Most pilots agree on the iPad’s importance - but from the aircraft maintenance side, the challenges of going totally paperless are still a work-in-progress, notes JSSI’s Donald Ridge. Here’s why…
Similar to paperless cockpits, a paperless hangar needs to involve a well-considered process—one that takes the many aspects of aircraft maintenance into account. The paperless hangar can incorporate many forms and depending on the operation, it may require a hybrid of paper and paperless options.
Maintenance Manuals, Task Cards for Inspections, Discrepancy Tracking/Resolutions, and Aircraft Logbooks all need to be considered, at a minimum when a flight department starts such a transition.
The easiest items to transition to paperless in the hangar are the Maintenance Manuals. Most OEMs offer their manuals in an online or CD-ROM based format. They started out as pdf versions of the printed manuals, but most today provide a degree of search and hyperlink functionality.
The benefit of having the manuals online is that they are easily accessed, and there are no manual revisions to worry about as the online versions are always the most current. Typically, these digital manuals are easier to navigate, and most are compatible with today’s tablets.
One drawback to internet-based manuals is that you must be connected for access. If you’re parked on the ramp in a remote area, this is not guaranteed.
How and where you operate your aircraft must be taken into account when considering the format of your maintenance manuals.
Many technicians like to have the paper copy of the manual to hand, and this is fine as long as the printed copy is clearly marked as to its revision status. The paper copy should be promptly discarded after use to ensure you do not reference outdated information in the future.
Most, but not all, aircraft manufacturers have developed Task Cards for accomplishing the various inspections on the aircraft. These cards are generally grouped into a larger inspection package. Turning this function into a paperless process can be harder than it looks on the surface.
While it is easy enough to read these cards on a laptop or tablet, most contain steps that must be either signed-off electronically or have a value of some sort recorded on them. You will need to have in place a system for handling these cards and, depending on your operation, the system must be approved by the FAA or other local regulatory agency.
There are various articles that can provide guidance on this subject, such as FAA AC 120-78, Transport Canada Advisory 571-006, and EU Directive 1999/93/EC.
I believe that most logbooks will always be paper bound. The best idea for your logbooks is creating an electronic copy. This will prove to be very valuable when soliciting bids for a major maintenance event and when you take the airplane to a service center, as you can just send the electronic versions to relevant parties for a quick review.
There are a multitude of different forms and tags that go along with the log entries that are sometimes stored separately from the actual logbooks, and these forms are at the most risk for getting misplaced. A very good practice is making sure that an electronic back-up copy is made and stored in a secure area so that if the unthinkable happens and the paper copies are lost, the electronic versions can be printed for proper rebuilding of the records.
Maintenance Tracking is typically done by one of several companies depending on the make of the aircraft. CAMP, Flight Docs, and Gulfstream’s CMP are a few of the largest and most robust offerings available. There are several other companies that provide tracking that may not be as robust but offer a lower price with the right amount of paperless offerings for many.
The tracking software can also be as simple as an Excel spreadsheet, developed just for your particular operation. Whatever route you take, you need to look at how your operation and the maintenance of the aircraft will be best served by the software offerings, and whether or not you can take advantage of all it offers.
Most of the companies in this segment do a very good job at tracking the multitude of items that need to be organized and monitored in order to maintain an airworthy aircraft. Some systems will also provide paperless ways to create task cards, log entries and even electronic log books. Other systems even offer a work order module for tracking work in progress for inspections and discrepancies found through the normal course of operation.
Managing aircraft maintenance digitally will make operations more productive, increase dispatch rates and help ensure airworthiness compliance. Therefore, it is only a matter of time before we see more progress. For most of us today, however, it is still a work in progress.