Printed headline: In With the New
While the aviation industry embraces new technology fully in design (fly-by-wire comes to mind) and even aircraft production, the tendency to think inside the box still has a stranglehold in the maintenance arena.
Take, for instance, technology that allows remotely viewing an article, engine or aircraft with the same (and often better) visibility than viewing on premises: In April, the FAA released draft guidance for comment on “video-witnessing” testing or inspections in design.
Are you kidding me—videotaping? We now have instant two-way audio and visual capability with zoom and other functions that would allow almost any test, production or maintenance oversight, inspection or supervision to be done from anywhere.
Incredulous, I began discussing with the agency (and industry) the ability to embrace the best and newest remote-connectivity technology. Using new and future tools, the agency itself would no longer have to travel to perform inspections. These new proficiencies allow instant access to every aspect of oversight, up to and including witnessing demonstrations of capabilities.
With the same technology, the industry can enhance its capability to supervise design, production, operation and maintenance activities or to perform inspections. After some research and armed with the conviction that the newest and best technology needs to be fully explored within the safety regulations, ARSA and its industry allies provided the FAA with a draft advisory circular for consideration.
There are myriad opportunities to embrace this new technology; unfortunately, the fear of misuse and abuse seems to dominate attention. While developing the draft AC, I spoke with numerous individuals involved in designing, producing, operating and maintaining civil aviation aircraft. I got a lot of negative feedback around the potential for falsifying tests or inspection results.
I asked how that is different from the situation today. Anyone can say they actually witnessed a test or performed a visual inspection; why fear that using a remote connection will enhance non-compliance instead of compliance?
Would it be better to have the ability to view from multiple lenses and directions (numerous cameras for example) or only one—an individual’s eyes? Why does a record of the remote inspection have to be kept, which many of my contacts insisted would make them more comfortable about its use, when today we have no ability (or requirement) to record where an individual’s eyes are actually looking, let alone what they’re seeing when performing these same activities in person, on premises?
Unfortunately, my cross-examination did not elicit support; it actually enhanced the hidebound nature of my colleagues who believe the use of the new technology was problematic.
The FAA has promised a “culture shift” based upon “critical thinking.” Maybe the place to start that shift is actually within the industry. It is time to fully embrace new technology while ensuring compliance with the standards established by aviation safety regulators.
To learn more about the successful effort to update the agency’s guidance for remote connectivity, visit arsa.org/remote-connectivity. c
Sarah MacLeod is a founder and executive director of ARSA.