Spotlight on Airlines: When It’s Too Hot, Planes Don’t Fly and Mobile Devices Fail

Travel is hot right now – literally and figuratively. We are at the peak of the summer travel season, which means airlines must do everything within their power to keep operations running smoothly and flights arriving on time amidst the double-whammy of delays that most commonly cause passenger complaints: long security lines and long waits on the tarmac for takeoff clearance. That’s no easy feat on a normal day. With new security measures and July’s searing temperatures now in full force, airlines must be on their game if they’re going to get millions of passengers where they are going as fast as possible – and with as few disruptions as possible. That’s why airlines are turning to technology both in the terminal and on the tarmac to unlock new efficiencies in their aircraft maintenance, refueling and even passenger loading operations. Mobile technology, specifically.

Ground crews need reliable mobile technology to handle extreme weather events

If the right mobile devices are deployed to facilitate critical workflows, they not only enable airlines to achieve operational precision during their “Super Bowl” events, such holiday weekends, but they improve the safety and efficiency of overall flight operations. By the same token, if airlines go all in on mobile devices and they fail at any time, and for any reason, then flight and ground crews must revert to the paper-based processes of old. Translation: Routine flight preparations will be slowed; safety checks will require even greater scrutiny; and airlines will have to compensate for the subsequent delays in more ways than one – which becomes costly in many ways. This creates a clear ROI supporting the investment in the right mobile devices. And the need to acknowledge the limitations of some technologies (such as handheld PCs and non-rugged mobile devices) and appreciate the invaluable worth of those that don’t pose limitations (i.e. rugged computers). Especially those that won’t ground airline operations during extreme weather conditions, which seem to be the norm these days.

In fact, my colleagues and I were just discussing the number of international flight changes occurring out of McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas last week due to the impact of heat on an aircraft’s lift, and thus flight safety. That reminded me of an experience I had while working on a new high-end computer at Data General in the 1980s. Back then, we were using advanced chip technology from Motorola that was fabricated in Chandler, AZ, just outside of Phoenix, and would have to fly out there occasionally over the course of this multi-year development – with our other meetings occurring in Massachusetts throughout the year. Somehow, we got on a schedule of traveling to Boston in February and Phoenix in June. (We were smart at engineering, but not so smart when it came to planning trips that we could actually enjoy.) Two years in a row, I flew back via Sky Harbor Airport (my favorite name for an airport!) on June 22 nd. June 22nd – the longest day of the year. Which, in the desert, translates to the day with the most sun and heat. Like 119 F heat.

I remember walking out of the Motorola facility and through the black asphalt parking lot to my rental car, passing so many cars with their windows opened slightly – I was told it was to prevent a window from blowing out. I also remember that flight out of Sky Harbor, the long, slow ascent that seemed to just barely clear the mountains at the edge of the valley. But I’m an engineer, so I understand that planes need lift to takeoff, and that extreme heat can be a limit beyond which normal flight operations just aren’t possible (safely). Lift, very simply stated, is generated by sufficient speed to move X molecules of air over the wing. To get more lift, you need more speed and/or more air molecules. Of course, that means that less speed and/or air molecules yields less lift. So, as the temperature rises, and air molecules spread out, there isn’t enough lift available to get a loaded jet off the ground. That’s where the reality of Mother Nature comes in.

When it’s hot, things fail hard, unless designed for the heat. The last thing airlines need is to compound delays with preventable technology meltdowns, such as the handheld PCs reportedly failing on flight lines due to overheating CPUs. That’s a surefire way to create delays that not only affect passengers on board, but can cause ripple effects throughout a carrier’s national network of flights.

Bonus: The same rugged tablets that can keep airline operations on track are the same tablets that will keep you productive (and on track with your own work) when you reach your destination.

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That’s why rugged tablets are gaining traction among an airline industry that has tested nearly every mobile device form factor under the sun. Rugged tablets are not only engineered to survive drops, vibrations and exposure to fluid contaminants such as water, oil and jet fuel, but they are designed to power through snow storms and heat waves alike so that airlines can maintain their tight turnaround schedules without further weather-related delays. But that’s not the only reason to scrutinize the mobile device investments your airline is making these days.

Check back  tomorrow as I provide an inside look (literally) at what a mobile device meltdown could mean for your operational efficiency and customer satisfaction levels at a time when both could use a boost. In the meantime, this checklist will help you start to assess the quality of your existing solution.

Download Transportation Checklist

Read Part 2 of this Blog

Blog Author: Bob Ashenbrenner
President of Durable Mobility Technologies, LLC.