Storms, oil prices, political upheavals, even volcanoes, all buffet aviation, making it a turbulent industry in the air or on the ground.
“It’s one of the most complex, like many of the other industries in transportation,” said Brian McConnell, manager of continuous improvement, Delta Airlines Technical Operations. Besides natural disasters and political disturbances, “the complexity of the aircraft and the systems that run airlines” contribute to the turbulence, he noted.
McConnell and other Lean Thinkers in the Lean Flight Initiative are trying to take the bumps out of the industry by taking out waste and unnecessary complexity. At Delta “Tech Ops,” the lean initiative focuses on customer value, according to McConnell.
“When you understand customer value, you know what the customer doesn’t value and doesn’t want to pay for,” he explained. “Those are the things we identify as waste and go after.” Sometimes “waste,” such as a step required by a government agency, is required. “The customer may not be particularly happy about paying for it, but we understand it’s done for security and safety.”
Delta Technical Operations applies a variety of improvement tools, including:
- Five S helps technicians improve their productivity by eliminating wasted motion and movement, McConnell said. “Anything we can do to give a technician extra time to do a better job to make sure these big complex beasts fly safely, is the best thing to do.”
- Mistake-proofing helps to make sure that people and luggage “fly safely from point A to point B without any failures,” McConnell said.
- Setup reduction makes certain maintenance is ready and knows what to do when an aircraft arrives at a hanger.
- Six sigma identifies and eliminates variation in processes.
‘It’s an all encompassing type of approach that we use to apply all these tools,” McConnell said. “Our basic tool that we apply is lean thinking.”
Sharing Lean Practices
He said lean thinkers in aviation will share practical information about these and other improvement practices at the annual Lean Flight Initiative (LFI) Conference, May 10-11, 2011, Atlanta. The initiative is a group of commercial and private aviation professionals who began meeting five years ago in Ireland to promote lean practices.
The annual conference, offered this year for the first time in the U.S., “allows us time for critical thinking and to compare notes,” said McConnell. “We compete with many other airlines but when it comes to sharing lean practices, and understanding how to do things better we share a lot. Those competitive barriers tend not to be there.”
Conference speakers this year include McConnell, Jim Womack, founder and senior advisor, Lean Enterprise Institute, as well as managers and executives from Jet Blue, Air France KLM, Boeing, Bombardier, Shannon Aerospace, Toyota, and others.
- Learn more about the Lean Flight Initiative conference, aviation case studies, and the LFI mission.
- See the complete LFI conference program.
- Listen to a podcast on lean in aviation by Brian McConnell.
- Read the LEI case study: Lean Thinking in Aircraft Repair and Maintenance Takes Wing at FedEx Express.