Everyone in aviation wishes all aircraft part records were digitized, but getting there is tough. One solution, using blockchain to store and validate records, seems to be making progress, at least according to firms working on this approach.

Tristan Whitehead is a former reliability engineer and current principal in Deloitte Consulting’s aerospace practice. Whitehead will soon be CEO of Parts Pedigree, which is building a platform intended to make digitizing part records easy, even for the many small firms that populate the aviation supply chain. The firm is now piloting the approach with a major aerospace part distributor that has 2,000 customers and 1,500 suppliers. Both Parts Pedigree and the distributor will discuss their progress at Farnborough in late July.

“In the past, no facility that obtains or works on a part has the perspective of the part’s entire lifecycle as it moves around the planet, only its own little view,” Whitehead explains. “Investments have been made, but mostly internal to build portals, and some firms have a hundred vendors, each with its own portal. We’re trying to democratize digitizing the supply chain with the cloud, encryption and blockchain. It’s a platform with an open API that anyone can use to create a digital Form 8130 and share with someone else.”

Major firms’ ERP systems like SAP or Oracle could feed a digitized 8130, or at a small firm a mechanic’s cellphone camera could snap a picture and generate the digitized form. Parts Pedigree will allows plenty of part apps, such as warranty, configuration, export and compliance managers to be easily integrated into its platform. But the core of the approach is putting part records in a blockchain distributed ledger.

Whitehead sees this blockchain ledger evolving from basic to very advanced functions. First, encrypted data would be stored and become trusted by participants without any regulatory supervision by his firm. Next, using partner software-maker Sweetbridge tools, smart contracts could automate settlements without masses of paper invoices. For example, Internet of Things technology could automate payments under flight-hour programs as hours actually are flown, rather than after the fact when cumulative flight data is collected and exchanged. Finally, Sweetbridge tools could also provide liquidity based on part inventories, which are substantial at many firms.

Whitehead argues that ATA standards for 8130s and digital records and signatures are sufficiently developed now to support his approach and waiting until everyone agrees on uniform and perfect standards would be impractical. He sees huge gains in just digitizing the inbound records of parts received by major airlines, where problems with paper records cause major headaches.

To encourage adoption, Parts Pedigree seeks to make use of it platform free and as easy as possible, even for smaller players, and to provide everyone with an incentive to participate. Much cheaper and more accurate data management, more and better data for analytics and easier data sharing are some of the benefits.

Parts Pedigree would be a public ledger at first, though a permission-based ledger might be used later if it suits better. Deloitte would help with implementation and system integration.

Whitehead argues his independent approach will be preferred to solutions that are managed by OEMs like Boeing, Airbus and GE. “The big OEMs built their solutions for themselves, and they do not solve the problems of the smaller guys in the supply chain.”

Other blockchain ventures are also proceeding. Another independent aftermarket blockchain, 14Bis Supply Tracking, just won a prize for best blockchain supply-chain solution and will be showcasing its technology at MIT’s CIO Symposium in Boston on May 23. And GE Aviation continues to work on its blockchain approach with Lockheed Martin.