ETLs in BizAv: Overcoming the Challenges

Electronic technical logbooks (ETLs) have gradually made their way into Business Aviation, streamlining operations and improving safety. But what’s stopping wider adoption? Mario Pierobon asks the experts...

Mario Pierobon  |  11th May 2022
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    Mario Pierobon
    Mario Pierobon

    Mario Pierobon holds a Master’s Degree in Air Transportation Management from City University London,...

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    Could an Electronic Technical Logbook enhance your flight department?

    According to John Stone, Vice President of Product Management at Ultramain Systems, only a few years ago the operation of an Electronic Technical Logbook required the use of built-in flightdeck hardware – hardware that was nowhere near as reliable as it needed to be.

    “Considering the disadvantages, the hardware was expensive to install and maintain, and, frankly, it was not all that reliable”, Stone recalls. Further adding to the challenges, “before Part 121 and 135 operators can replace traditional paper logs with paperless operations, aviation regulatory authorities must allow it, through the issuance of an operational approval.”

    Generally, system changes – and especially those directly impacting aircraft operations in the cockpit – are difficult to implement, meaning they can take a long time to be adopted, get approval, and be rolled out with adequate training.

    According to Hayley Russell, Marketing Manager at Conduce Mobile Aviation Solutions, “A few brave airlines took on the challenge as early adopters. But very few others followed suit, because the hardware was inadequate, mobile comms were too slow, and touch software was initially limited to iOS devices, which were still in their early stages of development.”

    Other Reasons for Slow Adoption

    ETLs are complicated and require several years of development before they even come to the market. Providers must therefore balance providing a tried and tested product with taking advantage of the latest technology. According to Russell, Conduce has rewritten all underlying code for eTechLog8 in the last two years.

    Other than technology, however, what other reasons could there be preventing wider adoption of ETLs in aviation?

    One relates to complexity of the teams needing to work together for ETL implementation, which some may find is off-putting. Russell acknowledges that many key stakeholders are involved in any ETL project, but adds, “We believe that ETL implementation should be driven by the maintenance team, with clear buy-in from flight operations.

    “Implementing an ETL solution is a complex task that shouldn’t be underestimated, and it requires a strong team leading the project, supported by senior management,” she adds. “But we always advise keeping it simple initially – just replacing the paper logbook with an aircraft-specific electronic device.

    “Once that’s approved and rolled out, it’s possible to begin working on all the great ideas people develop during the project.”

    Authority approval has also impacted the overall ETL adoption rate, according to Russell. “ETL approval is not just for a provider or a country, it must be achieved by each individual operator, which need to demonstrate they have the procedures and training in place to use the ETL compliantly.”

    Electronic signature mechanisms often play a large part in the authority approval process, notes Russell, and there’s no straightforward guidance issued at present.

    According to Russell, different providers have reacted to this challenge in different ways. “For example, Conduce uses a patented ‘Sign-on-Glass’ method which preserves all the attributes that make a pen and paper signature legal.”

    Mona Stuenckel, Senior Director of Digital Solutions, Automation & Technology in the Digital Fleet Services business segment at Lufthansa Technik, believes that unclear requirements towards the digital signatures leave too much room for interpretation, and can actually prevent operators from implementing ETLs.

    The operator itself is responsible for ETL implementation, though the logbook providers of course support them with their know-how and experience”, she adds.

    Changes and Implementation

    When ETL was new, it’s fair to say the industry kept on the side of caution – though developments have removed at least a part of the reason today.

    “Today, the hardware allowing use of Ultramain’s ELB are smartphones and tablets,” Stone highlights. “They are mobile- and touchscreen-friendly devices that are reliable and cost-effective.

    “In today’s world of regulatory acceptance of paperless ETLs, going paperless is viewed as necessary to remain competitive in the industry,” he argues.

    ETL implementation is ultimately a collaborative effort between the operator and the ETL provider’s project team.

    “The customer’s responsibility is to ensure that the correct resources are available to answer questions, while our team sets up and configures the system,” Stone explains. “For smaller organizations, Ultramain ELB can be setup out of the box, requiring minimal configuration. This includes setting up users, aircraft, and other data that’s unique to the operator.

    “Larger, or more sophisticated operators often request more sophisticated workflows to be configured, which is supported by our systems.”

    The adaption of processes, as well as achieving an approval by the respective aviation authority, are parts of ETL implementation, according to Stuenckel. “During the implementation of the AVIATAR Logbook we enable a lot of customization of the logbook to adapt it to individual processes, thus facilitating the authority approval process”, she says.

    “With an increasing number of ETL solutions achieving authority approvals across several aviation authorities worldwide, we expect to see a wider adoption of ETLs in the years to come,” she predicts.

    Learn more about Electronic Technical Logbooks - the Benefits on AvBuyer.

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