Viewpoint: Move Toward Digital Records Make Maintenance Technicians More Efficient

Business aviation MRO technician
Credit: Getty Images

Let’s step into our Wayback Machine and set the date for June 2020. We were in the middle of a global pandemic lockdown, and things were looking grim for the foreseeable future for business and private aviation. 

Everyone was asking the same question: Would our industry ever get back to “normal” again. 

Here we are in 2022, and, no, things haven’t gotten back to normal. In fact, when it comes to the use of business and private aircraft, they’ve blown way past normal into areas that many of us thought we’d never see again. 

According to Argus International’s Activity Report, April 2022 saw the use of business and private turboprop and jet aircraft in North America jump nearly 17% over the same period a year ago. European activity was up nearly 75%  over that same time. 

And I’m not even going to get into the mind-boggling activity levels in pre-owned and new aircraft sales. Let’s just say that seemingly anyone who can buy an airplane is doing just that.

Now, I don’t want to throw water on our post-pandemic renaissance parade, but there is a bit of a downside to this sudden and dramatic upsurge in turbine flight hours and aircraft transactions. Namely, it’s put equally record-setting pressure on the professionals tasked with maintaining these aircraft and keeping their passengers safe.

Imagine all the additional hours that aircraft and powerplant personnel are putting in to ensure aircraft in their charge can meet the demands of all these passengers. Even at a one hour of maintenance for one hour flown ratio, which is not close to accurate, the additional time technicians are spending pre-and post-flight is mind-numbing.

Unfortunately, too much of an A&P’s valuable time is wasted – yes, I do mean wasted – because of the requirement for a technician to search through literal file boxes full of paper logbooks and documents to verify any inspections and repairs that pertain to their task at hand. 

Even the time it takes to accomplish a seemingly simple task can be extended by hours from having to search through years’ worth of records. And that’s for one task. Imagine the time it takes if it’s a detailed inspection or repair. 

In addition, many MROs report they are shorthanded. That puts even more pressure on those A&Ps who are on the line. Add it all up, and we’re losing untold days' worth of productive time. 

There has to be a better way. And there is. Aviation is trending towards the digitization of paper records.

If you’re a commercial or fractional aircraft operator, there’s a good chance that you’re familiar with FAA AC 120-68J –the regulation that requires air carriers and other operators to report their pilots’ employment history, training, and other qualifications via the FAA’s new electronic database. 

The reasons aren’t important there – although they are essential to our industry. But for now, let’s focus on the fact that the FAA recognizes the values and benefits of digital records. No doubt, it won’t be long before all pilots will have to continually update their own training and recent flight activity digitally to the Feds. 

The next logical step is to begin the transition from paper maintenance and operational logbooks to an all-digital format.

Imagine the decrease in time and the increase in accuracy an A&P will enjoy if, instead of slogging through volume after volume of logbooks looking for a particular entry, they type an inspection title, serial number, or other information into a search box.  In seconds, they’ll have exactly what they need to get the job done.

While the task of digitizing an aircraft’s back-to-birth documentation may seem daunting, it’s really not that hard to do. Modern optical character recognition, along with machine learning software, makes the process painless. 

Sure, it takes specialized software, an advanced Cloud-based network, advanced cybersecurity protocols, and a few other things to make it all happen. But any investment is more than paid for through the dramatic jump in overall job efficiency that technicians will enjoy.

Imagine what it would mean to your operation if you could just save just one hour of an A&Ps time on every maintenance task? What would that increase in efficiency mean to your operation in a week, a month, or a year? There’s the possibility that you might save so much total time that being a bit short-staffed wouldn’t be as limiting as it otherwise might be. 

Saving time is just one of the many advantages digital records bring to owner-operators, like protecting the aircraft’s total value at resale time. But that’s another story.

Everything else in the world is going digital; it’s about time aircraft records do, too.

Roberto Guerrieri is co-founder and CEO of Bluetail, which uses an FAA-compliant, cloud-based SaaS platform to enable aircraft owners, operators, and flight departments to move away from paper-based records and digitize, organize, search and share aircraft records (back-to-birth) from anywhere on any device.