Digital Project Aims To Standardize Aircraft Maintenance Data
Digitalization of maintenance data is making the MRO industry more efficient, but hurdles remain in standardizing the process across different operators. This issue has become particularly tricky for the aircraft leasing industry, in which maintenance data related to an aircraft and all its components must be collected, audited and transferred between different operators.
A university in Ireland is now tackling the problem on behalf of the country’s large aircraft leasing sector. The University of Limerick is developing a Global Digital Aviation Maintenance Registry (GDAMR) to create a common language for identifying maintenance tasks and aircraft components, which could be used to store, search and simplify operator data.
According to Conal Shipman, managing director of aerospace digital registries at the University of Limerick, the problem boils down to dirty fingerprints (DFP)—the physical or digital proof that maintenance has been performed. Operators must hold DFPs to meet regulatory requirements, and Shipman says the loss of 30 DFP records would result in around 30-50% loss in asset value, depending on asset age and maintenance stages. “The result is that the industry insures their assets against possible DFP losses, especially during repossessions. It is possible to rebuild your DFPs using maintenance data from a database, but this can be a very lengthy process involving multiple aviation authorities,” he says.
This becomes particularly problematic when an aircraft is transitioning between operators. Lessors typically require operators to maintain and store all DFP records for an aircraft, but if an asset comes from a previous operator, Shipman says it is likely that the new operator’s maintenance management system (MMS) will not hold all the historical maintenance data from when the aircraft was owned by the previous operator.
Even if a new operator does have access to historical maintenance data and DFPs, Shipman says problems can occur due to differing ways in which companies input data. Different operators may use different naming conventions for various maintenance task and revision numbers, which prevents seamless transfer of data across the industry. Part numbers and serial numbers can also be changed in an airline’s MMS if modifications take place. Shipman says DFPs can also be difficult to search and organize if they are printed on physical paper or in a text-based file created from a document management system.
To solve these issues, the University of Limerick’s GDAMR project is working to create a common language that can be used to identify maintenance tasks and components. It is drawing from the universally unique identifier (UUID) concept used by other industries, such as international bank account numbers in the banking sector and vehicle identification numbers in the automotive industry. The GDAMR will create UUIDs for maintenance tasks and components, which will be able to communicate with an operator’s MMS, using artificial intelligence and machine learning to assign UUIDs to existing data within the system.
Shipman says UUIDs could be placed as barcodes on documents, which could be scanned to authenticate the unit. This process could be used for compliance audits, such as determining whether an operator has completed all the airworthiness directives required for a specific aircraft model. If items are missing, the MMS would then flag the issue.
According to Shipman, UUIDs could immediately help audits by storing searchable metadata against DFPs. “The ultimate solution is the future development of a global digital transaction registry. If, for example, a work order was raised in a MMS, which uses the registry and stores UUIDs, the work order could be signed digitally,” he explains. “But the DFP could be a structured XML file containing UUID master data. The secured file could be instantly shared in the global digital transaction registry.”
Once data is moved to this common language, Shipman says DFPs would be transferrable between operators’ systems. “This would mean that you’re not getting a current status report when you’re transitioning aircraft—you will actually get the full back-to-birth maintenance transactions on the aircraft and all its component, and you could load them into your maintenance management system,” he says. With no paper involved, Shipman says this information could be available “at the click of a button” and DFPs could be updated in real time, thus protecting asset value.
The University of Limerick is actively looking for development partners to help it ensure the GDAMR meets the aviation industry’s needs. It is currently setting up working groups to help aviation stakeholders better understand the project.