More and more maintenance data is moving to the cloud, but to fully exploit the potential of digitized records, the push for standardizing data is increasing.

Airlines and regulators will have to accept digital records on lease transfers and agree on a common list of required records. Companies providing data repositories also must adopt common data standards so they can all exchange data efficiently.

As an example, one of the world's largest leasing companies, GE Capital Aviation Services (Gecas), recently signed a five-year agreement with AerData to use Stream digital aircraft records software to store and manage scanned aircraft and engine records. The deal allows Gecas to load data from any location and make it available around the world immediately, “instead of managing it in-house and getting it to the field in PDFs on thumb drives or zipped on disks,” says Godfrey Ryan, AerData's director of marketing and sales.

The ultimate aim is electronic delivery of all lease records from one airline to another along with aircraft delivery.

The leasing industry wants a standard list of electronic documents—a universal delivery bible. “That will also take time for regulators to accept, but the process has started and it will eventually happen,” says Ryan.

However, benefits of digitization alone are real for now. “If a leasing company has an aircraft in Jakarta, instead of going there and going through boxes of records with all the expense in time and money, the lessor can go through records on the web,” Ryan explains. If the aircraft and its many boxes of records are locked up due to bankruptcy, lessors can still use the digital records to prepare for the next maintenance check.

Gecas plans to put all its historical maintenance records, now stored on various platforms, onto Stream, says Anton Tams, senior vice president for technical planning and process control. “Initially, we will focus on aircraft we are transitioning, then the engines leased by our sister company and then on the aircraft we sell,” Tams says. “We can't do all 1,800 aircraft at once.” He estimates the entire shift of records to Stream will last until Gecas has transitioned each aircraft at least once on its 5-7-year lease. No Gecas records will be excluded from the process.

Short-term benefits will come from simply having all paper records scanned and digitized. One recent transition of a leased Gecas aircraft required 87 boxes of paper records, Tams notes. “Now we must help the delivering airline get records together on paper, give them to the accepting airline and regulatory authority to review, and then five years later do it all over again,” he says. With electronic records scanned, indexed and centrally stored, Gecas can concentrate on records that have changed.

Another advantage is enforcement of Gecas's delivery bible of required records. The leasing company gives this bible to all its delivering airlines, but carriers often interpret “holy scripture” differently. “We hope that with an all-electronic manual, we can enforce it more rigidly,” Tams says.

A third advantage is that the accepting airline and its regulator can review documentation on the web. “That means less travel for new customers and less accommodation expense for old customers,” Tams says.

Gecas continues to want international standards for acceptable lease records and is working with The Aviation Working Group on this challenge.

Carriers also see benefits of electronic records. EasyJet uses Stream to digitize all aircraft maintenance records, technical log pages, certifications, daily maintenance tasks, airworthiness directives, service bulletins, modifications, repairs and lease-end records, explains Swaran Sidhu, head of fleet and technical management.

The carrier began digitizing records in 2009 and now does it for “every piece that can be scanned,” Sidhu says. Benefits include easy access to and management of records. For example, if an outstation has failed to complete a record for maintenance done there, “we can poke them,” he jokes. “And lessors can access records from remote places anywhere in the world.”

EasyJet keeps its own bible of lease-delivery records. “We still keep paper now, but eventually, we would like them just to print out the digital records,” Sidhu says. “It is a mind-set change to just take digital records.”

It uses Swiss Aviation Software's AMOS maintenance software to manage maintenance execution and would like to transfer AMOS data digitally into Stream instead of downloading it to a spreadsheet first. And Sidhu also wants to upload data from other departments, for example the technical library, so lessors and other stakeholders have one place to go for all needed information. “The main thing it gives us is easy long-term access in a cost-effective way.”

In the meantime, there is still much to be done. Michael Denis, vice president for customer engagement at InfoTrust, sees two kinds of problems in managing leasing data: regulation and capabilities. “This does not solve the regulatory problem, but addresses the capabilities challenge,” he says.

Denis divides the challenge, in turn, into three parts. First, “does it cover the whole airline-lessor ecosystem, including contract management, lease reserves and back-to-birth records?” he asks. “Probably not, many airlines say it does not solve the whole problem.”

Another capability issue is technical interoperability with other data systems. “To do this, it needs open, extensible, standard n-tiered architecture,” Denis emphasizes. “If they do not have that today, they will probably solve that.”

The third capability challenge, common data standards, is a little tougher. “Some airlines say this is just scanning and archiving,” Denis notes. “As we move up the technical maturity curve, we need to keep in mind the end state, which is XML and ASD standards.” ASD is a family of aerospace data standards for materials, logistics, maintenance, diagnostics, prognostics and technical publications.

Jon Andresen, president of Aviation Technology Solutions, has similar concerns. “If Stream just puts paperwork in PDF, it is going in the right direction, getting it digital and making data searchable. But it is still a proprietary system that cannot share data with other systems. We need to have standards.”

Andresen says common standards mean specifying the data that everyone needs, defining the data—for example, part numbers by OEM, airline or airframe—and then establishing processes for obtaining data so everyone trusts the results.

Today there are standards for only a few historical maintenance records, such as FAA Form 8130 and EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) Form 1. “We can solve this if someone takes the lead,” Andresen argues. Ryan says ATA and ASD do not have standards for aircraft or engine historical records. “AerData and its customers are working toward a standard that could be adopted by the industry that would be similar to ATA and ASD standards,” he notes. This ultimate record standard would be interoperable with maintenance systems.

“We were waiting for standards to develop,” says Tams. “But they did not, so we went ahead and did this.” Streams's current methods are outside of, neither consistent with nor in conflict with, ATA and ASD standards. Stream does not interoperate with other databases now, although it has proprietary links with some airline systems. “We hope as standards develop, they will comply with them and interoperate with other systems,” Tams says.