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International standards seek to diminish miscommunication due to language barriers.

ICAO Adopts Standards For Electronic Recordkeeping

IATA is exploring new ways to simplify the airline business with its Paperless Aircraft Operations initiative.

Printed headline: Go Paperless

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is exploring new ways to simplify the airline business. Its Paperless Aircraft Operations (PAO) initiative faces the daunting task of rethinking the way companies document maintenance activity. The group envisions a paperless environment and global regulatory acceptance of a single e-record system.

The three-year-old project is modeled after IATA’s “Simplifying the Business” (STB)—an industry-led program that seeks to innovate and drive change in the aviation industry from a passenger and cargo perspective.

“Similar to the STB, the PAO seeks to transform legacy processes into modern, digital processes,” says IATA’s head of  operational cost management, Chris Markou. “These programs encourage industry to learn from experience and rethink the way we operate.”

PAO working group members expect global incorporation of paperless technologies will facilitate improved regulatory compliance and allow for new, cost-saving processes. “A paperless operation will essentially allow the aircraft to ‘talk’ about its history, airworthiness, technical condition and costs,” explains Markou. “And worldwide acceptance of this type of documentation will improve efficiency and effectiveness of aviation technical operations that crisscross international borders.”


Industry advocates support adoption of an international standard to further global acceptance of e-records.

Maintenance organizations already are migrating toward paperless processes, and global standards developed by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) provide for their use. Nevertheless, the working group said aircraft maintenance information is still widely recorded, certified and stored in paper format. The group is developing new tools, resources and guidance materials in an effort to change that.

In 2017, IATA released a guidance document  to support implementation of the PAO for aircraft maintenance activities, parts supply chain and logistics, and the transfer of aircraft assets. The document was directed at industry and assisted organizations as they developed a business case and value proposition for adoption of electronic recordkeeping. A separate checklist provided a basis for the requisite aviation authority approval, a barrier that often thwarted companies from implementing an electronic system.

“Some national aviation authority regulatory requirements hinder the go-paperless movement,” Markou notes. “And until recently, there was no standard or guidance to encourage global acceptance of e-records.”

New ICAO guidance fills the void. Late last year, with the working group’s full support, ICAO published “Guidance for Acceptance of Electronic Aircraft Maintenance Records,” a regulatory framework that authorities around the world can use to adapt regulations to accept electronic documents.

The international organization plans to adopt the language officially in a revision to the Airworthiness Manual (Doc 9760) later this year. That revised manual will support new electronic aircraft maintenance record provisions in Annexes 6 and 8 and is expected to take effect in 2020.

The new guidance does not disallow paper-based systems, but encourages the adoption of “regulations and practices that enable and encourage the airworthiness activities of the air operators, design organizations, production organizations and maintenance organizations to use and rely on EAMR [electronic aircraft maintenance records].” The guidance also addresses common oversight challenges posed by electronic signatures, system security and transferring records.

“There are many areas that need standardization to increase efficiencies,” Markou says. The next steps for the working group are therefore to complete the standards for data transfers. Also on the PAO’s agenda is development of sample business cases that operators and others can use to advance paperless operations in their companies. 

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