A thermostat sitting under direct sunlight showing high temperatures
By Bob Ashenbrenner | August 01, 2019

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

The technology tools you give your ground crews can help your planes get off the ground on time. They can also be one reason why a plane is still on the ground past its scheduled departure time.

My colleagues and I were recently discussing the number of international flight changes that often occur out of McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas during the summer 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 in the 1980s. Back then, we were using advanced chip technology that was fabricated in Chandler, AZ, just outside of Phoenix. I 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 Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport (my favorite name for an airport!) on June 22 – the longest day of the year. In the desert, this translates to the day with the most sun and heat – like 119-degree Fahrenheit heat.

I remember walking out of the Arizona 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.

Travel is hot right now – literally and figuratively.

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 mobile devices that fail to work on flight lines due to overheating CPUs during aircraft maintenance, refueling or baggage loading activities. 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.

These are just some of the reasons why airlines need to acknowledge the limitations of some technologies (such as non-rugged mobile devices) and appreciate the invaluable worth of those that don’t pose limitations (i.e. rugged handheld computers, tablets and scanners). Especially those that won’t ground airline operations during extreme weather conditions, which seem to be the norm these days.

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 summer’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.

If the right mobile devices are deployed to facilitate critical workflows, they not only enable airlines to achieve operational precision during key times such as holiday weekends, but they improve the safety and efficiency of overall flight operations. By the same token, if airlines go all in on the wrong mobile devices and they fail at any time, 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.

That’s why enterprise-grade rugged tablets, handheld mobile computers, barcode scanners and RFID readers are gaining traction among an airline industry that has tested nearly every rugged and non-rugged mobile device (and form factor) under the sun. These industrial rugged devices 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.

Stay tuned into Your Edge in the next couple of weeks 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. And, we’ll teach you how to spot a "knockoff" rugged tablet, handheld or laptop and uncover if that “ultra-rugged” scanner someone is trying to sell you is really a scammer.

Transportation and Logistics,
Bob Ashenbrenner
Bob Ashenbrenner

Durable Mobility Technologies, LLC, under the direction of Bob Ashenbrenner, works with Zebra Technologies to develop future-proof mobility solutions for customers across multiple field service and industrial sectors. As an industry consultant, Durable Mobility Technologies, LLC, is focused on optimizing rugged tablet-based solutions for mobile workers of all kinds, including utility and public safety professionals. Ashenbrenner is particularly committed to helping customers identify mobile devices that survive a tough work day, run all the software and tools needed today, and will remain flexible and scalable to adapt to evolving technology applications as business needs dictate.

Ashenbrenner has more than 25 years of computer engineering and engineering management experience, with 18 of those specific to mobility and the field requirements that enable real work to happen. He was previously a Solutions Architect with Xplore Technologies and Motion Computing for 13 years. In that role, Ashenbrenner led the development of a suite of rugged mobile tablet computer, services and software, with an emphasis on supporting the whole mobile work environment.

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