The future of an efficient aviation aftermarket depends on fast, accurate, inexpensive data transfer. That means electronic messaging in standard, machine-readable formats.

The industry is making progress, with major airlines and OEMs leading the way. The best small companies are adapting, and many more will need to do so.

Seal Dynamics, a division of Heico Aerospace, recently chose Arinc's Avinet Mail for Spec 2000 Type B messaging of part orders. Type B messages are store-and-forward electronic messages, explains Rich Hare, a network and IT account manager for Arinc. Part messages are usually delivered in a few seconds, and Arinc keeps sending them until they are received.

Arinc owns its terminal equipment and has about 2,200 mailboxes among airlines, OEMs, part providers and ground handlers. “It is tried and true since 1998,” Hare says. “It is available on the Internet, so you can send to any device, like an iPad, that connects with the Internet, which is cheap.”

A company such as Heico can use Avinet to record orders as well as send quotes and shipping information. Avinet interoperates with in-house and third-party order-processing software.

Spec 2000 format is used by big airlines, but not necessarily by other aviation companies. It can be tricky for new users to format in Spec 2000. Arinc is developing some basic templates for Spec 2000 to ease its usage and it partners with Cortland Associates and Multilink EDI and other companies that have robust Spec 2000 software.

Telephones are sometimes still used in emergencies, but the trend is toward electronic messaging, which cuts costs and errors. “The sun is setting on phone and fax,” Hare says.

Some vendors go to exchanges such as Aeroxchange, but four companies have recently asked about Spec 2000 Type B. Hare suspects more exclusive deals are being signed, so vendors will need Spec 2000.

SITA also provides Type B messaging for aviation. Sean Melia, product specialist in MRO messaging at SITA, says Spec 2000 is standard for Type B part messages on SITA's network. “When it is Type B in the aftermarket, it is Spec 2000 and meant to be processed machine to machine,” he says.

Melia estimates major airlines purchase 65% of parts this way and 80% of purchase value. Major airlines and OEMs want to increase this portion by reaching the smaller suppliers or shops electronically. SITA offers Skyform Online, browser-based software-as-a-service that operates like email, to convert data into Spec 2000 format.

SITA is also developing a bridge to convert data between Type B and future Type X messages in XML. New enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems make XML practical for large organizations, but these will still have to communicate electronically with smaller companies on Type B.

Ken Jones, director of electronic data standards at the Air Transport Association e-business program, says most large airlines and manufacturers have used Spec 2000 messages for parts for many years. Apart from Arinc or SITA Type B messaging, there are a few proprietary solutions such as American National Standards Institute (ANSI) X.12. Jones says some companies now use Spec 2000 XML over the Internet.

The biggest advantage of Spec 2000 Type B is wide use.

Spec 2000 XML will allow more flexibility and work more easily with modern ERP and maintenance planning systems. However, few companies can now process XML messages, so they must often use services that convert messages from one format to another.

Jones estimates that large airlines use Spec 2000 for 60-80% of orders representing more than 90% of part expenses. But he says Spec 2000 is not as prevalent in purchases by MRO providers or smaller airlines.

For example, Timco Aviation Services does not use Spec 2000, Arinc or SITA Type B messaging, according to Kip Blakely, vice president of industrial and government relations. The MRO primarily uses the Inventory Locator Service's global electronic marketplace to both send and receive orders.

Jones says there have been recent discussions on upgrading Spec 2000 to support business cases it was not designed to handle. Users are reluctant to make many changes, as legacy systems are difficult to modify. But more exceptions are being made due to Spec 2000 limitations, so Jones says changes are being considered.