Farnborough Air Show

Boeing’s new care program is worth its weight in gold

 - July 17, 2010, 4:41 AM

With the advent of the 787 Dreamliner, touted as a “flying WiFi hotspot” chock full of useful data that will be passed along to airline maintenance and engineering departments, Boeing has an opportunity to revamp the way airliners are maintained. What if an airline could transfer its huge maintenance and engineering burden to Boeing and focus on its primary function of moving people around?
That concept is at the heart of Boeing’s GoldCare service, which allows airlines to select from a menu of three burden-relieving options. A full GoldCare package would include maintenance, engineering and materials (parts and consumables). Airlines can select any two of those options when signing up for GoldCare, as long as engineering is one of them. Some airlines may opt for only one of the three, but then that won’t be a GoldCare package.

German airline group TUI has selected GoldCare for four of its operations that have ordered the 787. The TUI package includes the entire GoldCare package except for line maintenance and covers 13 airplanes over a 12-year period (to coincide with the 787’s heavy check interval).

GoldCare integrates a number of Boeing tools along with Maintenix, a maintenance planning and tracking software suite by Mxi Technologies. Boeing tools include Airplane Health Management and the Maintenance Toolbox electronic logbook, which plays on the electronic flight bags in the 787 cockpit. Materials management is also a key element of GoldCare and is handled by an internal Boeing group to provide a cost-per-hour parts program for 787 operators.

Boeing has built a GoldCare operations center in Renton, Washington, to manage customers’ maintenance and engineering on a 24/7 basis. Customers can also access the same information via the MyBoeingFleet Web portal. Boeing doesn’t perform the maintenance but works with third-party providers such as the UK’s Monarch Engineering, which will service the TUI 787s.

“What GoldCare does is to seamlessly in real time take the data from the airplane into the system and translate it into knowledge,” said Bob Avery, vice president for fleet management with Boeing’s Commercial Aviation Services. “We can have the scheduling opportunities looked at very quickly, check for parts, check for faults through the electronic logbook straight into [the] Toolbox or Airplane Health Management [systems]. It’s a rapid way of getting to what you need to make that next flight or to schedule the next maintenance event.”

GoldCare also relieves airlines of the burden of initial provisioning for new airplane types, minimizing the infrastructure that airlines need to buy and build. An airline that signed for a full GoldCare package, for example, wouldn’t have to buy any ground service equipment or build special tools for maintenance or order a boatload of parts that cost money to store.

Parts needs are handled by Boeing suppliers, as well as Boeing itself, depending on the source of the parts, but the result is the airline can pay a predictable per-flight-hour amount and not worry about all the logistics. “We’re trying to get the whole supply chain aligned,” Avery explained. “The suppliers–if their products perform well and they keep improving them, they’ll do better than they planned.”

A key feature of GoldCare is that the system keeps detailed records of everything that’s ever been done to a covered airplane. The benefit is that when the airplane switches owners or goes back to a leasing company, all the records are up to date and no one has to go digging through boxes of logbooks to find out which components are installed and the status of time-life parts, airworthiness directives and service bulletins.

Boeing is discussing GoldCare with two non-787 customers, even though the program was intended to be implemented after the 787 entered service.

GoldCare is still in the development phase, with completion due by the end of the first quarter of next year. “It is critical that we do that successfully,” Avery said. “We’ll get to a business case for the non-787 stuff probably in the third quarter this year.”

So why is Boeing going to the expense of integrating all the maintenance-related software tools and service products under GoldCare? “If you have a reasonable share with GoldCare, you are embedded in a customer’s operations,” Avery said. “If you’re taking care of airplanes on a daily basis and doing a good job and a customer wants to buy a new airplane, why wouldn’t they come to us? Being embedded with a customer’s operation may give us some additional opportunities.”    

IT Is the GoldCare Key

“The secret sauce of GoldCare is e-enablement and IT integration services,” said Bob Avery, vice president for fleet management with Boeing’s Commercial Aviation Services. “Many of those functions are already done either by airlines or outsource firms, but this is where Boeing’s investment really plays and makes a difference.”

GoldCare functions are run at a dedicated operations center where large-screen displays show GoldCare customer airplane status in real time. The primary screen shows the Mxi Technologies Maintenix tracking software: where airplanes are, where they are going and time between flights so that any upcoming maintenance can be slotted into available time, or whether flights need to be rescheduled. For larger problems, say a structural repair, GoldCare specialists will walk across the room to Boeing’s big operations center to make arrangements.

The GoldCare operations center doesn’t replace an airline’s maintenance control department but helps the airline keep its airplanes available for revenue flying. “We have these visual tools,” Lee Cantrell, duty manager, said, “to help us keep track of where the airplanes are, what’s going on with them…if they’re having delays and cancellations. We’ll be able to talk with the folks at the airline or at the maintenance provider to try to get everything back on track.”