan, operational plan, the company and organizational culture, and the requirements for the new engine contract.

SeaTec prepared a unique life cycle model cost for the engine fleet under consideration. This model took into account airline-specific operating parameters as well as SeaTec experience with the engine maintenance details. The financial aspects of the model accommodated airline business plan requirements, including expected service life of the fleet and hurdle rates. Estimated costs were benchmarked, including likely future expenses to the airline if they continued to work engines with providers on a time and material basis. Modeling the life of the fleet provided essential insight into the maintenance periods, necessary lease return conditions, and most advantageous contract duration, plus impact on life limited parts residual life planning for fleet retirement.

Impact on the Customer’s Business
Using model results and detailed scoring of competitive supplier proposals the working team reduced the number of suppliers to a short list. With SeaTec’s help, the airline ran the remaining suppliers through clarifying questions and a Best and Final Offer process. The final selection was then made by the airline.

SeaTec’s value added was extensive knowledge of both technical and business aspects of engine maintenance, coupled with the ability to transfer this knowledge into a sophisticated evaluation model. SeaTec expertise and tools enabled the airline to quickly and accurately evaluate the competitive proposal received during this process. SeaTec’s approach helped ensure a fair and transparent competition for a very large engine maintenance contract.

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