The aircraft refueling business, like many businesses, is dependent on the full attention and dedication of the people performing the actual work-—those handling the fuel lines, connecting and disconnecting the nozzles to the aircraft tanks, watching the gauges and indicators as the fuel is transferred, driving the vehicles and taking care of the many other manual tasks. 

Administrative tasks are also a critical part of the job, however. Reading the meters, recording the relevant information, completing the reports that are important to the management of the business and its resources are all essential, but they can be a distraction. And they certainly take time, sometimes delaying flight departures and preventing crews from working on other flights that might be waiting for service.

These are the most obvious justifications and motivations for automating as much of the administrative and data-gathering tasks as possible—to save time and money while allowing workers to focus on the important business of delivering fuel safely and efficiently.

The aircraft refueling industry as a whole is embracing digital technologies to automate the administrative part of the process. The most obvious aspect of this change is the use of tablets and touch-screen terminals that are hand-held and/or mounted on delivery vehicles and replace paper forms. These electronic documents are much more difficult to misplace than paper ones, cannot get torn, are always up to date and are available to anyone authorized to see them. A single, unique paper document in contrast is not always handy, and if there are multiple copies, it may be difficult to keep them current with one another.

Electronic devices, moreover, make reporting quicker and easier for line workers. Tapping the screen can be both faster and less disruptive than pulling out a clipboard, finding a working pen or pencil and then trying to write the correct information legibly. And the data entered is immediately available throughout the system or network—there is no need for someone to enter it into the system at a later time. Digital entry also logs the activities precisely (by time and location) while allowing the ground crewmember to confirm rather than enter the identifying information (such as work order number or aircraft identification).

The real power of digitalization is unlocked when the physical world is equipped to capture the data automatically using connected sensors and smart devices—the much-discussed and anticipated Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). IIoT devices can measure and report fuel flow, fuel level, temperature, pressure and other parameters with precision while logging the data into the system immediately and accurately. This real-time monitoring can even feed automatic control devices (valves, for example), eliminating the chance of human error. These technologies will not replace the ground crew but rather enable and empower them to do a better, more reliable and more efficient job.

The bonus benefit is that this data, more complete and accurate than ever before, can be combined with other data from the front office, aircraft operator, manufacturer, logistics providers and suppliers to drive increased efficiency, reduce shortages and delays, plan manpower and equipment and even improve maintenance and aircraft reliability and safety.

Digitizing the refueling records is a worthy pursuit for its own sake, saving money and delivering better service for aircraft operator customers. Maintenance and support records tied in with other data sources (that are also benefiting from IIoT) provide a whole new universe of value available throughout the entire aircraft operations supply chain.