When Australia’s Army Aviation enhanced its aircraft capacity, it needed a maintenance support program to match. With cost and time pressures immense, KPMG stepped in to help implement a solution.
Australia’s Army Aviation maintenance has evolved to be a finely balanced system linked to operational capability. However, when a suite of new aircraft and operating platforms were introduced, the demands on the maintenance workforce escalated. Due to cost pressures and combat operational constraints, Defence was unable to increase the size of its aircraft maintenance workforce.
Their challenge was: how can we meet increased maintenance requirements without increasing the workforce? The only answer was to find ways to work smarter. Army middle management tried to find solutions, but kept returning to the answer of requiring more people.
In September 2011, KPMG was engaged to conduct Plan Pelican to help implement a different solution. This high profile project has ramifications for aviation across the Australian Army and Navy, as well as the acquisition and sustainment elements of the Capability and Acquisition Support Group (CASG). The project not only impacts the bottom line; but the service men and women in active deployments.
A data driven approach
The first step for KPMG was to gather data and other relevant information on the aircraft, maintenance, procedures, engineering, logistics systems and more. This would serve as a baseline of evidence to benchmark against. To achieve this, our specialist team from Management Consulting visited aviation maintenance sites across the country and consulted with 20 agencies, including officers, pilots, maintainers and industry.
To ensure every solution proposed reflected the true needs of the people they would impact, the team conducted a U-Collaborate event (UCe), which brought together stakeholders across the aviation community.
Through this process, our professionals were able to identify challenges for six work streams and 26 projects. Each of those projects identified benefits which were either to increase workforce efficiency, increase helicopter availability or reduce workforce costs.
The deep experience of KPMG professionals, including our Defence experts, were drawn upon to work on solutions. The team also worked with industry alliance partners to gain a thorough understanding of aerospace systems and the engineering environment. They harnessed expert advice in logistics and supply chain support, as well as specialised operational skill sets.
Plan of action
Over a 2-year period, KPMG and Army Aviation consolidated the outcome of those programs, and put in place systems which allowed Army Aviation to overcome its maintenance challenge. A program was implemented to monitor the projects, and to track whether it had made the intended impact.
A governance board consisting of senior aviation community leaders in Army and CASG successfully supported the program through this process.
Our client was listened to – it wasn’t just KPMG’s answer.”
In response to a range of air safety investigations, Army Aviation had added more layers of supervision and controls. The organisation had become more risk averse and had put in multiple systems of checks and balances that would only allow people to do very specific tasks.
For example, a maintenance staff member could repair a radio on one helicopter, but unless they had completed all specific training courses for another aircraft, they weren’t able to repair the exact same radio on the other aircraft.
KPMG helped to remove unnecessary layers of governance, creating continuous improvement engineering and logistics systems, as well as allowing experienced trades people to operate on more than one platform, while still making sure that safety wasn’t compromised.
Often the military needs technical assistance, advice or approval from an aircraft manufacturer, however the responses were taking too long to come back for the pace of the Army’s requirements. The KPMG team found ways to accelerate this process, as well as increasing the reliability of aircraft systems.
A collaborative culture
Army Aviation had developed a flying program that allowed pilots to configure helicopters to specific roles. They were inputting lots of last minute changes, which led to the maintenance workforce spending more time reconfiguring helicopters instead of repairing them.
An integrated system between the operational flying program and the maintenance workforce allowed for greater efficiency and provided more time for aircraft maintenance.
Though the team were upfront that the solutions required a transformational shift, the military community underestimated the level of change required throughout the entire defence ecosystem.
There needs to be a common understanding about the issues they are trying to solve, and communication has to flow through to the person who is fixing or flying the helicopter.
If they don’t understand how it affects them or how their actions are contributing to the problem then it is hard to achieve sustainable change.
To resolve this, the team created a coordinating group, with representatives from military leadership, the aviation industry, pilots, maintenance and the engineering sector, to ensure communication and understanding was always strong.
Plan Pelican was a multi-year engagement that required the approval and appropriation of funds from Army Headquarters.
KPMG’s data driven approach led to a clearly structured plan that detailed the required investments needed to achieve change. It provided the client with the confidence to make decisions.
KPMG continues to provide support to Army Aviation, including decision support modelling, ongoing platform performance feedback and additional improvements.
Our team is also providing support to capability and acquisition programs, and collaborating with suppliers to improve contracts, increase availability of helicopters and reduce costs.
The techniques and modelling used for Plan Pelican can be replicated across a broad spectrum of applications – including a new Defence engagement – Plan Centaur – which involves land-based armoured vehicles.