The technical log has always been a mandatory requirement to record the maintenance status and performance of every aircraft on every flight. The introduction of the electronic technical log (ETL) has made life easier for everyone and is opening up new opportunities to exploit the data. Ian Harbison reports.
Paul Boyd, managing director, Conduce Group, says the company’s eTechLog8 can help an airline obtain the efficiencies of removing paper and improving data quality exponentially. As well as ensuring airworthiness compliance, the data can be brought into other aspects of the business. It will collect all the data the customer is required to collect as well as significantly improve the data accuracy and consistency. This is achieved thanks to drop-down filed and pre-populated data entry workflows. As for the ongoing minor inaccuracies, he says not everything can be pre-defined so if a drop-down table provides choices, it is inevitable that human error will occur. He adds that, for Conduce, the airline has total ownership of the data and the responsibility for collecting it, so, if an error occurs, it can be amended using strict correction parameters for logging all corrections. The use of mandatory data fields, regulatory or business led, means that all data will always be collected, no missing data entries as with the paper.
Hayley Russell, marketing manager, says one of the problems is a lack of standardization. While there is ATA SPEC 2000 Chapter 17, an industry standard for modelling ELB data as well as a set of methods for exchanging the ELB object data among computing systems, there are subtle differences that come into play. For example, trying to match data from the ETL for a particular flight with information from a fuel system. One system may have a column called ‘Location’, while another may have ‘Airport’. That seems relatively easy to map from one to the other but not if one uses a three-letter IATA code and the other a four-letter ICAO code. That muddies the data lake.
As well as the flight crew device, there is often a cabin crew device. This can pass any cabin findings, using eCabinLog8, to the eTechLog8 device for pilot review and action, and then to eCentral8, the core of the Conduce back-office application. eCentral8 also has an inbuilt data integration layer, eGIS8, that manipulates the data into the format required by the customer airline systems, such as AMOS, TRAX, OASES, Rusada, AerData Stream, ROAM, FuelPlus and many others. eCentral8 is also the main system configuration portal to manage aspects such as new aircraft joining the fleet.
Boyd notes that in-flight connectivity is usually specified in RFPs but, in real life, there seems little call for defects to be transmitted ahead of the aircraft’s arrival, although it is possible with the device. However, the company is now looking more closely at integration as it has a couple of projects that involve Collins Aerospace/Airbus Ground Flight Operations & Maintenance Exchanger (FOMAX) managed services.
The main driver is still replacing paper, and he says there has been a huge increase in interest in the last few years. During the pandemic, with many aircraft grounded, there was less activity at airlines and those companies looking to the future started to invest in ETLs and other applications. As a result, Conduce has seen significant growth in each of the last three years.
One reason for the demand is that the use of EFBs is pretty much universal so the focus has shifted to the engineering side, which has traditionally been last in line for investment, as most is spent on airline customer-centric aspects such as cabin improvements, in-flight point of sale systems, etc. There is now a growing awareness of the commercial impact of maintenance problems – not just compensation payments for delays but reputational loss from damaged or malfunctioning seats, for example.
The company has around 30 AOC customers. These include flag carriers such as Etihad Airways, Royal Brunei Airlines etc, and LCC and ACMI providers including Jazeera Airways, SmartLynx Airlines, and many others. Boyd states that an ETL provides a real benefit as aircraft can be deployed around the world on long-or short-term projects. If five aircraft are based in a remote area and the data can be sent back electronically, quickly and accurately, less support staff need to be deployed. In addition, getting utilization data in a timely manner helps enormously with maintenance planning. Operators of freighters, business jets and offshore helicopters are also included on the extensive Conduce customer list.
The most recently completed projects included Jazeera Airways in Kuwait, which went live in December 2022, just eight months after contract agreement. The company operates 19 Airbus A320 Family aircraft, with two newly A320neo aircraft usingTechLog8 in parallel with the paper from their very first flight. In the same month, December 2022, Texel Air selected eTechLog8. The Bahrain-based cargo airline and MRO has a fleet of one Boeing 737-300F, two Boeing 737-800BCF and two Boeing 737-700FC FlexCombi. This is expected to go live in Q1 2023 and will also use Conduce’s eDoc8 and eForm8 features, digitizing certain forms, checklists and briefing files into fully interactive PDF forms that can be completed on the device.
Robert Saunders, director of business development — ELB at Ultramain, remembers when the first Class 3 ETLs were introduced at Cathay Pacific — a lengthy and expensive process. He says the revolution came in 2010, with the introduction of the iPad, although there was resistance both from some regulatory authorities and some airlines to move away from paper. However, demand had been slowly increasing but has recently taken off as airlines trying to recover from the pandemic realize that ETL and the background data-processing capabilities can introduce increased efficiency, increased aircraft availability and reduced costs. That was not always the case. Airlines would say they wanted to get rid of paper but hadn’t thought out how or why.
Another significant change came with e-enabled aircraft like the Airbus A350. One airline during the pandemic, although with a reduced flying schedule for its A350s, reported a 44 percent reduction in delays.
The ULTRAMAIN ELB software has three main functions — tech log, cabin log and flight log — and can be used on the flight deck on the installed EFB, notebooks or tablets and, in the cabin, on smart phones, tablets and IFE. It can operate offline as well as connected to ground systems.
Flight crews can record and transmit accurate write-ups in real-time as defects occur. This allows maintenance teams to investigate problems before aircraft arrival. He points out that line maintenance may have to deal with 10 aircraft in a 12-hour shift, and advance notice of problems allows them to prioritize their activities.
Data is sent to ELB Ground System using whichever data communication links are available. This is a paperless database for technical log data, which can originate with paper or be electronic from the start. The database can be audited for fleet-wide technical log information and it can be integrated with MRO software systems in accordance with SPEC2000 Chapter 17.
For cabin crew, eCabin allows them to electronically record discrepancies quickly and accurately, eliminating the paper log. They can view previous write-ups, as well as their status and resolution. As eCabin integrates with the ELB, the captain can review cabin crew entries and determine if any should be recorded on the ETL instead.
The ETL contains additional information, such as the MEL. Flight crew can check to see whether they are happy to depart with performance restrictions imposed by a faulty component or system. It can also prompt repeat checks, perhaps for a fuel leak.
Information from the ETL can be used as part of the data lake required for predictive maintenance but Saunders thinks the ultimate providers of these services will be the OEMs. He says if someone has to monitor the data and raise a work order, it takes time. A large system like Skywise from Airbus could feed information straight to the ETL with prognostic/diagnostic information for the mechanic.
A surprise late entrant to the ETL market is Swiss Aviation Software (Swiss-AS), which only announced its AMOSeTL product in July 2022. The decision was made earlier, at the end of 2020, when the company was carrying out its annual roadmap review. It realized that while it was involved in maintenance through its long-established AMOS system and AMOSmobile/EXEC through developments in maintenance mobility, there was a gap. At the same time, there was demand from customers and, uniquely, customers who were prepared to invest in the development — these included Cebu Air, Condor, EL AL, Luxair, Malaysia Airlines, Sideral, SunExpress and four others. Two of these already had an ETL integrated with AMOS but the others were all moving away from paper.
The company makes reference to the AMOS customer community, and there are a number of airlines who are champions of new technology, being willing to use their resources to help the development of new products. In this case they started paying the subscription fees straight away, as well as funding for unique solutions. Of course, this means they will be the first to have AMOSeTL.
In addition, new customers can sign up today. They will not be able to actively participate in the development, but will be able to test and align their processes up to Q3 2023.
The project kicked off in November 2021, with definition workshops with the funding customers. The native offline app was completed six months later and made available. A year in, full development started with the pilot module, with the maintenance module due to enter service in May this year and the cabin module in November. In-flight testing is being carried out at the moment with the named customers as well as ground testing. Deliveries of the full system will start in Q4 2023.
The funding customers show a wide geographical spread and a variety of operators, from full service, to regional and leisure. While development with a single customer might have been easier, it means the solution will be highly configurable and will also make it easier for the company to help new customers adopt it. In addition, the funding customers are bringing invaluable operational experience to the company.
The system has been designed to be user-centric, focused on each type of activity, as well as being tailored to the airline’s own processes and procedures.
Of course, while AMOSeTL interfaces seamlessly with AMOS, AMOS has interfaces with many other systems, so the data flow is seamless throughout an airline’s organization. For example, a pilot may want to check with CAMO that the aircraft is airworthy or a line maintenance supervisor may want to see if the aircraft has been accepted by the pilot. It is also possible to store information on AMOSeTL that has been extracted from AMOS, such as damage charts.
One of the unnamed funding customers is a helicopter operator. This is an interesting diversion from conventional ETL use. While offshore operations can be very similar to those of an airline, operating a daily schedule between rigs in fixed positions, this is a governmental operation, so ETL data has to include dropping off or picking up passengers at remote off-airport locations, as well as noting changes to role equipment, such as fitting a rescue hoist or camera.
AMOSeTL, which is a Type-A EFB application to simplify the aviation authorities’ approval process, has the following main functions:
– Pilot in command: reporting defects in an intuitive way, selecting them from a pre-existing list and being able to add any additional relevant information for the maintenance staff and goes beyond a defect report.
– Cabin: being able to report a cabin defect in a simple way; if needed, a highlighted picture can be added in order to enhance the flight crew to cabin crew communication.
– Maintenance: being able to report defects, close defects and perform line maintenance related tasks, such as daily checks, from its own working environment.
– Admin: being able to manage users and roles, workflows and configuration directly in AMOS, roll-out updates and configuration through their Mobile Device Management.
– Authorities: in analogy to the paper TechLog, the authorities need to consult and access the continuous airworthiness of the aircraft associated with the specific eTL. They can consult every page but are not able to edit any detail.
In January, Lufthansa Technik announced that, as part of its new Digital Tech Ops Ecosystem, it had purchased 100 percent of Swiss-AS shares from Swiss International Air Lines. The new organization brings it together with the AVIATAR data and analytics platform and flydocs, the provider of digital records and asset solutions. The three entities will remain independent but increase collaboration. The ecosystem is open to collaborate and link with customers or external digital solutions; modular, to make individual use of parts feasible; neutral, meaning, that a customer stays independent of OEMs and MROs; secure, granting customers full control and ownership of their data; and seamless to ensure a consistent workflow and data access across solutions. That means data from AMOSeTL will have even wider applications.
Karl Steeves, CEO of TrustFlight, says that there has been much more interest in the last couple of years as airlines increased their desire to go paperless as a result of the pandemic. However, progress is still slow as there is usually a long RFP process. The ETL also bridges flight operations and maintenance, which also adds time. In addition, the industry is risk averse — no one wants to be first to go to the regulatory authorities. That means it can take 18-20 months to complete the deal in some cases.
He says ultra-low-cost carriers are an important market, including Flair in Canada and Bonza in Australia. The latter signed up in August last year, making it the first Australian airline to operate exclusively with paperless digital technical logs when it began flights in January. TrustFlight will also be providing CAMO and fleet technical management support.
The ETL is linked to the company’s Centrik operational management system, which gives access to a complete history for an individual aircraft or across the fleet. This allows trend analysis, including a Reliability Analysis Model that can show aircraft that are outliers, even to seasonal variations in air conditioning. As it is a web-based system, it is possible to have remote sign-off. If an aircraft has a technical problem after push-back, a mechanic can check and make it a deferred defect without a return to the gate. For ease of use, the log pages are designed to match the airline’s paper forms.
As fuel is a major expenditure, it is possible to scan receipts as well as logging why the engine is running — maintenance runs are charged under emissions rules.
Cameron Hood, CEO of NVable, agrees that the main market driver is the desire to go paperless but points out that, compared to the EFB, it is much harder for the ETL, which has to be accepted by maintenance, flight crew and the authorities. Nevertheless, the company’s Electronic Techlog, part of its Converge system, continues to evolve. A new application is on the iPad, supplementing a Windows-based version. The new application gives airlines flexibility in a controlled way but they will have to write their own procedures. The back end processes — the website and web servers — do not change. Discussions are under way with a number of customers.
While the iPad should stay with the aircraft, it is also possible to use personal issue devices and an application is available as a result of strong demand. However, he believes technology should not try to circumvent the proper controls that are in place. That greater flexibility can cause greater problems in procedure control. One of the most important is how does an airline prove to the authorities that the correct information is available at the aircraft for an engineer to use. While there is strong demand, he strongly recommends that the ETL stays with the aircraft.
There is a trend to integrate data more, to gain a greater understanding for operations and maintenance. This has come from a growing realization that this will allow things to be managed and controlled much more efficiently. A recent request has been for a station diary. The company has been asked to produce Maintrol diaries before, to log events online, but the new development extends the concept to providing advance notice to a line station that an inbound aircraft has a problem that has to be rectified.
There is also a greater desire for integration with MRO systems and the company has been working with Aspire and its OASES system, as well as customer-led work with systems such as AMOS.
NVable’s Electronic Techlog is part of its Converge system and continues to evolve, with a new application on the iPad, which supplements their Windows based version. NVable images.