Mission-Critical Airline Communication System Implementation Based on VoIP and RoIP

Case Study: Delivery Leadership

SITUATION AND BUSINESS CHALLENGE

Following a recent acquisition, a major U.S. airline was operating a legacy mission-critical central communications system that was stable but in need of an upgrade. The system allowed dispatchers, maintenance control and operations workers to communicate with airborne planes and was so critical that if communication were to be lost with a plane for more than 10 minutes, all flights in the air would potentially need to be grounded.

The hardware components of the system, Avtec DSPatch, had been deployed more than 20 years prior. DSPatch and another legacy Avtec solution were being used at the airline’s central System Operation Control (SOC), an owned-subsidiary airline’s SOC, several operations centers at regional airports, and two disaster-recovery (DR) centers.

The system’s aging status presented significant challenges to the airline:

  • DSPatch was no longer manufactured or supported by Avtec, and replacement parts had to be sourced from other airlines or online marketplaces.
  • The system operated on top of a legacy private brand exchange (PBX), also more than 20 years old and no longer supported.

Needing to establish more reliability and redundancy in the system, the airline began to set specifications in place to consolidate all of its SOCs, main airport hubs, and disaster recovery centers, as well as the communications center of a newly acquired airline, into a single technology solution. The ideal replacement system would support standard industry servers and PCs, eliminate OEM hardware dependencies, and implement a Voice over IP (VoIP) and Radio over IP (RoIP) based communication systems.

Recognizing that replacing entire mission-critical systems would require extreme caution in design, planning, and execution, the airline assessed their needs and replacement solution for nearly two years. The airline started a contract with a VOIP consulting firm but canceled it after running into unsatisfactory performance issues. In need of technology leadership with broad technology and business experience as well as communications systems and VOIP implementation experience, the airline turned to AIM Consulting.

SOLUTION

A senior Technical Program Manager from AIM Consulting’s Delivery Leadership practice was engaged to lead the effort to define, design, manage, and implement a new communications system in the airline’s main SOC. The airline selected Avtec Scout, a software-based VOIP console, and Cisco Unified Communication Manager (CUCM), an IP-based communications system integrating voice, video, data, and mobility products and applications that would serve as the backbone for all of the airline’s communication operations. AIM managed requirements gathering, design, planning, scheduling, testing and implementation of the new communications system, and served as the subject-matter expert and leader for VOIP design and implementation.

In just three weeks, AIM helped the procurement team determine the necessary system components, derive a budget and create a solid business case, which was approved by the airline’s board. As the project began, AIM helped to facilitate and review the new Scout technology architecture and ensure how redundancies would be implemented in the system. AIM regularly communicated project status to business owners including the SOC Managing Director and Emergency Response and Business Continuity (ERBC) team, responsible for disaster recovery (DR) scenarios where communications would automatically route to a backup center if a primary SOC should go offline for any reason.

As the Scout project gained momentum, AIM began work on the CUCM implementation. Working with airline contract VOIP engineers, the technical program manager defined the business requirements, configuration requirements, and design requirements to support high availability, redundancy and resiliency. The technical program manager worked with numerous business leaders to determine their call-routing needs, wrote business rules and configuration requirements, and then worked with the engineers to ensure the requirements were configured into the system.

AIM led both projects concurrently, building and testing the servers, clients and user interfaces in multiple stages for different sites including the airline’s main SOC and two DR locations. With the VOIP platform in place, Scout was released to successive sites in go-live phases with 72-hour continuous support, with no missed calls and no impact to operations. Roll-back capability was in place but was never needed.

Following the successful implementation of the technology at the airline’s primary SOC, the acquired airline’s and sister airline’s SOCs were upgraded to Scout. More than 400 workers at the three SOCs now operate Scout, which runs seamlessly on CUCM to deliver radio, telephone and intercom communications on the ground and with airborne planes.

RESULTS

AIM guided two simultaneous communication system projects seamlessly, supplanting legacy solutions with VOIP technology—new for mission-critical operations for the airline—with no impact to critical operations personnel, airline pilots and flight attendants, and personnel at airports on the west coast.

The airline now enjoys enormously reduced risk and support costs with the alignment to modern and reliable industry-leading solutions. With a flexible, redundant and highly available communications system in place across its SOCs, the airline plans to expand the system to its regional operations centers across the United States.