- 21 Oct 2020
- Aircraft MRO
Big Data is offering new opportunities. In this two-part article, Mario Pierobon speaks to industry experts about the main features of maintenance tracking software, how it helps to satisfy regulatory requirements, and its recent and future developments…
Business aircraft maintenance tracking has become increasingly automated. New efficiencies have been generated, and in particular the work of maintenance planners has been simplified and the predictability of maintenance increased.
When it comes to business aircraft maintenance there are several providers of software solutions, as well as some providers who offer software coupled with a service. This is a major distinction.
The software-only providers in essence offer more of a ‘do-it-yourself’ solution, while the other providers include services which help ensure data accuracy and that aircraft are being maintained to the approved maintenance programs, notes Mark Steinbeck, president of Traxxall.
“In Business Aviation the maintenance tracking service providers notify operators when new airworthiness directives (ADs) and new service bulletins (SBs) are issued, and when the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) revise their maintenance programs,” he says.
“Not only do they notify the operators…but often they make the adjustments to the aircraft for the customer, so operators are ensured they are always operating to the latest standards.”
Airline vs Business Aircraft Software: The Differences
Airline and business aircraft maintenance software are similar in their functionalities, particularly in relation to major maintenance, but when it comes to line maintenance the differences are more marked.
“This has to do primarily with the way Business Aviation is run, whereby schedules are firmed-up as close as four hours before flight,” Saravanan Rajarajan, head of Solution Consulting at Ramco Aviation Solutions, says.
“This poses challenges on scheduling the maintenance crew and positioning the right parts at the right time and right location. Changing flight schedules and minimum equipment list (MEL) clearances, as well as sudden aircraft on ground (AOG) problems necessitate the maintenance software to provide advanced decision assist capabilities,” he explains.
Business aircraft fleets tend also to be smaller than those of the airlines. As a result, aviation maintenance software providers will often develop their systems and business models to cater to specific operational sizes or tiers of business.
According to Christopher Lawn, marketing specialist at WinAir, “Nowadays, it’s common for many software providers to charge a fee per aircraft that is being tracked and managed by the software.
“Business Aviation operations are looking for robust and comprehensive aviation maintenance software with features and functions that will automate processes, harmonize departments, and boost operational efficiencies – and without a per-aircraft fee.
“Typically, they are seeking software that can manage a variety of aspects of their business, from aircraft maintenance programs to planning, technical records, production activities, inventory control, purchasing, sales, invoicing, and job costing,” he emphasizes.
According to David Purfurst, global pre-sales director at Rusada, maintenance software for business aircraft may have less integration with other areas of the maintenance world.
“As an example, the supply chain for the business aircraft sector is not as robust as that of the airlines,” he elaborates. “In addition, component repair is often performed by outside vendors, whereas airlines tend to have some capability to perform repairs internally.
“Therefore, business aircraft maintenance software is more focussed on record keeping for the purpose of continuous airworthiness.”
What are Today’s Software Solutions?
Rusada’s Envision software splits out the functions of base, line and component maintenance into separate modules, allowing organizations to only implement the modules that are relevant to their capabilities. Flight Departments can then use the Fleet Management module for airworthiness activities, maintenance planning and vendor management, notes Purfurst.
The latest edition of WinAir’s aviation management software (Version 7), meanwhile, allows for the tracking of an unlimited number of aircraft (and does not charge per aircraft). Every aircraft loaded into WinAir has a unique maintenance profile which will vary depending upon its size, complexity, and mission profile.
“To streamline and expedite maintenance processes and ensure compliance, our software uses a template approach to aviation maintenance management,” says Lawn.
“With this approach, both Business Aviation operators and airlines can manage their maintenance programs on multiple aircraft of the same type, with ease.”
Ramco Aviation Suite’s Mechanic Anywhere Mobile app provides real-time visibility of the maintenance crew (their availability, current workload, license currency for the fleet, and earliest ETA to reach the location). “Mobile workforce management and stock management are key features that define aircraft maintenance software,” Saravanan says.
“This will also need to track time in a broader perspective – i.e. from the time the maintenance worker leaves home until they fix the aircraft for their cost and revenue management,” he continues. “Artificial intelligence machine learning (AIML)-based algorithms can automate the assignments without manual interaction, and can send the dispatch messages to the mechanic.”
Traxxall, meanwhile, offers a mobile application for tablets and smartphones available in the Apple App Store and in Google Play. “We actually went through a huge rewrite of our mobile applications that were released earlier this year,” Steinbeck says, “and these apps give full functionality on-the-go, allowing users to be updating their maintenance tracking right from an iPad on the hangar floor.”
Users can look at upcoming maintenance or the status of any task on their phone with ease, and many Traxxall users have their pilots reporting discrepancies and MELs from their phone, and are able to take a video or a picture and attach it to the write up as they send it to their maintenance departments.
What are the Safety Requirements of Maintenance Software?
Generally speaking, regulatory bodies have tended to support the aviation industry’s desire to pursue more automated processes. The onus, however, is on the aviation service providers to determine that they are using software following the various rules and regulations that are stipulated by their regulatory bodies.
Currently there are no safety regulatory requirements that dictate what maintenance tracking providers can or cannot do. “With that said, the leading companies in our industry that are not only providing a maintenance tracking software, but also a service to support the software take that upon themselves,” Steinbeck assures.
“Many other industries and the majority of Fortune 500 companies have already moved to being predominately cloud-based, and without doubt cloud-based systems are the new standard,” he adds.
“While our industry has historically been slower to adopt new technologies, we have seen a spike over the last 18-24 months in operators who are much more worried about data security and data integrity.
“The security that utilizing cloud-based services brings is the new standard and is what leading operators and OEMs now expect,” he says. “Five or ten years ago it was acceptable to host data on-site on your own servers, but in today’s world not only is that more expensive, it is also much less secure.”
Aviation maintenance software is a tool that businesses can utilize to ensure and prove compliance with standards and regulations.
“To offer further assistance with adhering to regulations, we use software-enforced data validation to safeguard against errors, which includes the unauthorized approval of maintenance tasks,” Lawn explains.
“Our software was developed based upon aviation maintenance best practices, and incorporates various warnings and system notifications. Consequently, it will not allow users to complete actions that are contrary to system processes, or permit them to circumvent any of these validations,” says Lawn.
The web of regulations governing aircraft airworthiness and maintenance across the globe is very complex, and maintenance software should account of this complexity. “Any new functionality for Envision is always designed and built with these regulations in mind,” Purfurst says. “It then falls on the operator to get approval from regulators for their record keeping and maintenance performance.
Envision acts as the tool that aids operators in their adherence to the rules and regulations.” In recent years, aviation maintenance software used in Business Aviation operations has shifted from predominantly focusing on tracking and managing aircraft maintenance and maintaining inventory control, to automating processes, integrating solutions, and leveraging the data.
“Software providers have added many new functionalities to streamline and automate processes such as digital signatures for having mechanics and inspectors approve and electronically sign maintenance tasks off,” Lawn says.
“This built-in system functionality has proven to save aviation operations significantly in terms of time allocations and administrative costs, and has provided them with the opportunity to go paperless. It also accelerates work steps, and ensures compliance and accuracy, as only staff with the required credentials can validate maintenance work.”
Saravanan concludes that the area of electronic signatures is one which authorities overall would be required to monitor closely. “The FAA AC 120-78A gives key inputs on the dos and don’ts of electronic signatures. Every electronic signature needs to be dual-authenticated. In addition to authentication, the PIN is encrypted using triple DES encryption methodology, which is our default encryption method.”
Our discussion of business aircraft maintenance tracking software continues with a review of recent developments, and a look at future developments. Stay tuned!