How many labour hours are spent each month in aircraft overhauls and/or at line stations checking for expiration dates on all types of emergency equipment? Oxygen generators / bottles, life vests, smoke masks, medical kits, flashlights, megaphones, even all the required safety placards located all over the cabin area? Being caught with missing or expired safety items generates a $10,000 fine per flight segment by the FAA, and it is similar in other countries. The time spent is enormous, but it is all "lost in the overhead expenses" and just considered the "cost of doing business". In a study conducted at a major airline on a twin aisle, 300 seat airplane, a oxygen bottle date check required two mechanics a total of 13 man-hours to complete. Expand that cost by the multiple times that life jackets, medical kits, flashlights, etc. need to be checked that they are both present and non-expired, and thecosts escalate substantially.
Like many other areas of your business, a little technology, applied in the right way, can save your operation thousands of dollars every day. In the above study, we were able to reduce 13 man-hours (780 minutes) down to 8.5 minutes - just 1% of the labor cost compared to the old way! How? By using RFID technology and handheld computers! With RFID tags applied to the desired items, we are able to put human readable data on the tag, data like the manufacturer, the Part Number, the expiration date, and the physical location of the item in the plane. This is point-of-use data and doesn't have to be looked up in some big, remote database. Data can quickly be read from each of these tags using a handheld computer/reader because the RFID technology does not need line-of-sight to be able to read data. Data can be read from oxygen generators while closed up in the PSU, from life vests while still under the seat, and from very small, hard to reach spaces like crew rest areas.
The application on the handheld computer/RFID Reader is designed to be easy and straightforward for a mechanic to use. After logging into the application, the mechanic walks quickly through the aircraft reading all the RFID tags. These are compared with the aircraft configuration transferred from the server, leaving the mechanic with a short exception list of items to deal with. When those are corrected, the data is transferred back to the server to update aircraft information on the server for subsequent reporting and historical storage.
The server software provides a web-based graphical interface that makes it extremely easy to configure the aircraft equipment the first time, and clearly shows the current status of all the equipment on the aircraft.Below is a screen shot of life vest information indicating its presence and good status (green), the presence and expired (red), and the 'no data' locations (black) which could happen for a number of reasons. Similar information could be displayed for oxygen bottles, medical kits, smoke alarms, evacuation slides, and even all the placards within the cabin.