Over the coming month, a group of aviation stakeholders will announce a collaborative MRO blockchain project that will give greater visibility over the lifecycle of aircraft parts.
Speaking at MRO Europe in London on Oct. 16, aircraft-data firm FLYdocs, aerospace manufacturer Safran, technology company SITA and blockchain specialist Sky Republic announced plans to create the MRO Blockchain Alliance.
SITA head of blockchain program Arnaud Brolly said the launch companies behind the MRO Blockchain Alliance – which go far beyond the partners present at MRO Europe – are currently finalizing their memorandums of understanding (MoUs). A formal launch is anticipated within the coming month. The project is collaborative; no single company is taking the lead.
“There will be one or two members from each and every part of the value chain, including some of very big ones,” Brolly said. “We can’t show their logos yet. It’s just a matter of weeks until we sign all the papers.”
Brolly said wherever possible, the platform will use existing standards. Industry bodies and regulators will also be involved.
Blockchain is a technology that is used to create highly secure databases, where transactions and data are recorded and confirmed, creating a secure set of read-only data records. It can also be used to form smart contracts, detecting evidence that a service has been delivered in line with agreed criteria.
Sky Republic founder and CEO Chris Fabre acknowledged that there has been a lot of “hype and propaganda” around blockchain, but in its simplest form blockchain helps create an accurate digital record of asset transactions, giving end-to-end visibility.
In MRO, blockchain can be used to track and record part movements and their maintenance history, which can span a number of different players, including airlines, lessors, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), logistics suppliers and maintenance providers.
“If everyone communicates one to one, how did I know what happened,” Fabre said. Blockchain can be used to consolidate transaction information at “eco-system level.”
“The data that is interesting is the data that nobody has, the data that is linked to the process you are following,” he explained, such as the estimated completion time for a process involving multiple players.
SITA MRO solution specialist Sean Melia said there are two separate strands of information for an aircraft part: a “digital thread” and a “digital passport.” The digital thread gives the status of the part over time, while the digital passport – like a human passport - contains data on what the part is, where it has been and why.
“All that information can be stored on blockchain, all the way back to birth for that part,” he said, giving a holistic view of that part’s lifecycle and all the different players it has spanned.
FLYdocs CEO Andre Fisher said the project will only be a success if it is a collaboration between a number of industry players. There are other ventures out there, but they tend to be paid-for products with fewer members.
“If it was just a couple people sitting here on the panel today, it would never be successful,” he said. “We need a multi-party cooperation approach that allows everybody to join this. One plus one has to equal more than two. We have roughly 10-11 parties willing to launch this blockchain. They represent every part of the industry. We are an alliance with key stakeholders, representing the entire MRO community.”
He said agreeing standards is a huge challenge. The partners also have to be comfortable that they maintain control of their data and that it is stored securely.
“I think this is the only way be successful in future: a collaborative approach. As soon as you try to sell this to someone, it’s not going to work,” Fisher said.
The MRO Blockchain Alliance itself will be a non-commercial partnership, creating benefits for all the members. Further down the line, Fisher said revenues could be generated from spin-off products and services – but not the core blockchain itself.
During the recent Aviation Festival in London, several blockchain experts said the technology often ends up being too complex and that most problems can be solved using simpler approaches. However, IATA head of BI (biometric identity) and industry engagement Houman Goudarzi told Aviation Festival delegates: “In a small percentage of use cases, it is gold.”
Responding to a question from Aviation Week, Brolly said MRO is one of those use cases.
“Starting from next year, we will see the biggest growth of blockchain, because people have been doing pilots. We expect that by 2021-2022, the market will be mature enough to see where blockchain brings value and vendors will begin to sell solutions to the industry,” SITA product manager Aurore Duhamel said.