Virgin pilot leads way for RFID

13 Apr 2006 View Comments
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Virgin Atlantic is evaluating whether or not to extend the use of radio frequency identification (RFID) tagging to track plane parts, following a four-month trial of the technology.

The airline has been using RFID to track high-value aircraft parts at its logistics centre in Heathrow Airport since November, and says the results of the pilot scheme will help to develop a business case for more widespread use.

‘In such a competitive market there is a constant need to find efficiencies, control costs and expand business,’ said Virgin Atlantic senior systems analyst Graham Holford.

‘Virgin Atlantic is keen to investigate the efficiency of the RFID-enabled warehouse.’

The airline is working with Airbus and other suppliers to see how they will integrate RFID into their logistics programmes.

The trial, which used handheld computers and a wireless network from IT provider Symbol, involved Virgin Atlantic’s ground staff carrying out real- time stock checks and asset tracking at Heathrow, and additional facilities in Gatwick.

Airline parts were given a full inspection on arrival at the warehouse, and data entered into an Oracle inventory management system. RFID tags were then placed on assets and linked to the electronic data.

‘It is expected that the results will help in developing a business case for the use of sensor- based technologies,’ said Holford.

Clive Longbottom, service director at analyst Quocirca, says RFID tracking could help cut fraud and speed up repair times.

‘The airline parts industry is full of fraud, and these are expensive parts. Being able to track parts, know what is happening and when things are being tampered with could be good news for the industry,’ he said.

By being able to locate parts faster, airlines could also potentially reduce the time it takes to repair planes, he says.

‘You need to get these planes up in the air as soon as possible,’ said Longbottom.

‘Having one on the ground means you may have to cancel a flight and that costs money. RFID can help track down inventory items faster.’

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