Ground Control For Major Calm

Air Canada’s technology partnership with IBM Canada has produced a wireless e-Toolbox that gives maintenance staff a mobile reference of the mechanics of the carrier’s aircraft fleet.

The system provides Air Canada’s line mechanics wireless access to documents, maintenance systems and repair

manuals by using a combination of ruggedized and wearable devices including a tablet PC, laptop, and PDA.

Alice Keung, Air Canada’s CIO, says much of the thrust behind the airline’s partnership with Big Blue is the desire to be the first to market with technological advancement. She says it’s an objective of Air Canada’s to be the “”launch customer”” for IBM.

“”As far as being innovators and as far as deployment is concerned . . . there’s a lot of advantage in being the first airline to offer these technologies to our staff and our customers,”” she says.

Keung says the air carrier works closely with IBM to develop IT systems that solve specific business challenges.

“”Some situations require the use of a tablet PC mounted on the dash board of a truck. Other times a PDA is more sensible so it can be brought into an airplane’s cockpit,”” Reber says. “”This system addresses an aspect of labour-intensive work and it has a direct impact on our schedule, our customers and our bottom line.””

According to John Reber, an Air Canada spokesperson in Montréal, the partnership between the two companies is unlike any traditional supplier contract.

“”In July 2001, we announced a $1.4 billion strategic partnership with IBM,”” he says, citing the carrier’s check-in kiosks as an example of the benefits of the union. “”We get direct access to IBM’s research and development facilities worldwide.””

But Air Canada is not the sole beneficiary of the jointly developed technologies. Under the terms of the agreement, IBM is free to market the technologies to other airlines.

“”We’ll still reap the benefits of these technologies, it doesn’t matter who else gets them. That will only help fund future innovations,”” Keung says.

Rob Ranieri, practice lead of eAccess for IBM Canada in Markham, Ont., says Air Canada and IBM designed the e-Toolbox application to support all repair and operations data from the airline’s legacy maintenance systems onto a Web application server. The information is then carried via an IBM http server into a Web portal and delivered via a secured 802.11b wireless local area network (WLAN) to a mechanic’s laptop.

“”What tends to happen is Air Canada comes to us with a business problem that needs to be resolved. We’ll then suggest a solution and together we find ways to apply technology through a pilot (project),”” he says.

Meanwhile, Air Canada’s Mobile Services allow its customers to register from a wireless phone or via the Air Canada Web site to receive real-time departure/arrival flight status updates to their text-enabled phone, PDA, pager, or e-mail address. However, Reber says the days of allowing passengers to purchase a ticket, check in at the airport and obtain a boarding pass all from a wireless device or phone has yet to arrive.

“”That’s certainly one of the objectives of Air Canada’s Mobile Services,”” he says. “”For now, we’re continuing to refine this service and we hope to provide (an end-to-end wireless ticket purchase and check-in system) in due time.””

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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