After an investigation into the failure of a light aircraft engine cylinder found that the records of the engine's overhaul had been destroyed, the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) recommended that the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) require maintenance and overhaul records referred to in airframe, engine and propeller log books, and in component record cards, to be considered part of that log book or record card and retained until the aircraft, engine, propeller or component has been destroyed or permanently removed from service. The requirement already applies to UK-registered aircraft through the Air Navigation Order.
In 2011, EASA convened a working group to look at the safety recommendation. The group had met six times by June 2013: along with the safety recommendation, it is looking at inconsistency in the use of such terms as life-limited parts and service life-limited parts; EASA Form 1 requirements; back-to-birth traceability; and the role of electronic signature, scanned record copies and new technology such as radio frequency identification. Another of the working group's objective is harmonisation with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requirements.
EASA expects to issue a Notice of Proposed Amendment to Part 145 and Part M in the first quarter of next year. In the meantime, Part 145 requires maintenance organisations to keep records of all maintenance work for two years and to provide copies to the operator. However, the operator is required to keep all records until two years after the removal from service of aircraft, engines and propellers.
There is also an economic imperative to keep records up to date, says Andrew Wilkins, founder of AW Aviation Services (AWAVS). He cites the case of an aircraft that was on the market for $4.5m, but ended up being scrapped after an audit found too many missing or improperly cleared records.
After 40 years in the industry as an aircraft engineer and project manager, Wilkins formed AWAVS last year to check, scan and store documents in line with the emerging EASA standard. The company already has a handful of customers. "We bring their records into our facility using our own staff and vehicles to keep them secure," Wilkins explains. "We then check their records and scan them. We can then either archive them here or send them back with a report listing anything that is missing or has not been stamped or cleared."
The payoff comes when it is time to sell the aircraft or return it to the lessor. "It's the difference between three weeks' and four months' work," he says. Based on a conservative estimate of the manhours required to audit the records, he calculates the saving from having the records processed in advance by the AWAVS specialists, rather than waiting until the aircraft is on the market, to be £375,000 ($571,000).
Based at New Romney, on the southeast coast of England, AWAVS can also arrange parking at reduced rates at nearby Lydd airport. Compared with commercial scanning operations, he says, "we can be more flexible and we keep everything in house. We have our own in-house server actually in the building."
Document scans can be burned to disc: "Each DVD is the equivalent of 28 three-drawer filing cabinets, so it saves money on storage and it's more easily searched." Wilkins cites the example of a customer whose staff had been spending up to a week looking for EASA Form 1s associated with its components but can now find them in five minutes. There is an up-front cost, he concedes, "but from that point onward the client is saving money".
The operation mainly uses scanners and 'Capture Pro' software from Kodak and is supported by Kodak UK's four-hour repair service. AWAVS' upgraders can even restore torn or dirty paperwork to legibility during the scanning process. The AWAVS' custom-built database for storage, written by a specialist using Microsoft Access and running on Hewlett-Packard hardware, has been encrypted by the company's in-house IT experts. "The only people who can access it are the two directors here," Wilkins emphasises. However, clients can be given password-protected access to their own server.
Pending the new EASA rule, he says he consults the CAA more or less monthly "to make sure we're doing the right thing. We're not currently Part M approved but they're happy with the service we're providing."
Wilkins says airlines and leasing companies as far afield as China and Japan have discussed air-freighting their records to AWAVS: "Once we've scanned it all in, one client in China would then want the lessees to email all the documents on a daily basis to us so we can add them to the server. Then, when it comes to selling the aircraft or leasing it out again they have all the documentation available and in order."
AWAVS can furnish prospective purchasers with documentation on five or six DVDs rather than paper that would occupy up to 120 archive boxes. The discs are searchable using PDFA, which Wilkins says should be the industry standard: "Because it's a PDF archive it can't be altered." The company can also arrange secure online access: "The encryption is changed on a daily basis and normally only one person within the client will have access to the password. We don't like enabling the whole company to have the facility to log in, because that causes problems in itself."
'STREAM', the records management element of Netherlands-headquartered AerData's aviation software and services portfolio, was originally developed in 2002 by Waviatech in the UK as a system for leasing companies to manage aircraft redeliveries. Waviatech would scan the records and output the results on a 'STREAM' disc rather than simply as folders of PDF files.
In 2010, recalls Godfrey Ryan, AerData's Dublin-based marketing and sales director, Waviatech developed 'STREAM Interactive' so that any organisation - airline, lessor, MRO or consultant - could scan and control the records themselves. "Now we have airlines and leasing companies using the system with their own people doing the scanning," he says. AerData bought a controlling stake in Waviatech the same year, completing the buyout in 2011.
Ryan says the 25-plus current 'STREAM' users include lessors GECAS, Aircastle and Aercap as well as airlines EasyJet, Thomson, Norwegian, Jetstar, Air New Zealand and Alitalia. Airlines, he says, use it for day-to-day records compliance: "'STREAM' connects with the airline's IT system to give full visibility of records that have been scanned on a daily basis at the airline's operation."
'STREAM' acts as a repository for the scanned paperwork on the internet, Ryan says. Rather than sending weekly packages of paper back to head office, for example, one customer's 25 line stations scan the paperwork on a daily basis into 'STREAM'. "The airline's technical records department have visibility of the records coming in, and the records are linked to a data feed from their AMOS system, so they can check and audit the paperwork and feed back to the line stations if there's any mistake or problem," he comments.
Airlines also use 'STREAM' to facilitate end-of-lease returns. Traditionally, that would involve a technical representative of the owner going through boxes at the airline, Ryan says. With 'STREAM', the airline can not only give the owner's rep access to the documents wherever he may be in the world, but also enable him to audit the records and approve them, or otherwise, in the 'STREAM' workflow. "It takes away the requirement for emails, drop boxes and Excel spreadsheets going back and forth between the airline and the rep," he says. "All the document reviews, comments and approvals are done in 'STREAM'. And the cost saving could be anywhere between $20,000 and $50,000 per return."
Leasing companies, says Ryan, use 'STREAM' to improve their data management practices and to give technical reps secure access to aircraft records: "Most leasing companies are small organisations that outsource most of their technical work to freelancers, so it helps that process work much more smoothly."
The benefit is faster aircraft redeliveries. "The leasing companies can lose a lot of money when they transition an aircraft from one lessee to another," Ryan observes. "It's costly in terms of lost lease rentals and in terms of man-days spent on consultants." 'STREAM' helps bridge the gap between the two leases by speeding up access to information, giving the next lessee and its regulatory authority remote access to the records: "At the end of the day the leasing companies want to have lease rental coming in and anything that can make more of that happen is a good thing."
The first MRO to adopt 'STREAM' is KLM UK. "They use the system firstly to back up all the scanned work cards as part of their compliance," says Ryan. "They need to keep records of all maintenance packages for two years." The MRO also uses 'STREAM' to share completed work cards with its customers: "They can be in their head office looking at the work cards that have been completed on the Internet, approving them and making any queries or comments on them, so it allows KLM UK to provide access to their customers, and the customer gets superior output rather than having the records scanned to a single PDF."
Ryan says AerData has signed up at least 10 new customers in the last year and expects to add four more in the near future, including both a major Gulf carrier and one of the world's major OEMs, which will use 'STREAM' as part of its customer care programme. On the development agenda, meanwhile, are integration with additional M&E systems and with electronic signature systems: "We're getting 'STREAM' ready to be the repository for not just scanned paperwork but also electronically signed documents."
Airlines remain the primary customers for the cloud-based system developed by AirVault, a division of Critical Technologies with offices in Dallas and Oklahoma City. "They are the top of the supply chain," says CEO John Oldham, who describes AirVault as "a communication conduit for aircraft maintenance records between all the different constituencies in the aviation ecosystem."
The cloud environment is ideally suited to managing such many-to-many relationships, he says, and compared with premise-based systems, "software as a service and cloud-based technologies save customers money because there's no infrastructure cost, there's very little administrative cost and they're up and running very quickly".
Where premise-based and in-house systems typically have a central location and a downward hierarchical approach, Oldham elaborates: "AirVault has many constituencies and lots of communication among MROs, leasing companies, regulators and component suppliers. They're all inputting information and documents into the system, sometimes actually contracting AirVault for their own repositories and the like, but at the same time it's all connected up. So we see cloud technology as the perfect architecture for how this industry is evolving, from centralised in-house facilities to a globally distributed maintenance network."
One new feature is 'MRO Connect', which enables scanned documents from MROs to be bundled in a logical manner and sent to AirVault for immediate delivery into the cloud. "Essentially the MRO and the airlines are looking at the same data, so they can go through the approvals and audit procedures," Oldham says.
AirVault is also connecting up with M&E systems, and was recently integrated with the SwissAviation Software 'Amos' system at flydubai. "What's provided is a bi-directional integration within the M&E," Oldham explains. "For example, there might be electronic documents or electronic data that we need in the AirVault system to validate perhaps a task card or an airworthiness document. We're able to do that very cleanly within the interface to 'Amos'. Some customers want to work in the M&E system and only use AirVault when they need to see the original source document, and we allow that to happen. Others want to work within the AirVault system and will access M&E data on a periodic basis. From our standpoint it's all about the connection points, and the cloud pushes it out beyond the four walls of the hangar and into this whole network of partners they have."
Another new capability under development is 'AirVault Aircraft Transfer', including lease returns as well as buying, selling, retiring and parting out aircraft. Those activities all require different sorts of capabilities, he says, "so we've organised that in terms of a workflow that allows all the other constituencies to participate in that process." In the case of parting out an aircraft - a frequent occurrence at AirVault client Southwest Airlines - Oldham says AirVault enables the process to be organised very quickly in the cloud, enabling buyers and other interested parties to view the maintenance records of the parts.
Coming very soon are mobile apps for IOS and Android. "We're seeing a tremendous push in terms of the mobile applications," he says, "whether it be global sign-offs that they want to put into AirVault, mechanics using mobile devices or just mobile devices as an access capability into the system."
A recent third-party study of the return on investment for the 20 AirVault customers who had previously used a premise-based hierarchical system (another three converted from paper), found there had been "a huge uptick in terms of usage of the system once AirVault had been installed," says Oldham. "AirVault's ease of use led to about a 10 times increase in the number of users of the system." Customers control all security, privacy, confidentiality and client access on the system, "but they found the increase in users was a huge saving because there was no longer a bottleneck in terms of accessing documents".
The bottom line, he says, is a cost saving of around $28,000 per aircraft over a four-year period. "It's significant monies that are saved, and that's even before we introduced our aircraft transfer capability." And upgrades are relatively painless in the cloud, he adds: "All our customers automatically receive the newest versions of AirVault, our recent upgrade of over 20,000 users took just a few hours."
Electronic maintenance record keeping and electronic signatures are among the elements of the International Air Transport Association's (IATA) paperless aircraft operations initiative. Tamworth, UK-based FLYdocs, an IATA strategic partner in the initiative, won contracts earlier this year to provide electronic aircraft records management services to airline Cathay Pacific and lessor ILFC.
"FLYdocs is uniquely positioned to deliver a step change reduction in aircraft records management costs for operators and lessors," says Matt Atkins, the company's general manager commercial. It is, he says, "the only software solution in the industry that is capable of delivering fully electronic and paperless aircraft lease returns with interactive data management around the world in real time".
This unique capability, Atkins says, provides benefits for both asset owners and aircraft operators during the asset transition period while helping them to achieve their separate goals. Designed specifically for commercial aviation, the software generates end user value by automating resource-intensive manual processes, he says, and the resulting ROI can be as high as 600 per cent within 18 months of deployment.
Of the ILFC deal, which will see FLYdocs managing the records for a fleet of nearly 1,000 aircraft, Atkins says the software's advanced administrative tools "aligned with ILFC's vision of managing and transitioning aircraft records electronically, remotely and in an integrated manner from anywhere in the world".
Describing the software as "fast, efficient, intuitive and incredibly stable", he says FLYdocs manages data interactively. It enables an incumbent lessee to give the lessor access to the aircraft's records during the return programme, so the lessor can showcase the approved records to prospective lessees and start the remarketing process. The operator, meanwhile, can proactively manage aircraft lease return projects in a single platform that eliminates the need for multiple spreadsheets while offering tools such as management reports on demand.
Atkins also points to significant commercial benefits for aircraft financiers, who could easily use FLYdocs to view aircraft records electronically. He says: "Asset owners consider an aircraft's useful life to be 20-25 years and during that period there are likely to be multiple operators. Once all records are stored within a single platform, the residual value of the asset is protected."
FLYdocs works seamlessly with all current M&E systems, while hosting options range from internal or external cloud computing through SaaS deployments to bespoke hosting arrangements driven by customer requirements, he says.