Virgin Atlantic Airways uses RFID to track assets

April 10, 2006
U.K.-based Virgin Atlantic Airways has begun a pilot project to use radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to track critical, high value aviation

U.K.-based Virgin Atlantic Airways has begun a pilot project to use radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to track critical, high value aviation assets moving through its logistics supply chain at Heathrow International Airport.

Virgin Atlantic is deploying Symbol Technologies’ MC9000-G RFID handheld mobile computers with RFID readers and a Symbol wireless LAN (WLAN) infrastructure, including a WS2000 wireless switch and AP300 access ports. The aim of the pilot is to track and trace high value repairable aircraft parts, often at short notice.

The installation is based at Virgin Atlantic’s logistics facilities at Heathrow Airport, with additional facilities at Gatwick Airport. Heathrow is the central distribution hub for the Virgin Atlantic logistics network. Three AP300 access ports with external antennas support onsite data exchange at each location and the MC9000-G mobile computer enables precise real-time scanning and data entry, providing Virgin Atlantic’s staff with inventory control and instant visibility into its supply chain. The MC9000-G mobile computer is an RFID mobile reader, and supports Microsoft Windows Mobile operating system, for both RFID and bar code applications.

The project, called TRIM (Tracked by Radio Identification Method), utilizes RFID tagging and was deployed at Virgin Atlantic with the specific aim of tracking serialized aircraft parts and tools at its main supply facilities and throughout its supply chain. Airplane parts are given a full inspection upon entry to the warehouse and logged into the inventory system computer, before being associated with an RFID tag.

Technology from Oracle Corp. is also integral to the TRIM project. Oracle’s Fusion Middleware and Database 10g and other RFID-enabled applications, capture and manage Virgin Atlantic’s supply data via the MC9000-G RFID mobile computer. Additionally Tata Consultancy Services Ltd. provided consulting and system integration expertise, while PEAK Technologies was responsible for the implementation of the Symbol equipment, which included hardware commissioning, installation of the Symbol wireless network and MC9000-G mobile computers, and the associated installation project management for the hardware.

“In such a competitive market there is a constant need to find efficiencies, control costs and expand business. As Britain’s second largest carrier, Virgin Atlantic is keen to investigate the efficiency of the RFID-enabled warehouse,” says Graham Holford, senior systems analyst, Virgin Atlantic. RFID technology was seen as a way to improve efficiency by tracking and tracing items instantly and in real-time, he notes.

Virgin Atlantic will use RFID technology to improve its ability to comply with anticipated guidelines from EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) concerning traceability and the authenticity of aircraft components. Virgin Atlantic will also be able to integrate with the RFID specifications proposed by Boeing and Airbus for use within the aircraft supply chain.

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