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|White Paper: A lifelong digital maintenance record for aviation assets Part 1||Karl Steeves, CEO, TrustFlight and Jack Hsu, Senior Manager, Boeing Vancouver||View article|
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White Paper: A lifelong digital maintenance record for aviation assets Part 1
Author: Karl Steeves, CEO, TrustFlight and Jack Hsu, Senior Manager, Boeing VancouverSubscribe
To realize a long-anticipated step for the aircraft maintenance records process, a group of aviation industry stakeholders in have come together under the auspices of the Digital Aviation Records System (DARS) program led by TrustFlight. The program is ambitious with an ultimate goal to maintain a paperless and unbroken record of an asset’s service and maintenance life.
TrustFlight, Boeing, RaceRocks and the The University of British Columbia have all brought their skills and capabilities to the project. The team’s goals go beyond the immediate benefits resulting from the elimination of paper from the system. Digitally-based processes open up new worlds of opportunity for efficiency, profitability and safety, as this paper will show.
In part one, we’ll look at why the project is needed, who is involved and what they each bring to the project. In part two, in the Autumn 2022 issue of Aircraft IT MRO, we’ll look at what DARS is, how it will work what will be its impact on the industry and how it can be implemented.
Let’s start with a quick look at TrustFlight, the IT business leading the project.
A great strength for TrustFlight is that directors in the business have experience of owning and operating aircraft. One part of the business focuses on CAMO (Continuous Airworthiness Management Organization), providing outsource services to airlines and operators around the world; essentially doing all their maintenance back-office tasks such as planning of maintenance, looking at reliability, records, maintenance program changes… everything apart from working on the aircraft. It was through that work that a lot of the issues faced by airlines and the maintenance and engineering processes were identified.
TrustFlight came into the industry as a relative newcomer about a decade ago and expected aviation to be more digitally advanced than it is, certainly on the process side of things. Part of the reason for that slower advancement is because aviation is, understandably, heavily regulated; so, barriers to change are understandably high and stakeholders are appropriately focused on risk reduction.
THE ISSUES THAT INSPIRED DARS
The main problems that TrustFlight identified and that DARS is aiming to solve are…
First, a lot of the history for components, airframes, engines, etc. are stored on disparate systems. Typically, each operator has its own maintenance and engineering (M&E) system that might be tracking things. However, if a component or airframe has come from another operator or if that component or airframe is going in for overhaul or has had some work done by a third-party MRO, the relevant data will be recorded in a separate system. Because the data is on separate systems, it can be very difficult to piece together a full maintenance history and full performance data for a component or airframe. There is some element of records which get provided when an operator is buying and aircraft or a component or when it’s coming back from maintenance with an MRO but, typically, that doesn’t provide the full history, just what’s required for compliance purposes.
Secondly, those histories are largely paper based and must be audited to make sure that they are accurate and compliant, and that the correct actions have been taken on a component or an airframe. Then that data has to be manually put into an M&E system which is a lot of work.
Those are the two main problems that DARS sets out to solve. An aircraft that is being utilized for more than thirty years could move around a number of different operators and, within that timeframe, there are rotable components which are experiencing discrete maintenance activities. It’s very rare that there is a full history of a component or an airframe because information is held by different parties on different systems.
BRINGING THE COLLABORATORS TOGETHER
TrustFlight opened their Vancouver office in July 2020 in the midst of the COVID pandemic but already had a relationship with Boeing in Vancouver where they have data analytics and data teams based. In previous discussions they had both identified blockchain as a technology that could potentially tackle the problem of maintenance records and data sharing. They also involved more organizations in Canada, which is a good place to develop this kind of technology. This was done through Canada’s Digital Supercluster.
The Digital Supercluster is fast-tracking the development of world-class technologies and skilling systems to keep Canadians healthy, build a productive economy and address climate change. It brings together businesses, academia, community and government agencies to solve some of industry and society’s biggest challenges – better and faster than any single organization can do on its own. Along with co-investment, the Digital Supercluster provided the framework for successful collaboration between TrustFlight, Boeing, RaceRocks and The University of British Columbia. Leveraging the unique expertise and complimentary solutions of each consortium member is greatly accelerating the development and time to market of DARS.
The program sought contributions from many different stakeholders in the industry including MROs, OEMs, airlines, and leasing companies. They all produce, evaluate or require access to maintenance data. Canada has a good representation from all those different parts of the industry with world-class OEMs, MROs, airlines and leasing companies.
There are four main partners in the DARS program: TrustFlight, Boeing, RaceRocks and The University of British Columbia (UBC).
- TrustFlight is providing most of the development for the main systems, DARS as well as the Digital Engine Log application.
- Boeing is working on specific technology for identity management and digital credentials, called Self-Sovereign Identity, that provides a way of authenticating users, such as an engineer, and validating they have the appropriate credentials to sign off maintenance records. Currently, that sign-off is usually done with stamps and manual signatures; Boeing’s technology can store an engineer’s digital credentials, enabling the validation of sign-offs back to the original certification the engineer received, from a regulator or other recognized authority. Today’s analog process is cumbersome and it can be difficult to validate a “sign off” as appropriately certified. This new system will provide a lot more confidence that activities are completed by an appropriately credentialed individual.
- RaceRocks is a software company whose background is with military applications delivering enabled teams and empowered decisions. They are developing a component of DARS to forecast and visualize maintenance; another work fabrication that will sit on top of DARS. The work is starting with engines, which, depending on usage, need to be overhauled at a certain point. Multiple factors and stakeholders need to be considered when planning long-term maintenance and RaceRocks’ application provides an intuitive interface for airlines and MROs to align and contract these work periods ultimately driving more availability and engine utilization for airlines.
- The University of British Columbia (UBC): researchers and students based at UBC Sauder School of Business are contributing research knowledge and talent in supply chain management, analytics and blockchain. This research addresses technical problems, such as data aggregation, and is also informing engagement with regulators, other organizations and cultural challenges associated with technology adoption.
DIGITAL CREDENTIALS AND SELF-SOVEREIGN IDENTITY – BOEING’S PART IN THE DARS PROGRAM
We’ve already mentioned the contribution of Boeing as an OEM but as an important component in the proposed new process there is more to consider.
Boeing is bringing industry expertise and providing feedback to the DARS project: but Boeing is also working on a specific part of the project related to digital credentials using an emerging technology called self-sovereign identity (SSI). Self-sovereign identity is also a blockchain based technology, but separate from the main development project of tracking and maintenance records. SSI is a digital credentials protocol utilizing blockchain that allows individuals to control their own identity data, rather than allowing third party organizations to control it.
The goal is to use SSI to track digital credentials for pilots, mechanics, air traffic controllers and general systems users. One use case is to provide digital credentials for pilot and mechanics, another is as a mechanism for identity access management into applications, like DARS.
Today there’s a lot of paper involved in aircraft maintenance. When the mechanic completes work they will typically physically sign documents in paper form for attestation. There are MRO/M&E systems that include digital signatures but they are not widely adopted. The idea behind using digital credentials is that those signatures can be tied to credentials received from the regulator who have validated that the mechanic/pilot/air traffic controller has the credentials to do their assigned work.
In order for the digital credentials to work, relevant regulatory agencies must approve the overall credentials framework, and conversations on working together with aerospace regulators to explore uses for this technology have begun. Those involved with the project believe in the system because there are many security and efficiency advantages in moving from paper to digital and recognize the importance of the partnership with regulatory authorities in creating a successful system.
Boeing works with aviation schools around the world, training mechanics and pilots on Boeing aircraft and, for many years, have aspired to move to digital credentials. Today, certificates are printed, signed and shipped to the student as paper. It is costly and can take weeks before the student receives his certificate. If a certificate is lost, the administrative process of regenerating and sending them to students can again take weeks.
SSI is an emerging technology that is being tested in various parts of the world in aviation, in healthcare and in other industries, including for COVID passport tracking. The technology stack used for the DARS project is standards based, using one of the most mature and popular decentralized identity projects.
If successful, the technology could fit into other aviation use cases. The aviation industry is fragmented across the stakeholders involved in the adoption of an emerging technology like SSI, so time is needed for people and organizations to understand, accept and adopt. The digital transformation of aviation has been underway for many years and requires careful consideration and coordination. Given the benefits, digital credentials make a compelling case for wider adoption throughout the industry.
End of part 1…
Karl is the CEO of TrustFlight. Graduating with a degree in Engineering from Imperial College London, Karl originally worked in creating safety-critical software systems for electric vehicles. He then went on to become a commercial pilot, and founded TrustFlight in 2017 with the aim of using software to improve some of the processes he experienced in operating and maintaining aircraft.
Jack Hsu is a Senior Manager at Boeing Vancouver, where he leads various innovation projects using emerging technologies like Blockchain, Augmented Reality and Knowledge Graphs. Mr. Hsu has worked in software and digital across multiple industries for over 25 years in roles that have spanned software engineering, product management, project/program management and business development.
TrustFlight is a global provider of Digital Workflow Applications to the aviation industry including the class-leading Electronic Tech Log system and Operational Management system, Centrik. TrustFlight also provides innovative software-driven workflow support services helping aircraft operators and airlines to remove costly paperwork and associated errors, preserve aircraft value, increase efficiency and safety in aircraft operations.
Boeing Vancouver specializes in delivering solutions that improve operations management for the aviation industry. As a leading aviation-software provider, they have built their reputation on innovative IT solutions that help to streamline and optimize operations for airline customers.