Founded in 2001, Pathfinder Aviation is certified as an FAA Part 133, 135, 137 Air Carrier and Part 145 Repair Station that serves the oil and gas, utility, fire and recreational sectors throughout Alaska.
The company fleet includes Bell 206/407/212, Airbus Eurocopters AS 350 B2 and B3 and an Airbus EC135 (now Airbus Helicopters H135) twin-engine civil light utility helicopter. With a team of 37 pilots, each helicopter averages around 300 – 500 flight hours per year. The company operates from four main bases: Anchorage at Merrell Field (headquarters), Homer, Nome, and Deadhorse, Alaska.
It takes considerable focus and a dedicated team to ensure all aircraft at all locations remain airworthy and ready to support planned and emergency actions for customers. That dedicated concentration is best demonstrated in the company’s Maintenance Department, a talented group charged with aircraft maintenance, inspection, inventory and compliance.
To support its mission objectives, the department transitioned to a fully integrated flight department management solution several years ago — a shift that has improved efficiencies, streamlined workflows and provided a foundation for enhanced fleet management.
Prior to adopting Flightdocs Enterprise in 2016, the Pathfinder Aviation Maintenance Department had some experience with ad hoc document management solutions for maintenance and inventory tracking — though nothing that provided the team the right data at the right time.
Jacob Smith, Director of Maintenance at Pathfinder Aviation, explains, “The applications we put in place before Flightdocs were largely task-specific. We still had to document a lot of the maintenance, inspection and status times manually — and then input them into the system. Therefore aircraft status data was not available in real time.”
“It was also very time consuming to add another aircraft to the fleet,” adds Jesse Kirby, Shop Foreman at Pathfinder Aviation’s Merrill Field base. “We had to comb through all the hard cards and all the previous inspections and put them in one at a time.”
With that in mind, one of the fundamental features that the Pathfinder Aviation team required in a maintenance, inventory and compliance solution was easy input, access to and search functionality of maintenance and inspection data at all facilities and by various departments.
“Helicopters maintenance and inspection requirements are more complex than fixed winged aircraft,” explains Smith. “Components are changed out more frequently and all rotating components life cycles must be tracked. Flightdocs manages all that and performs the calculations so that we have real-time, readily available current information.”
For Pathfinder Aviation mechanics, current data is invaluable. Kirby confirms, “A technician located at a remote site like Nome is now able to track what’s coming due and address those inspections or component changes and even pre-plan some of that maintenance depending on the flight plan for a given timeframe and for a specific aircraft. That takes a big load off of the Director of Maintenance.”
One of the most favored features of Flightdocs is the automatic management of work orders including planning and execution, record maintenance, inventory, and workforce information.
Smith says, “With Flightdocs, we can take all of the upcoming maintenance and add it to a work order. From there, we can build parts lists for each inspection and easily request or purchase the parts needed to complete the work.”
Dave Petrie, Chief Inspector at Pathfinder Aviation, adds, “With the customized Work Order feature, we are much more organized and efficient. Tracking work order status is very easy and we know where we’re at with inspections.”
The estimated time savings is considerable. Smith says, “We’ve reduced the time to build a work package by an estimated 50%.”
More importantly says, Petrie, “Flightdocs sorts and packages all signed-off tasks and discrepancies that are attached to the work order package. I can then focus on closing the work order and releasing the aircraft for operational check flights.”
Besides improved work order management, the Pathfinder Aviation team appreciates the Due List functionality. With one click, mechanics can pull up daily task lists with due dates and time remaining for completion. Part numbers are readily available as well.
Petrie adds, “We use the feature to forecast maintenance, filter the time limits and calendar limits over time. With Flightdocs, we can sort the due list by time (e.g. month or year) or by hours to forecast for future maintenance.”
One of the biggest challenges in maintenance tracking for remote helicopter operations is keeping up-to-date with inspections and airworthiness directives on the many components.
Smith explains, “Helicopters have a lot of components — and therefore a lot of maintenance. Not only do we have the airframe maintenance program, we have the engine maintenance program and then mission-focused components. Every specialty item has its own instructions for continued airworthiness. Flightdocs allows us to create additional inspections as needed and remove inspections when the equipment’s not installed.”
Alerts in the system also provide Smith and his team with time left before the next inspection.
“All the computations are automatically done when we enter that total time of the aircraft,” says Smith. “That readily available real time data also ensures that all aircraft are dispatched with confidence and that we’ve allotted sufficient time for maintenance tasks.”
Another benefit of Flightdocs is the ability to separate all Instructions for Continued Airworthiness (ICA) inspections on each aircraft.
Efficient Parts and Requisitions Management
Effectively managing inventory and purchasing is a vital part of Pathfinder’s success that has always had challenges. With the implementation of Flightdocs, the operation has seen major benefits in process efficiencies and visibility into exactly what is happening with stock levels, purchases and shipments.
Shop Foreman Kirby explains, “We have a diverse fleet at Pathfinder between Bell products and Airbus products. Each aircraft is not only different in the make and model, but also vary in optional equipment such as emergency pop-up floats or sling loads that they can support. As optional equipment gets installed and removed from the aircraft, it’s nice to have a system that can document those changes as they occur.”
The mobile application capabilities have been a game changer for Kaitlin Hammond who is a Logistician for Pathfinder. “We have multiple bases and a lot of moving parts. If there is an AOG situation, even if I am not in the hanger, I can easily see where a part is located or the status of an order. That has been extremely helpful in keeping our aircraft off the ground.”
The powerful capabilities of Flightdocs has truly optimized the Pathfinder operation and their unique business needs. “We now have the ability to adapt well to a rapidly changing environment that requires us to act quickly and respond quickly. With tools like these, we have the data, the reliability and visibility to make decisions and go”, concludes Jacob.
Looking back, Smith says, he’s very pleased with the way Flightdocs has meshed with his organization. He concludes, “Flightdocs has provided us with a modern, easy-to-use platform for maintenance and inventory management. It’s done very well for us thus far and we continue to find new ways to drive efficiency and ensure safety of our aircraft.”
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