Tying maintenance devices and systems together with lightning-fast and accurate digits, rather than with slower and less-reliable tapping fingers, is a goal of all aircraft maintenance organizations. Faster accurate data should mean smarter maintenance and operational decisions, as engineers anticipate, rather than react to, problems.
Three British companies have taken a major step toward automating data transfer. “I don't know anyone else who has done it,” says Mark Leather, continuing airworthiness manager at BA CityFlyer. “Nor do I,” concurs Nick Godwin, managing director of Commsoft.
“It” was the collaboration by CityFlyer, Commsoft and NVable, which makes the Appixo Electronic Technical Log (ETL), to create an automatic, real-time interface between the ETL and Commsoft's Open Aviation Strategic Engineering System (Oases) application.
Appixo, a Class 1 technical log, is on the flight deck on a Panasonic CF-19 Toughbook. It now collects data entered by flight crew and engineers that include sectors records, delays, fuel uplift, oil and hydraulic fluid uplift, defects, minimum equipment list and component changes. After each sector, Appixo automatically sends this data via a 3G or General Packet Radio Service cellular network to an NVable ground server, which forwards it to CityFlyer systems and thus to Oases. Eventually Appixo will receive data on Out-of-Phase maintenance task accomplishment.
Appixo has a series of hard and soft validation checks to ensure data are more accurate than in a paper log. Data transfer from ETL to Oases is automatic and digital, avoiding transcription errors and reducing the workload on clerical staff.
The most important gain is speed. It usually takes two to three days to manually enter technical log data into a maintenance management system. CityFlyer operates out of, but its engineers work near Manchester, so the transfer took at least this long. Now it happens instantly after each sector is flown.
“It is very important for fuel monitoring, which was part of the business case,” Leather says. “We now have real-time aircraft defect information in Oases, enabling us to react quicker to any adverse reliability trends. It can record a defect shown by the pilot or clearing of a defect by engineering. We get data on defects quickly and can address them quickly.” The linkage allows engineers to monitor aircraft reliability more proactively and provides a greater visibility to all areas of flight operations.
Implementation required about six months.
Commsoft developed specifications for the two-way interface, and NVable modified Appixo's software. The two companies began cooperation on interface specifications in March 2012. Specifications were developed in two stages. The first focused on the transfer of flight, sector and fluid uplift data, while the second dealt with engineering defect and component-change data.
Leather and CityFlyer had to get the link-up approved by the U.K. Civil Aviation Authority. Fortunately, “they had previous exposure to the ETL, they knew Oases, and both were known entities” Leather says.
CityFlyer had to rewrite business processes to ensure robustness of data entry and demonstrate the rigor of ETL-based processes in parallel with old manual processes. Regulators wanted to ensure data got through with integrity and redundancy from the right field in the ETL to the right field in Oases. “We had an audit process to verify that,” Leather says. “It was not painful.” There was a week-long test of live data at the end of October 2012.
But more than IT systems needed to be changed. “You need a top-down commitment,” Godwin emphasizes. “There is always resistance from users because they will be doing things differently than they did before. It is simple technically, but changing business processes can be complex.” The new interface and data transfer went live at the end of November.
The system is not a complete automation of aircraft-data transfer. The Appixo-Oases link transfers only technical-log data. CityFlyer gets the fault-history database on its170s and 190s directly from the aircraft. This database contains low-level maintenance messages. “These are not defects yet, just latent low-level faults with no operational or airworthiness effect,” Leather explains. “But if left unattended, they could turn into defects, causing disruption to our operation.”
Low-level messages and other operating data are the basis of Embraer's own prognostic system, “Ahead.” CityFlyer does not use Ahead, preferring to interpret the fault data itself.
Nevertheless, connecting the ETL so tightly to the maintenance application is a major step forward. Commsoft and NVable are now offering the integration of ETL and maintenance application to other carriers. The companies are offering the same ETL-Oases link-up to Oases customers as well as to new prospects. “Now we have a reference case with a major carrier, owned by,” Godwin notes. “We think other airlines may want to do it.” Fortunately, the solution can be implemented flexibly on different hardware platforms. “iPads are under consideration for the future.”