DayJet awaits first ‘digital’ operating OK

 - August 29, 2007, 5:37 AM

The FAA completed validation flights last month for DayJet’s fleet of 12 Eclipse 500s, bringing the company one step closer to launching the first fully digital operation. The company has designed an operating system–affectionately known as “Hal”–that manages its day-to-day operations and all requirements for the Part 135 certificate. The system–which has four  million lines of code and was written over a period of four years by 30 full-time programmers–eliminates the need for paper documents and manual logs and, most important, human intervention.

“Everything that’s done by hundreds and hundreds of people inside an airline or an air carrier is done by computer,” DayJet president and CEO Ed Iacobucci told AIN, explaining that the system manages everything from making reservations to filing the flight plan and transmitting the information to pilots via their electronic flight bag (EFB). “It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s really a quantum leap when you integrate it all.”

In addition to storing all the information DayJet needs to operate, such as maintenance logs, flight logs and crew availability and qualifications, the system also incorporates real-time data into the flight plans. “Things happen, as they always do,” Iacobucci said. “Flights are late, passengers don’t show, airports are closed, weather cells [develop]. Any one of those changes will feed right into the system, and it tries to fix everything within the parameters that we set up.” The parameters, Iacobucci explained, are more stringent than what the FAA requires. DayJet crews have 11-hour duty days, while the FAA allows 14-hour duty days, for example.

“It’s a safe system,” he said. “When you’re looking at flight releases, there are literally dozens and dozens of things to check. If we don’t have a safe flight, safe aircraft, safe crew or [approved] passengers, the system just won’t release [the flight plan].”

Human intervention will be needed only if the system can’t find a solution to an issue that doesn’t meet DayJet’s commitments to safety, regulatory constraints or customer needs, Iacobucci said. In such a case, the flight information will be transmitted to an operational control center in Atlanta, which is staffed by a crew of seven people. “I’m not trying to imply that this is all run by Hal,” Iacobucci said. “The system does all the things that are routine. [The] people in the control center manage the exceptions.”

What makes the system unique, however, is that the same seven people will oversee the operation regardless of how many aircraft are operating. “The power of the digital [operating] certificate isn’t even going to be evident until we start scaling,” Iacobucci said. “Our objective is to launch with seven people in the control center and about 10 airplanes. By the time we have 100 airplanes flying in the fleet, we will still have seven people in the control center, not thousands of people like other operations.”

More often than not, however, human intervention won’t be required. “If a schedule changes, the system will re-plan it so that it’s a valid schedule and transmit [the changes] to the pilots without any intervention by dispatchers or schedulers,” he said. “We built a complete data system from one end to the other, so there’s never any paper anywhere, no manual logs.”

Not having a paper retention system provides “an incredible amount of flexibility,” Iacobucci said. It not only gives DayJet the ability to adapt to changes and re-plan flights without having to complete reams of paperwork, but it also makes it easier for regulators to oversee the operation. FSDO inspectors at Washington Dulles Airport, for example, will have access to the same records DayJet employees have and can view them from their own computer terminals in Dulles, Va. This will eliminate the need for on-site inspections and compliance checks. “Right now we’re basically providing [the FAA] with reports, but ultimately we’re going to have an interactive portal like our operations people have,” Iacobucci explained.

Are there risks in having a system that computes all the operating and flight data without human intervention? “I think it eliminates more risk than it creates,” Iacobucci said. “It eliminates a lot of the issues that [operators] have when [they] maintain things manually.” Paper logs won’t be lost, for example, and the risk of human error will be mitigated.

“Now there’s always a risk that the computer system breaks,” he added, “but we’ve already made a conscious decision that if the system ever had a catastrophic outage, it wouldn’t compromise safety because we just wouldn’t operate.” DayJet also has a backup system to further mitigate risk. The main data center is in Atlanta, and the backup system is located in Florida. “Our computer systems are all working in redundant networks and multiple data centers.

“It’s an extensive piece of work, and we’ve got multiple teams working on various aspects of it,” he concluded.

See 'DayJet to take operations from the virtual world to the real one' for an in-depth look at DayJet operations.