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Remote maintenance saves Air Force millions of dollars

by Michelle Eviston
Air Force Materiel Command Public Affairs

6/3/2008 - WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio (AFPN) -- Air Force Materiel Command members are using remote maintenance technology to repair air traffic control and landing systems, or ATCALS, and perform remote flight inspections, saving the Air Force millions of dollars.

The upgrade to acquire and implement the new ATCALS navigation equipment that supports the remote maintenance was the brainchild of Charles Bryson, who works in the Air, Space and Information Operations Directorate.

Mr. Bryson reasoned that if you could fix outages from anywhere, it would free up maintenance crews, improve efficiency and save money. A theory now verified with five years of data-proven success.

As a result, AFMC command officials received an invitation from Federal Aviation Administration representatives to share their results from the upgrade.

Additionally, a member of the Air, Space and Information Operations will travel to the International Flight Inspection Symposium to present the findings June 27.

The ATCALS transformation began in 2003 and all phases of the transformation were in place by 2006.

Previously, each AFMC base had its own maintenance team. Now, a single five-person crew is in charge of all repairs. Based at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., the team monitors the navigation equipment at the air traffic control towers at Eglin AFB as well as Edwards AFB, Calif., Hill AFB, Utah, Robins AFB, Ga., Tinker AFB, Okla. and Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. If there is an outage at any of the bases, the Eglin AFB crew can pull up all the information and fix it electronically, without ever having to leave the building.

AFMC also applied remote maintenance technology to flight inspections. The FAA requires these inspections every six to nine months. In the past, this meant sending a crew to the equipment site to facilitate the test. Now, AFMC uses the remote adjustment capabilities and a dialup radio at each AFMC location to put the Eglin AFB crew in contact with the FAA flight inspection crew.

"Of course people are always skeptical when you first start out," Mr. Bryson said. "However, we've been doing it long enough that the data is proving our theory. Now people are starting to wake up and say 'Ok, this works.'"

The new ATCALS equipment works 99.77 percent of the time, which is 2 percent more effective than it was under the Air Force legacy system.

If there is an outage, and it requires no additional parts, it takes the Eglin AFB maintenance team an average of 26.8 minutes to fix. It took an average of four hours to fix such a problem under the Air Force legacy system.

If an outage does require replacement parts, the average repair time is 26.2 hours for the Eglin AFB crew, compared to an average repair time of 4.5 days under the Air Force legacy system.

To date the program has saved AFMC $4.3 million annually. The reduction in personnel needed to perform maintenance has been the biggest money saver, but AFMC has also saved money on parts.

"In the past, when a part failed, we had to pay through the Air Force depot," Mr. Bryson said. "Now, we've gone to a 15-year warranty, which we paid the vendor upfront."

If any of the parts break within those 15 years, the vendor ships new ones to AFMC for free.

Mr. Bryson pointed out that it's not just the technology that has contributed to its success -- it's the change in mentality, too.

"You need to change," he said. "Buying equipment that rarely fails is a good thing. But unless you change your processes and procedures, you may create more problems than you solve."

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