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Chicago Rockford International Airport Simplifies Part 139 Compliance and Streamlines Operations

Modernizing asset management has given Chicago Rockford International Airport the data visibility to make informed decisions regarding repairs, replacements, and budget allocations.

Chicago Rockford International Airport (RFD) is a major transportation hub and crucial to the northern Illinois region’s air traffic. Spanning more than 3,000 acres, Rockford is home to a rapidly growing air cargo industry, including the second-largest UPS regional parcel-sorting center in the country.

Like many airports, Rockford is modernizing and expanding its infrastructure and facilities to meet demand. In recent years, more than $183 million has been invested in projects that will position Rockford for significant growth in both passenger and cargo services.

As a Part 139 certified airport, Rockford must carefully track and document the status of activities and assets, from runway and taxiway conditions, emergency response capabilities, and firefighting services to safety inspections and personnel training. As the airport’s asset inventory continues to expand, maintaining compliance with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) safety and operational standards has become increasingly complex.

In response, Rockford has taken bold steps to modernize its asset management practices by moving from paper to digital processes. Part of this transformation includes centralizing data to provide airport staff with the data visibility needed for informed decision-making, significant operational improvements and seamless FAA inspections.

Paper Documentation and Manual Processes Prolong Part 139 Inspections

For years, Rockford used paper documentation and manual processes to manage its assets and fulfill regulatory requirements. Maintaining compliance demands rigorous documentation, record-keeping, and efficient asset management. As the airport’s operations expanded, legacy processes caused bottlenecks in day-to-day workflows and made daily FAA Part 139 inspections more complicated than necessary. 

Rockford offices were full of handbooks, manuals, plans, and paperwork that were cumbersome to use, store, retrieve and update. The airport’s work order system consisted of paper forms and spreadsheets, requiring staff to spend hours each day matching records for consistency. Despite devoting resources to organizing the records, Rockford was unable to effectively track the information needed for Part 139 compliance.

“Pulling together the daily self-inspection records and documents and organizing them in a format that would give inspectors a clear understanding of the condition of our assets and operations on any given day was difficult,” said Chris Fisher, an operations specialist at RFD. On-site inspections spanned multiple days and providing documentation was a challenge. During the inspections, the FAA would dive into our documentation and request additional information, but quickly satisfying their requests was difficult when everything was captured on paper and in spreadsheets.”

Proving the Value of Digitizing Asset Management

As part of its commitment to safety and adherence to FAA regulations, Rockford prioritized the search for an asset lifecycle management solution to centralize data and bring efficiency to daily operations and inspections.

With digital asset management, Rockford could maintain meticulous records of assets, inspections, and maintenance activities, ensuring the necessary documentation could be quickly and easily provided during FAA inspections. The solution would also provide real-time visibility and a comprehensive view of airport assets for efficient monitoring, management, and maintenance to minimize operational disruptions and ensure FAA Part 139 compliance.

“Digital workflows are enormously beneficial for improving an airport’s safety operations and compliance.” 

—Tim Pearson, Tim Pearson Consulting

Rockford selected an asset management system provided by the technology firm Trimble to digitize the airport’s inspection workflows. To implement the new system, Rockford engaged award-winning consulting firm CMT, who has served since 1978 as the airport's planning and design provider. Of particular value for Rockford’s implementation project was the fact that CMT has special expertise in the full lifecycle of airport infrastructure, from planning, design, and construction to asset management—capabilities that align with the airport's strategic goals and certification objectives. 

“We have developed a strong relationship with Rockford over the years,” said Jim Box, MCSE, Asset Management System Specialist at CMT. “So, we welcomed the opportunity to help the airport modernize its processes and earn Part 139 certification.”

With support from airport infrastructure expert Tim Pearson of Tim Pearson Consulting, CMT configured the Trimble Cityworks asset management system for Rockford in just three months and was instrumental in ensuring that the digital workflows facilitated Part 139 compliance. After just one round of FAA review and within three months of implementation, the FAA approved Rockford’s transition to the digital solution for Part 139 compliance. 

“The smooth deployment of Rockford’s new system, coupled with the rapid FAA approval, demonstrates that with the right solution and business partners, digital transformation can be efficient and seamless,” said Pearson. “Digital workflows are enormously beneficial for improving an airport’s safety operations and compliance.” 

“Based on our years of experience serving commercial service airports,” said Box, “we were able to understand Rockford’s workflows and processes, provide insights and recommendations, and tailor Rockford’s asset management environment to fit the airport’s needs,  both now and in the future. This holistic approach was extremely helpful in facilitating successful outcomes.”

Today, Rockford digitally tracks service requests, work orders, and safety inspections, and has replaced paper and clipboards with mobile data collection in the field. This data entry significantly reduces the potential for errors and saves valuable time and resources by eliminating redundant tasks. 

“Before implementing digital asset management, we tracked everything with a clipboard and paper, which was not only time-consuming and error-prone, but was also difficult to access and prolonged the FAA inspection process,” said RFD’s Fisher. “Using the historical data captured in Trimble Cityworks, we can look back in time and quickly determine the condition of the airfield on any day during the previous year. The FAA report gives us everything we need to answer difficult questions and provide documentation the FAA requests, at the click of a button.”

Automating Daily Inspection Reports

With geospatial capabilities at its foundation, Rockford’s asset management solution serves as the system of record for all asset-related data. Airport operations team members can easily locate, prioritize, and track work orders and maintenance activities. Each inspection and repair is automatically associated with the asset in the GIS database, and team members can collect information, upload pictures, and report observations on a mobile device, seamlessly connecting workflows between the field and the office.

“We have completely modernized our record-keeping process and streamlined how we satisfy regulatory requirements.” 

- Chris Fisher, Operations Specialist, RFD

The information needed to document regulatory compliance is automatically captured and organized, allowing Rockford to generate accurate and comprehensive reports with a few clicks. Additionally, the solution automatically generates an FAA-certified Part 139 self-inspection report at the end of each day capturing the status of compliance with requirements related to airport conditions, security, wildlife management, lighting, fueling operations, and preventive maintenance, as well as Rockford’s Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) documentation.

Airport officials estimate that the move to digital asset management has reduced Rockford’s reporting time by 30 minutes (0.5 labor hours) per report each day, which equates to more than 545 labor hours in annual time savings on daily inspections alone. 

Easy Access to Data for Seamless FAA On-Site Inspections

Now, annual FAA on-site inspections are much more streamlined. “Inspections used to require months of planning and multiple days of hosting inspectors on-site,” said Fisher. “We have completely modernized our record-keeping process and streamlined how we satisfy regulatory requirements. With daily reports and analysis instantly accessible, we can share the reports with the FAA weeks before the scheduled inspection. It’s given us the peace of mind that we're ready for inspection any time of the year. The FAA can drop in and ask for anything, and we can provide it.”

Digital workflows have also streamlined employee communication across departments by providing a single source of truth for tracking and sharing asset data. 

“When we create a work order, the assigned maintenance technician is alerted, and when the work is complete and the asset is ready for re-inspection, the solution automatically sends a notification, and we close the case without a single phone call,” said Fisher. 

Digital Transformation Is Essential for Future Growth

Modernizing asset management has given Rockford the data visibility to make informed decisions regarding repairs, replacements, and budget allocations. 

“If, for example, we notice that paint marking remedies took longer than expected, we can look more closely at the work order rather than assuming more resources are needed to get the work done,” said Fisher. “If we see the work order was issued in the fall, it was likely too cold to paint, which explains why it took six months to complete. Without this information, we may have unnecessarily allocated more resources to resolve the issue. It may sound simple, but the ability to determine if and why an issue exists is an extra tool in our pocket when we consider adding or reallocating staff.”

This year, the FAA ranked Rockford as the 13th largest cargo airport in the U.S. for landed weight, making 2023 the fourth consecutive year the airport’s ranking has increased. As Rockford continues to grow, the ability to digitally manage its assets will be essential for operating efficiently, satisfying compliance requirements, and ensuring safe, reliable commercial air travel. 

Moving from paper and spreadsheets to digitize asset management can help airports prepare for future growth by breaking down data silos and communication gaps to streamline workflows, simplify processes and unlock new levels of efficiency. 

By Jon Green, Director of Airport Solutions for Trimble's Owner & Public Sector

This article originally appeared in AviationPros (February 8, 2024). Republished here with permission.

Images provided by Chicago Rockford International Airport.