Tightening restrictions on sharing intellectual property are making maintenance of aircraft more difficult--especially on newer aircraft with large amounts of composites--speakers at Aviation Week's MRO Americas conference and exhibition in Atlanta said.
Both OEMs and airlines are guilty of tightening the noose on data about aircraft and information about repair techniques, says David Piotrowski of Delta TechOps, who labels the trend "IP hoarding."
Part of the motivation to tightly hold information that could broadly benefit the aviation community is protection against potential law suits. For example, both Delta and Airbus might have extensive data from inspections of composites on an aircraft, Airbus during the manufacturing process and Delta from inspections over the aircraft's lifecycle. At each point that an inspection might be done, the results show it clearly meets all specifications and safety requirements. Nonetheless, the data might be useful in predicting maintenance needs and in trends analysis, explains Piotrowski, the principal engineer in Delta Air Lines' enabling technologies group.
"We would like records from manufacturers about inspections done during fabrication," he said, but an OEM's lawyers will nix the idea, lest aircraft-specific data find its way into a law suit, should the airplane ever be involved in an accident. "Delta lawyers don't want to share, either," he said. Their attitude is, as long as the aircraft passes an inspection, there is no benefit in keeping detailed data but there is legal risk.
It's not just the lawyers who are to blame, though. OEMs--increasingly seeking to sell maintenance services and not just airplanes and engines--have become stingy about technical information and even threaten to void warranties if work is done by third parties, some speakers at MRO Americas said.
"They're taking maintenance instructions out of the manuals," said Harmen Lanser, the director of component management at KLM Engineering & Maintenance. "You either have to write your own procedures or buy them from the manufacturer."
Piotrowski, agrees. Once, an OEM "would just hand us a tech manual. Now, they say it's proprietary."
Lanser says OEMs even try to leverage their role as designer and manufacturer to force operators who insist on doing their own maintenance or using an independent MRO to buy inspection equipment from them. He cited an experience in which an OEM said, in effect, "You can buy the testing equipment from us. But it's the only equipment we trust. So if you don't buy it from us, you void the warranty."