View from the Cloud – Gulf Air


ith hundreds of Gulf Air planes carrying passengers around the world daily, huge quantities of information are created. The company’s 380 pilots have to submit pre-takeoff data, and are reliant on up-to-date information when in-flight. The airline flies passengers to 38 destinations across Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and efficiency and passenger safety are always top priorities. Dr. Jassim Haji sought to update the channels by which pilots received the necessary information manuals, in-flight and pre-takeoff data. In 2013, Dr. Haji and the airline’s IT team decided it was time to move to a cloud-based Electronic Flight Bag, a paperless information management system that helps flight crews perform flight management tasks. Using an existing private cloud solution, Dr. Haji would push EFB services to pilots’ iPads.

Prior to this, and according to the conventional approach used by the majority of airlines, Gulf Air’s pilots had printed handbooks manually, taking an average of 18kg extra weight with them on board each flight. This of course played a part in increasing fuel costs. An EFB includes the aircraft and flight crew operating manuals, along with navigational charts and a moving map for air and ground operations. It also has the power to host purpose-built software applications to automate other functions normally conducted by hand, such as performance take-off calculations.

“We wanted to provide our pilots with a mechanism to access all the necessary electronic materials,” Dr. Haji says. “This would not only enhance the efficiency of our ground staff prior to takeoff, but would crucially provide pilots faster access to information that would also be more frequently updated. Aside from numerous other benefits, this provides our pilots with accurate and updated insights thereby improving the overall passenger experience in terms of comfort and safety, which are our top priorities.”

In order to provide this solution, Dr. Haji relied on EMW to provide their Mobile Device Management (MDM) solution. “The private cloud that we used to supply the AirWatch solution consisted of elements from a number of different vendors,” he says. “We relied on VMware for our virtualisation, EMC for our storage, our servers were from HP and our backup was from Symantec. It was vital that Airbus’ aircraft performance software was properly integrated with all these technologies so we could deploy the solution as efficiently as possible. In short, it was crucial that these elements were correctly integrated to enable the MDM solution to be delivered.”

The MDM solution that Dr. Haji deployed – AirWatch 7.2 – provides the software to securely manage the iPads, and control them remotely. This means that if for whatever reason a pilot encounters a problem while on the job, Dr. Haji and his team can fix it from afar. By the same token, access to the cloud also means that if the device itself has a problem, it can always be switched mid-flight “For example, if an iPad breaks, within five minutes it can be replaced with another one, the pilot can continue using EFB on the newly provided device,” Dr. Haji says.

The road to completion encompassed a range of challenges for Dr. Haji and his team. The initial setup of devices, which involved fitting the EFB with all the necessary applications, was time-consuming. “Security was a pressing issue as we were moving sensitive data; the necessary measures had to be implemented correctly,” he says. “We also had to ensure the devices were certified to work at high altitudes and were compliant with the Bahrain Aviation Authority’s requirements.” Crucially, Dr. Haji had to enroll all 380 pilots without interrupting the airline’s service. In order to do this, they introduced parallel enrollment sessions, whereby the IT team prepared 20 devices a day, and pilots undertook tutorials with their iCloud login details during the enrollment sessions.

Now complete, Dr. Haji estimates that the project has saved Gulf Air close to $1.5 million. This comes in the form of saved subscription and paper costs associated with manuals, along with fuel and human resource outlay in calculating data and assisting pilots. In time, he says, there will be a capacity to re-assign the duties of ground staff who were charged with collecting pre-takeoff data. This will bring added efficiency, reliability, and potentially safety, to the company.

The implementation has also hugely benefitted Gulf Air’s training procedures. Pilots are able to complete training material and requisite exams anytime, anywhere. Pushed through the open source Learning Management System and AirWatch MDM software, the solution has provided a clear business value-add, saving staff time and avoiding associated inconvenience that comes with taking exams at Gulf Air’s testing centres.

Looking ahead, Dr. Haji intends to call upon EMW’s expertise in deploying further MDM solutions via Gulf Air’s private cloud. Further recipients of iPads with the AirWatch technology will be cabin crew members and company engineers. “Cabin crew members will have access to menus, passenger orders and seating plans,” he says. “We hope this will increase customer satisfaction and really personalise the service passengers receive.” Dr. Haji also sees a huge opportunity to simplify the job of the airline’s engineering staff, “There is a huge amount of paperwork in their job,” he says. “This is generated mainly prior to takeoff and landing. Tablets will make it easier for them to submit and update this. The concept of ‘paperless’ work across our staff should be consistent, and we aim to be at that stage by 2015.”Dr. Haji is also planning to introduce BYOD culture by allowing users to use their own iPads.

Dr. Haji is planning to use AirWatch’s MDM technology to design two partitions between corporate and personal aspects of the device. “We are planning to provide hybrid services for those employees who bring their own devices,” he says. “The devices will be customised so that they are compatible with security elements, so users can access corporate material without putting the organisation at risk. It’s important for employees to understand that certain features are subject to authentication, but equally we have to find a way not to restrict BYOD culture.