As data becomes more prevalent in aircraft operations and maintenance, industry is moving quickly to put in place processes and procedures to collect, analyze, and take action on what is being learned.
Much of this learning involves software that is on, or connected to, aircraft—which means it's regulated by FAA. The agency took a notable step towards keeping up with the rapidly-evolving data-focused initiatives in the MRO space, issuing guidance for setting up management systems for maintenance-related software.
"Modern aircraft systems rely on software to perform functions previously handled manually or by analog systems," FAA explains in Advisory Circular (AC) 43-216, Software Management During Aircraft Maintenance. "Software integrity, security, conformity, and aircraft configuration control should be the goals of any software management program. Management tools should encompass the entire life cycle of aircraft software to include long-term storage or disposal of the aircraft or components."
The AC's primary goal is to bring together general guidance for managing software—everything from loading it to version-control and how to record changes—used during maintenance activities. "In almost all cases, software in installed aircraft systems is considered an aircraft part, and as such is subject to the same recordkeeping processes and controls as standard aircraft parts," the AC notes.
The guidance complements existing FAA publications on some key software systems, including flight operations databases and electronic flight bags, but does not supplant it.
In short, it's a needed piece in the evolving puzzle of ensuring the regulatory environment is keeping pace with aviation's digital change.