Electronic Tech Logs Software Adoption Slow, Despite Benefits
With maintenance staff increasingly connected both with each other and critical maintenance systems, it is logical to bring pilots into this productive digital loop. After all, cockpit crews need to know the problems and maintenance status of their aircraft, and they need to enter new defects and flight data essential for maintenance work and planning.
So why not replace the paper tech logs now used by most airlines with electronic technical logs (ETL), installed on the electronic flight bags most pilots carry?
ETLs have been and are being deployed, but it is happening slowly. Even though benefits are real and significant, implementation is a major effort, involving regulators, numerous airline staff and units, IT changes, communication requirements, training and change management. Yet veteran ETL providers see prospects for further adoption, and several new entrants validate their enthusiasm.
Here is a roundup of some ETLs on the market.
MRO software-maker Ultramain’s ETL is used by 10 airlines, including Cathay Pacific Airways, Japan Airlines, British Airways and Air New Zealand. Director of Business Development Jene Adams says other implementations are underway, and she is seeing solid market interest.
Adams cites ETL accuracy—as the tool enforces standardized fault codes better than paper—and universal and real-time access to the latest data as major benefits. “This results in fewer gate delays, fewer maintenance cancellations and fewer deferrals and no fault founds,” she says. Uniformly accurate data also should improve reliability analysis.
The Ultramain tool has been used for more than a decade, and the company says it is easy to use and works on either iOS or Windows Mobile 10 devices. Compliant with Spec 2000 Chapter 17, the ETL can be integrated into any MRO software that is also compliant. It interfaces with five SAP systems, AMOS, Ultramain itself and two other MRO applications.
Hosted or on-premises, the app itself can be set up in one week. Adams argues that mobile devices have eased hardware installation challenges, and regulatory authorities are getting used to ETLs. “The only hurdle to . . . implementation is going through sizable business process change in switching from using paper to digital. Big changes always involve projects, and it takes effort to get them started,” she says.
According to Hayley Russell, manager at ETL provider Conduce, implementation of its eTechLog8 software by a low-cost carrier with 240 aircraft can yield a 300% return on investment in five years. She says up to 2,000 pages of paper per year on a Boeing 767 can be eliminated, and substantial time can be saved by pilots and line engineers during aircraft turnarounds and by ground staff avoiding manual scanning, faxing and entry of paper data.
Russell says the electronic approach also reduces errors and missing data with automatic checks, and journey data from each flight moves into MRO systems much faster, taking just 90 sec. versus up to four days for paper records.
ETechLog 8 supports 200 aircraft flown by carriers such as Smartlynx, Royal Brunei Airlines, Titan Airways, Etihad Airways and DHL.
Russell argues that the slowness of adoption has been due to inadequate hardware, software and communication. She believes Panasonic’s Toughpad, Microsoft touchscreen software and cheaper 4G roaming charges now strengthens the business case.
One early adopter of ETLs is Finnair, which began using Skypaq’s ETL on Embraer 190s in 2008. Henri Lonn, flight operations development manager, says ETLs were scarce then, and only Skypaq matched his requirements. Gains from using it have included better data coverage and quality for maintenance analysis, real-time data-sharing, efficiency, lower paper costs, fewer errors with less manual entries and up-to-date technical data on the fleet. In addition, “in the first few years we saw a 48% reduction in average defect closing times,” he says.
Deployment required developing new processes to match digital workflows. ETLs are not just copies of paper logs but must meet regulatory requirements created for paper logs. Finnair had to integrate ETLs with other systems and develop business rules, usually less documented than data schemes. “There are a surprising number of stakeholders in an airline wanting to import technical or journey log data once it’s available,” Lonn says.
Skypaq now interfaces directly with AMOS and a few other systems. Data is available indirectly to other systems— for example, Airbus’ Skywise application—and more interfaces are being developed.
Next, Finnair had to test Skypaq realistically, including what Lonn calls “edge cases.” Finally, the airline had to manage change, and communicate with and train users.
Finnair tweaks its ETL constantly as requirements and other systems change. Lonn wants to further improve data quality and deepen Skypaq’s integration with AMOS, new data sources and other pilot tools.
He sees moving from paper to digital tech logs as very worthwhile but urges airlines to ensure they select the best system, for now and the future. “Changing the system involves a lot of work and risk,” he says. Lonn advises bringing regulators into the process early and identifying everybody inside and outside the airline affected by adoption. Finally, “do not lock yourself into a specific platform unless long-term support is guaranteed,” he adds.
Skypaq CEO Richard McKenna notes its app is also deployed at Ryanair and Finnish regional Norra, and he has worked with Pinnacle Airlines.
Skypaq is integrated with both AMOS and the Aircraft Maintenance and Spares Information System, maintenance software offered by an Airbus subsidiary. Compared with paper logs, McKenna says Skypaq cuts maintenance log entries per write-up by 80%, manual entries to various IT systems per write-up by 80% and aircraft visits per write-up by 66%, all while eliminating paper storage and physical visits to records.
He stresses that Skypaq is OEM-agnostic, can work with mixed fleets and preserves confidentiality of airline data. The ETL is now cloud-based, and airlines can use platforms such as Microsoft PowerApps, Salesforce and Mendix to modify the app. The company now enables signing in to Skypaq on PowerApps to avoid the burden of multiple sign-ins.
Skypaq runs on smartphones, tablets and laptops with Windows, iOS or Android operating systems. The app gets gate-out, wheels-off, wheels-on and gate-in times automatically from ACARS.
Meanwhile, other providers are eager to enter the market. Boeing acquired Crossconsense’s Crossmos ETL in autumn 2018 and adapted it into a Windows-based ETL, Mobile Logbook, introduced in 2019. An iOS version should be available in the second quarter of 2020, according to Steve McFeely, managing director of maintenance digital solutions. Several airlines have expressed interest in Mobile Logbook. “We anticipate new deployments with customers later this year,” he says.
McFeely sees multiple advantages for users: significant time savings from bidirectional data transfers with any maintenance system that complies with ATA 2000 Chapter 17, more accurate fault reporting and maintenance disposition, and more complete data capture.
Mobile Logbook can be customized for airline business processes and installed “rather quickly,” McFeely says. However, much more time is needed for airline units to assess and alter processes to work with the tool.
IFS Maintenix has partnered with Comply365, which specializes in mobile software to ensure regulatory compliance, to develop an ETL that is part of, and works only with, Maintenix itself. IFS Aerospace & Defense product manager Kirk Strutt argues that other, separate ETLs simply mirror paper technical logs, are not really part of the maintenance system, may overload pilots with data they do not need, and not be ideal for night environments.
Strutt says the new Maintenix tool will ensure real-time compliance as mechanics perform work, thoroughly connect pilots and the entire workforce on the day of operations, enable multi-horizon planning—including strategic maintenance planning—and ensure the right part is available, after checking conflicts and materials. “It is accessible from anywhere—airport, hotels or coffee shops—on the device they are using,” Strutt says. “And it’s a natural extension of the maintenance system, not a separate system. Pilots, mechanics, material and maintenance controllers, planners and line super-visors are all using the same system in real time.”
Strutt notes that Maintenix has supported e-signatures, based on public key infrastructure, used in its ETL for a decade. A QR code embedded in the cockpit and scanned by the electronic logbook camera would double-check that the pilot is using the correct aircraft’s data.
The IFS Comply365 app is now available on iPads and IFS will look at using Android and Windows-based devices. Strutt says implementation challenges include gaining regulatory approval and developing a backup plan for any loss of connectivity or other disruptions in ETL functions.
TrustFlight’s ETL has been used in business aviation, and the company is now working with several European airlines on deployment. Managing Director Karl Steeves cites efficiency, cost savings, fewer errors and clearer data on airworthiness as major benefits.
TrustFlight’s ETL is part of a larger suite of digital products, including an electronic task cards application and an aircraft records platform. Steeves stresses that TrustFlight is a European Union Aviation Safety Agency Part-M Continuing Airworthiness Management Organization that understands maintenance requirements and can continuously improve its products. Its ETL now has a fully digital minimum equipment list and can record flight-duty periods.
Steeves says many regulators have not dealt with ETLs before, which can be a hurdle to implementation. On the other hand, he is seeing start-up airlines adopt ETLs from the beginning, avoiding the need for a switchover in the future.