Flexibility and efficiency are key to customer satisfaction within the aviation industry. Lufthansa Technik aimed to improve its operation and passenger experience with a hybrid cloud infrastructure and utilised a Red Hat solution to make this possible.
Lufthansa Technik, the world’s largest independent provider of airline maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) services, sought to create a digital platform for the aviation industry, AVIATAR. To support its development and operation, the company created a hybrid cloud infrastructure based on enterprise open source software from Red Hat. The AVIATAR team can now use agile DevOps approaches, automation, internal and third-party integration, and self-service capabilities to quickly iterate based on data and feedback. As a result, Lufthansa Technik provides an innovative digital platform that helps the world’s airlines optimise their operations.
Improving airline technical operations
Expectations in the airline industry are incredibly high, making delays and cancellations costly. Predictive analytics is key to avoiding service interruptions by helping airlines use data to better organise and schedule maintenance events. To create a solution to these industry challenges, the company’s application development and UX teams began a collaborative project with data scientists, airplane engineers and other experts. The solution, AVIATAR, would support digital products for material planners, engineers and other end-users in development and operations – helping them better predict events and as a result, save time and money. To create and support AVIATAR, the Lufthansa Technik team needed a flexible, scalable environment that could run multiple applications using a shared repository of industry data, such as aircraft sensor data, as well as operational data, such as flight plans and delay information. The team also sought to gradually move from on-premise to cloud infrastructure.
“Keeping our customers’ data stored separately from the Lufthansa infrastructure is key to remaining open and neutral,” said Tobias Mohr, Head of Technology and Infrastructure for AVIATAR at Lufthansa Technik. The team also decided to shift to an agile, DevOps work approach. “We wanted to deliver new features several times a day, generating feedback very quickly,” said Mohr.
Building a cloud platform with open source
Lufthansa Technik sought to use open source technology and shift to a hybrid cloud approach to support the creation and operation of AVIATAR. “There are lots of similarities between the open approach of AVIATAR and the open source model. We want to be the open market player, not the proprietary one. We want to help the industry. That goal is very similar to what the open source movement wants to achieve,” said Johannes Hansen, Senior Director of Application Development/UX for AVIATAR at Lufthansa Technik.
The team decided to deploy enterprise open source software from Red Hat, including:
- Red Hat Enterprise Linux to create a robust, enterprise-grade Linux and container technology foundation
- Red Hat OpenShift Container Platform, running on Microsoft Azure, to support the team’s DevOps and continuous improvement approaches, as well as build, deploy, run and integrate new infrastructure components
- Red Hat Gluster Storage to provide flexible, scalable, cluster-based storage for OpenShift Container Platform
- Red Hat JBoss Enterprise Application Platform – running in a Linux virtual machine (VM) and OpenShift – to provide a back end for AVIATAR JavaTM and Java Enterprise Edition (Java EE) applications
- Red Hat JBoss Data Grid, to quickly store and retrieve in-memory data – as well as perform simultaneous computation and querying – for key predictive analytics capabilities
- Red Hat JBoss Fuse to integrate internal and third-party data storage sources
- Red Hat 3scale API Management to offer protected self-service application program interface (API) management capabilities to developers
- Red Hat Ansible Tower to create and run reusable infrastructure code and automate provisioning tasks for Azure, Gluster and other infrastructure components
The AVIATAR team collaborated with Microsoft and Red Hat to create its new hybrid cloud environment. The initial version of the platform was launched in just 100 days. It now runs a growing number of applications and predictive algorithms, helping airlines prevent disruptions to their operations.
Speeding application development and delivery
For Lufthansa Technik’s DevOps teams, one of the key benefits of adopting a new hybrid cloud infrastructure built with Red Hat software is the ease of collaboration on new AVIATAR features and applications, using capabilities from automation to self-service provisioning.
Red Hat Ansible Tower lets DevOps team members provision environments and resources automatically using reusable code and infrastructure components – without extensive infrastructure process expertise. For example, data scientists can now flexibly spin up massive compute clusters as needed. This efficiency helps the AVIATAR DevOps teams rapidly create test environments to gain feedback.
“If we had infrastructure that was set up manually and wanted to change something, we had to wait for the person who implemented it. Instead, we have infrastructure as code, reproducible at any time. Infrastructure teams can just launch Ansible Playbooks for configuration and focus on work that’s really important or interesting,” said Thorsten Pohl, Architect and Product Owner for AVIATAR. “Ansible automates everything from setting up Azure VMs and services to installing OpenShift clusters, Gluster storage, or third-party services.”
Improved flexibility and integration
By using enterprise open source software from Red Hat, the AVIATAR team has not only improved internal collaboration, but also collaboration with industry organisations, open source technology communities and other external parties. “The aviation industry is rather proprietary. AVIATAR offers an open and neutral technology platform that invites other industry players to bring in their ideas,” said Mohr. “Behind open source technology there’s always a big community evolving the product very fast compared to proprietary technology.”
Red Hat products help AVIATAR gain the flexibility to integrate with partners or customers, regardless of their technology. Using open standards and flexible solutions – such as JBoss Fuse, 3scale API gateways and Red Hat single sign-on (SSO) – makes providing applications on the AVIATAR platform easy and reliable. Customers and partners can use and offer their preferred solutions and tools while maintaining a uniform user experience. 3scale API Management controls access to the company’s APIs to support safer integration and collaboration with external developers. By deploying apps in containers and using container-native solutions, Lufthansa Technik can offer AVIATAR’s capabilities in any environment.
“We can collaborate with third-party developers who are very specialised in other areas of aviation -for example, operations, fuel efficiency, or catering,” said Hansen. “Customers can choose between different solutions running on AVIATAR and if they have favourite providers, work with them to easily integrate and run on AVIATAR.”
Anticipated financial savings
With its Red Hat infrastructure supporting AVIATAR, Lufthansa Technik anticipates significant reductions in MRO costs for participating airlines – equating to millions of euros per airline.
“With tight schedules and high passenger expectations, the costs directly related to delayed flights are growing quickly for the average airline,” said Hansen. “We are taking out a huge chunk of those costs with AVIATAR.”
Finding new ways to innovate
Lufthansa Technik plans to continue improving AVIATAR by automating technical processes and expanding the solution’s use cases, helping airlines continue to gain insight from digital data analysis.
“We have a large use case pipeline based on decades of engineering experience. We’re going to deploy lots of new applications solving different needs on top of AVIATAR,” said Hansen. “The list grows longer every day, because we’re talking to and co-creating with our customers. We’re incorporating a lot of user feedback.”
Using its new agile, flexible, hybrid cloud infrastructure, the company can focus on work that supports its core goal: improving the experience of airline passengers. “What keeps us motivated when working on AVIATAR is that passengers get home on time and can spend more time with their families,” said Hansen. “We’re really improving the passenger experience and that’s something to be proud of.”
Intelligent CIO Europe caught up with Johannes Hansen, Senior Director Application Development and User Experience, to find out more about the solution:
How has the company been able to keep up with technological innovation since the implementation?
In our space, we must constantly innovate as there is strong competition in the marketplace for predictive solutions in aviation – that’s why we constantly introduce new pieces of technology. We encourage our autonomous teams to adopt new technologies but have a mechanism in place to avoid them to just play around. We live by the mantra ‘You build it, you run it’, which basically means each team is responsible for operating services that it built.
How has the automation of the solution allowed you to work more efficiently?
Developers are happier than ever – with OpenShift and Ansible, they are significantly more productive as they never have to wait for provisioning of infrastructure. You have to see it like is: we are coming from an on-premise world where you have to order servers or databases weeks in advance with a paper form. We notice the change daily. Teams carry out more development which is their primary focus and spend less time with preparation. Thus, developer productivity increases considerably.
How important is having a flexible solution operating within your system?
As we built a unique tailor-made predictive maintenance solution with automation built in, flexibility was key from the very beginning. We didn’t want to rely on standard software from a large vendor as our strengths in operating aircraft and automating the highly regulated processes in our industry would have become marginalised. Flexibility is still very important to this day as we want to remain agile and be able to react quickly to changing trends in the market.
What benefits does the new solution provide end-users with?
AVIATAR combines industry-leading predictive maintenance algorithms with capabilities to automate the processes if a failure is predicted. Our approach gives credit to the fact that prediction without the corresponding fulfilment is worthless to an operator of high-value equipment like an airline. While doing all of that we focus a lot on the user experience as this is classically underserved in B2B software.