Author: Finnbogi Karl Bjarnason, Director Flight Operations, Operations at PLAY
There is a long-established aphorism in business, ‘Keep it simple stupid’ or KISS. The term was coined by the US Navy in 1960 and it means that most systems work best if they are kept simple rather than made complicated; in the context of this article, simplicity should be a key objective when devising any software solution, while complicated processes and procedures should be avoided. Like many sayings that have lasted the course, this one has benefited from itself offering a simple concept and that will be a theme of this case study in which I’ll share with you our experience of launching a new airline, sourcing the right software solution and implementing it, all during the unexpected time of COVID. But first, let me tell you a little about PLAY, the airline itself.
The airline was founded by a group of ambitious and experienced middle management personnel in the aviation industry that suddenly found them selves without a job after a dive in the industry in Europe 2018-2019. The team that started the process developed a new idea but based on the same basic concept of a low-cost carrier (LCC) using the hub and spoke system, during Covid the opportunity just grew bigger. That new business was PLAY focusing primarily on intercontinental flights between North America and Europe with a stop in Iceland.
We consider Iceland to be perfectly located for these routes. Some might wonder why we do not simply fly from the West coast of Europe to the East coast of America but the reality is that not everyone lives in London and not everyone in London wants to go only to Boston. So, PLAY is launching flights to Trondheim and Stavanger in Norway and Gothenburg in Sweden, destinations that currently lack intercontinental flights. They have flights to larger airports within their own countries but not to other continents. That is, basically, what the hub and spoke system offers. We will be distributing passengers on either side of the North Atlantic Ocean (the ‘Pond’) with Iceland conveniently located in the middle.
As with any low-cost carrier, the general idea is to offer a great service but at a reasonable price. To that end, one key thing that we keep in mind for everything that we do is simplicity: if we can do things in a simple way, we do. Even when evaluating new projects or procedures, if things start to look complex, we’ll remind ourselves that this might not be for us. In pursuit of simplicity, we will re-think in order to ensure that things are fluid and simple because, if they’re simple they will be relatively easy to manage, which should mean less overhead and less cost, resulting in a lower cost for passengers. That’s the attitude.
For the fleet, the first three aircraft, were nearly new Airbus A321neos and very recently, we have set up on our operator’s certificate, a brand-new A320neo – so new that it still had the plastic wrapping on the tables which had to be taken off for the first flight. So, we have new equipment using really efficient engines… everything to support the low-cost operating model and keep the CO2 emissions to a minimum. Civil aviation is a highly polluting industry and we are determined to leave as small a carbon footprint as possible.
Going paperless for documentation
The decision to be paperless ties in with that simplicity principle; we have to be able to quickly update various manuals or leaflets for the crew who will be situated on both sides of the North Atlantic. It isn’t possible, in a simple manner, to simultaneously distribute material to hundreds of crew members on paper. Web Manuals gives us the option of distributing important manuals, procedures and other materials simultaneously to wherever personnel are located in the world, not forgetting that this also helps to reduce our carbon footprint.
We chose Web Manuals because we where familiar with the product and its capabilities and are very satisfied with it. We saw no value in evaluating a group of other platforms when we already were familiar with one that fits our criteria. It’s automatic in many functions, it’s robust, it’s simple and it’s user-friendly.
As far as selection criteria were concerned, we were not only focusing on cost, it was also important for us to know that the solution would be right for our operation. Web Manuals is not the cheapest option but we believe that it is the best option for PLAY.
How Web Manuals Works
We work in an extremely regulated industry and, in light of that, Web Manuals is a great tool; as well as the manuals, it also offers Compliance Libraries. All manuals have to be written in compliance with multiple regulations, from flight safety and security to the airworthiness of aircraft, operating procedures and the licensing of aircrew personnel. Web Manuals offers users the option to easily provide a compliance statement to the authorities by making the compliance libraries available to be integrated into the individual sections of the manuals. For example, a procedure in one manual can be linked to the appropriate regulation which, in itself, is very helpful. But also, the same regulation can be linked in multiple manuals; so, when we are audited by the authorities and they ask us, ‘how do you perform this procedure?’ we can simply go into Web Manuals, clip the particular regulation on which they’re questioning us and immediately demonstrate that there is a reference to it in this manual and this manual and that manual. That visibility extends even down to the section in each manual where the regulation is referred to. It means that, in a straightforward and easy way, we can prove our compliance.
Implementing Web Manuals in PLAY
End users who read the manuals don’t need any on-boarding process because the system is simple and user-friendly. However, the managers or editors of the content need to have a relatively comprehensive knowledge of operating the system because it isn’t the same as just typing into a Word document. As already mentioned, there are all the compliance connections, references between manuals, it’s easy to make things worse but, if you know how to operate the system, it will prove to be very user-friendly. The Web Manuals team offered us a training course for the first users of the system. That covered about three days in total but spread over a few weeks and included three or four hours of training on editing and layout.
PLAY did a lot of customization on the manuals to ensure that, even though they are electronic, they have cover pages and look good. Although the manuals are never printed out, they are set-up in a printable manner; so that users can read the manual as if it was a printed book. Training was extensive but to the point and, for the little bits and pieces that can be forgotten, Web Manuals offers online courses where users can refresh their knowledge, ensure that they are up-to-date and be reminded of any items that might need to be revised.
Implementation took two years not because of Web Manuals and not directly because of COVID, because everything from Web Manuals is on the Web, online. However, COVID did delay the launch of the airline which, in turn, delayed the implementation. Had it not been for that, we could have completed the implementation and training within a month from signing the contract. We don’t provide end users with any training because, if you know how to operate any sort of tablet, or smart phone, you be able to operate Web Manuals.
One thing that happened while we were implementing the solution was the release of Web Manuals version 8.0 which had been keenly anticipated by users of the platform. It was a game changer for the platform, making it even more attractive for the team who had already used Web Manuals to reconnect with the improved solution. It had been, in the past, more challenging to navigate whereas with version 8.0 it’s almost as easy for the editors to edit the manuals as it is for the readers to read them.
To be issued with an Air Operator’s Certificate, PLAY had to undergo an extensive set of audits by the regulating authority, the Icelandic Transport Administration. Fortunately, they were already familiar with the Web Manuals platform so could have confidence in it. However, at the same time, we also had to provide various statements to the regulator as well as a set of risk assessments and, because PLAY uses these applications onboard the aircraft, we had to also obtain an electronic flight bag approval. This was where we had to ensure compliance and demonstrate to the authorities the robustness of the system we were planning to use. Web Manuals supplied all the statements that were required for the approval making the process very straightforward.
Take-aways from this project
We have been asked to be a reference to be approached by another potential customer for Web Manuals who was unsure how to combine some of the aircraft manuals with Web Manuals. There is no single platform that works for everyone and everything; there always has to be a compromise to an extent. I can only speak for Web Manuals but, once you have realized how to properly use the system you will also see that not all manuals can be on the same platform. Some of the aircraft manuals will be managed by the manufacturers so there is no need to customize them in Web Manuals; we simply publish them as PDFs – they’re still available and accessible through Web Manuals but we only customize our own manuals.
My advice to others is to think outside of the box, think how the paperless solution can be an addition to the tools that you have already but not necessarily the only single solution because there is no single solution.
As I’ve already mentioned above, our focus at PLAY is always on simplicity and that sits very well with Web Manuals, a simple and user-friendly tool which is intuitive to use. In brief, it delivered on everything that we wanted. Initially, we had planned to start the airline in just a couple of months before COVID hit and Web manuals was willing to work to that deadline. They’ve delivered everything that we’ve asked for.
Looking to the future
We haven’t really decided on the future plan yet and are currently in the process of reviewing all of our software solutions. We’re probably not using Web Manuals to the fullest extent possible but are using it widely, not only for operational staff but also for external parties and other PLAY departments that are not directly related to Operations such as the commercial department and the service department so our use is extensive for the platform it is.
That is the story of our selection and implementation of a paperless solution at PLAY. I hope that there are some ideas and experience in there which readers will find useful when they also are facing a similar challenge.