When will the regulators go digital?

In a world where engine performance can be monitored in real time and where electronic flight bags mean that airlines can become “fully digital”, it is incredible that regulators still require an actual paper trail to determine the airworthiness of an engine.

Keeping a paper record that the relevant airworthiness directives have been implemented, that the right number of lives remain on LLPs and that parts have been replaced correctly, for example, is not only archaic and unnecessary in this digital age, it’s a colossal waste of time and money.

The UK government recently introduced an online system to allow waste companies to complete, send and record waste transfer notes – a legally required document – electronically. It estimated that making the switch to digital records would save UK businesses £8.7m each year by removing the costs associated with producing and storing paper notes. 

With a 10-year old engine generating dozens and dozens of boxes of paperwork that must be stored securely and with airlines and MROs keeping their own digital records of maintenance activities, it’s can be no wonder that there is appetite for a move towards a digital solution.

At MRO Network’s recent Engine Trading, Leasing and Finance event, speakers and delegates discussed the benefits of going digital. Mark Kerr, head of customer marketing – services at Rolls-Royce, told me: “Moving to a digital, electronic world is the right thing to do. It would be a great step forward.”

The issue is, however, that the regulators aren’t making that leap; they haven’t set out their requirements for what would constitute a suitable, auditable digital tech record. This would seem to leave the sector with two options: wait for the regulators to join the 21st century or take the initiative themselves and persuade the regulators of the validity of the format.

“It takes someone brave enough to try and lay down an industry standard,” said Kerr. “It needs someone to say: ‘This is how we collect records, this is how we capture them electronically and this is how we store them’. I don’t think it would take much to push the industry in the direction of digital record keeping, but it needs someone to invest the time and effort to do it.”

So, any volunteers?

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