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A fresh look at information
Author: JD Sillion, VP Products and Solutions, InfoTrust GroupSubscribe
JD Sillion, VP Products and Solutions at InfoTrust Group reviews trends defining what it takes to remain competitive in the Civil Aviation Industry
This four-part series explains how new document specifications, content consumption expectations, mobile technology, and other trends in civil aviation information management have developed an industry step-change aimed at building efficiencies in the management of technical information throughout its lifecycle, from OEMs and their suppliers to airlines and MROs, challenging the current way things are done.
If a commercial airliner soaring across the skies makes a captivating impression, that aircraft’s complexity is, to an even greater degree, daunting. A quick look at the Boeing 747 aircraft family, one of the world’s most impressive aircraft if not the most complex by today’s standards, is revealing. The 747 family, examples of which first flew commercially in 1970, includes models each comprising more than six million parts. They each also have 171 miles (274 km) of wiring and five miles (8 km) of tubing; they consist of 147,000 pounds (66,150 kg) of high-strength aluminum, with 16 main landing gear tires and two nose landing gear tires. The height of a 747 aircraft is 63 feet 8 inches (19.4 m), equivalent to a six-story building.
Seventy-five thousand engineering drawings were used to produce the first 747, and 971 lights, gauges and switches were used in the first 747 models. The aircraft has a ‘flexible’ cabin interior that allows airlines to rearrange seats and class configuration overnight (in eight hours), and it supports 48-hour conversion times for changes in galley and lavatory locations.
Since its inaugural flight, the 747 family has logged more than 42 billion nautical miles (77.8 billion kilometers), equivalent to 101,500 trips from the Earth to the moon and back. 747s have flown 3.5 billion people, the equivalent of more than half of the world’s population.
Technical information: holding it all together
Building, operating, and maintaining such a complex and heavily utilized fleet of aircraft for almost a half century is no small feat. And while half of the world’s population has concerned themselves with the comfort, convenience, and on-time departures and arrivals of each flight, passengers are largely unaware of the silent army of technical professionals working around the clock to execute each flight flawlessly.
In order to operate a fleet of aircraft safely and in a timely manner, airlines are required to maintain volumes of technical documentation to assist technicians in performing both standard and non-routine tasks. This includes aircraft maintenance manuals (AMMs), aircraft recovery manuals (ARMs), component maintenance manuals (CMMs), fault manuals and troubleshooting manuals (FRM/FIM/TSMs), flight crew operations manuals (FCOMs), maintenance planning documents (MPDs), master minimum equipment lists (MMELs), structural repair manuals (SRMs), system description sections (SDSs), weight and balance manuals (WBMs), wiring diagram manuals (WDMs), illustrated part catalogs (IPCs), and more.
In fact, it has been said that if all of the technical information required to operate and maintain an aircraft were printed, it would fill an entire 747 in cargo configuration. According to Boeing, in 1998 “[they] distributed enough maintenance documents to create a stack of paper more than 24 miles (38 km) high and a stack of microfilm cartridges more than 14 miles (22 km) high.”
And rightfully so: when you have equipment as complex as aircraft, accurate and up-to-date technical content is an absolute necessity. There is no safe way to maintain aircraft without appropriate documentation.
The quality of information counts
You don’t have to look far to understand the importance of technical information in commercial aviation. Airline operators must adhere to stringent regulations for technical information related to the operation and maintenance of aircraft. These requirements are mandated by aviation regulatory authorities such as the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the European Union European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), and similar bodies in other countries.
In order to operate commercially, operators must meet FAA and EASA technical information certification requirements. Operators also must show compliance with airworthiness directives (ADs), “legally enforceable rules issued by the FAA in accordance with 14 CFR part 39 to correct an unsafe condition in an [aircraft] product.” and issued by EASA on behalf of the European Community, its member states and the European third party countries that participate in the activities of EASA.
First and foremost, these regulations help ensure the safe operation of aircraft and, because of their importance to public safety, airlines make it their number one priority to comply with them. Failure to comply with federally mandated technical information can result in the grounding of aircraft (the EASA states that “the continuing airworthiness of an aircraft shall be ensured by accomplishing any applicable ADs. Consequently, no person may operate an aircraft to which an AD applies.”) or the imposition of stiff fines – both of which result in financial consequences that no airline can afford to risk.
The need for effective technical information management
The immense amount of information required for operating and maintaining not just a single aircraft but an airline’s entire fleet – all while keeping in compliance – is staggering. Perhaps more importantly, in order for operators to demonstrate accordance with regulations, and for technicians to be able to find all of the required information across related material from multiple manuals to perform tasks accurately, airlines need a way to organize and manage all of their technical information as well as a methodology for technicians to access it across their aircraft models. Compound this with technicians working 24 hours a day, seven days a week in multiple locations worldwide who must be able to access the latest published revisions at the same time, and multiple users at a single location who must have access to their own copies of the information, and the need for effective technical information management becomes clear.
Airlines simply cannot and do not rely on volumes of hard bound manuals to operate and maintain aircraft working around the clock, year in and year out. By taking a brief look at the players involved in creating, managing, and distributing technical information for the aviation industry as well as technical information standards for civil aviation and other trends in information consumption and management, we can see how the industry is transitioning away from paper based approaches to modern digital information models.
The players in technical information for Civil Aviation
The almost overwhelming volume and complexity of technical information supporting the aircraft industry can be viewed from the angle of the OEM and operator players who create and use technical information as well as the information standards developed over several decades to facilitate the exchange of information across the ecosystem for aerospace technical information.
The originators of technical information are Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and their suppliers. This includes major airframe manufacturers like Boeing, Airbus, Embraer and others, engine manufacturers such as General Electric, Pratt & Whitney, and Rolls-Royce, and the hundreds of suppliers that specialize in the systems and components that make up an aircraft. Each supplier and OEM must provide technical information related to the systems or components they deliver, rolling up to the manuals that the primary airframe manufacturers provide to their airline customers.
Airlines and their technicians, in turn, are the consumers of technical information, as are the maintenance, repair, and overhaul providers (MROs) that play a role in servicing aircraft.
OEMs and their suppliers require a way to exchange information efficiently with their parent partners, and airlines while MRO consumers of the technical information need an effective way to receive and access (and, in the case of airlines, customize) technical information. Whether a supplier is a small company specializing in a discrete component or a leading engine manufacture, and whether the airline operator is a small, regional carrier or a large airline operating worldwide, each is connected through the technical information ecosystem that accompanies an aircraft throughout its lifetime.
A brief history of information standards
Various information standards have been put in place during the past couple of decades to facilitate the flow of information between OEMs, their supply chains, airlines, and MROs. The first standard was ATA100 (ATA: Air Transport Association), introduced in 1956 as a paper- and microfilm-based standard for aircraft system numbering. A digital data appendix was added to ATA100 in the early 1990s to support early digital data.
The first real specification to support technical digital data was ATA iSpec 2100. It was introduced in the mid-1990s, at about the same time Airbus and Boeing introduced their technical information management systems and Jouve Data Management, the precursor to InfoTrust Group, introduced its AirGTI system and related Task Manager for managing maintenance manuals and task cards.
For the past decade, manufacturers and airlines have based their maintenance and engineering manuals on ATA iSpec 2200. This specification was developed by the Air Transport Association (ATA) as a global aviation industry standard for the content, structure, and electronic exchange of aircraft engineering and maintenance information. The specification was introduced largely to address the massive volumes of paper required to produce multiple manuals and publications that accompany every aircraft. ATA iSpec 2200 reduced dependence on paper by providing a common way to enable the electronic use of maintenance and engineering information for the aerospace industry.
The next step-change in technical information standards is S1000D, which is recognized today as the new information exchange standard for civil aviation. Originally developed for military aircraft by the AeroSpace and Defence Industries Association of Europe (ASD), S1000D is an international specification for the production of technical publications currently jointly produced by the ASD, the Aerospace Industries Association of America (AIA), and the ATA e-Business Program. Airline, OEM, MRO, and vendor members of these organizations have provided key input to the development of S1000D and earlier aerospace standards.
S1000D is an exchange standard based on reusable content components, called data modules, and a common source data base (CSDB) in which all of the data modules for technical publications are stored and managed. The S1000D standard allows for output of information in either a page-oriented or Interactive Electronic Technical Publication (IETP) that is consistent, regardless of the IT platform used. S1000D data modules also can be used many times in output to speed up the delivery of consistent information.
As a reflection of the break from a paper-centric world to a more flexible digital world demanded by content consumers looking for easy access to Web-based information, Boeing and Airbus have identified S1000D as the information exchange standard for their new-generation aircraft programs, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the Airbus A350. Both manufacturers require their primary OEMs and suppliers as well as airline customers to be able to create, manage, deliver, and access technical information in S1000D. These organizations’ ability to respond will impact their ability to compete in the civil aviation industry of the 21st century.
Other trends in technical information consumption and management for Civil Aviation
Along with requirements to support more flexible information models based on the S1000D standard are trends and opportunities in information consumption and management that OEMs, airlines, and MROs can tap into in order to improve the way they manage their technical information requirements, most notably:
1. Mobility & tablet devices – information delivery at the point of task performance. Delivering the right information in ways most convenient to users, including on tablet devices. Yesterday’s monolithic, PDF-based manuals that require maintenance technicians, pilots, and other users of technical information to dig through them in order to find specific information, no longer meet expectations of today’s information consumers for searchable, web-based information. All participants in the technical information ecosystem must be able to provide search-optimized content delivered in digital chunks according to the user’s task at hand.
Moreover, the introduction of iOS, Android, and other tablet devices provides a straight path for delivering information to technicians – as well as flight crews – at the point of performance, under the wing or on the flight deck itself rather than in a hangar or other computer-based setting. Access to technical information at a technician’s fingertips translates into fewer trips to a computer station and quicker turnaround of aircraft to active service. When used for flight operations, tablets can help airlines eliminate bulky volumes of paper, offer an unprecedented level of convenience to pilots, and can facilitate regulatory compliance through tracking of pilot acknowledgment of information updates along with real-time reporting capabilities.
2. Hosting and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) models. As companies seek to cut costs and as Cloud-based applications continue to be adopted for enterprise purposes, hosted SaaS models are becoming available to both OEMs and airlines for their technical information management requirements. OEMs, airlines, and MROs can meet their technical information management needs by using SaaS-based systems rather than incurring capital expenses for in-house systems that also require more IT support and on-going maintenance requirements and costs.
3. Technical publications outsourcing. Moving passengers from one point to another safely and on time is the core business of commercial airlines. Technical information management is not. The experience and attention to detail required to maintain accurate, up-to-date, regulatory-compliant information adds pressure to organizations whose expertise is either in designing and producing specialized components and systems for aircraft or in operating the aircraft themselves.
OEMs, airlines, and others in the commercial aviation ecosystem can call on vendors that provide full-service technical publications outsourcing services to alleviate the pressures of managing it in house. For airlines, often this means using services offered by airframe manufacturers. But this option cedes control over airlines’ customized technical information to the manufacturers, which dilutes their competitive edge, and also puts airlines in long queues for update cycles. By working with manufacturer-independent vendors that offer technical publication outsourcing services, airlines, OEMs, and MROs can leverage the expertise and experience required to maintain up-to-date, regulatory-compliant information while keeping control over their information and relieving the pressure of a required but not core function.
4. Support for multiple specifications and versions. One key to participating in the 787, A350, or other programs that require S1000D data is the ability to create and make accessible native S1000D content while supporting concurrent requirements for standards such as iSpec 2200. Today’s best of breed XML editing tools – such as TechSight/X Editor (Serna XML Editor) – provide user-friendly interfaces that make structured XML authoring in multiple specifications a straight forward process, with modular menu and toolbar options being dynamically added or removed from the user interface based on the content type being authored. On the content management side, many CSDBs can natively support multiple S1000D issues, or manage the transformation of source iSpec 2200 content to S1000D as part of the content import process. When delivered to users, data can be presented in S1000D or ATA iSpec 2200, PDF and HTML publishing options to provide the required level of flexibility needed to support a wide array of spec-defined programs and contractual commitments from within a single publishing environment.
5. Process automation and optimization. Beyond traditional content creation and delivery tools are value-added business process management tools that organizations can use to standardize processes and ensure best practices where effective change management is critical. Because airlines are required to document their technical information decision making process, business process management tools can help with the monitoring and management of the information change workflow. Business process management tools also provide the ability to identify steps within a business process that cause delays or otherwise have a negative impact on project cycle times. They also can provide visibility into handling of ad-hoc change requests from internal stakeholders and external regulators in order to keep them on track.
Technical information requirements for civil aviation in the 21st century are not abating. Rather, with the emergence of the 787 Dreamliner – the first ‘e-enabled’ aircraft that interfaces directly to technical data – and the A350 that are driving S1000D requirements, technical information is becoming more complex. Participants across the technical information ecosystem must find cost-effective ways to operate in dual ATA iSpec 2200 and S1000D systems, while not slowing down the thousands of technicians who are not concerned by standards but instead are focused on the timeliness and accuracy of information itself.
Organizations that take advantage of mobile technology or hosted systems, that adopt best practices in digital information management, or that outsource part or all of their technical information requirements are likely to remain active players – even pull ahead as market leaders – in a highly competitive industry.
Join us for part two in the series, in the next issue of Aircraft IT MRO, to learn more about the evolution of information exchange standards in civil aviation, including more about the impact of S1000D and what it means for OEMs, suppliers, airlines, and MROs.
Airlines wishing to learn more about supporting both ATA iSpec 2200 and S1000D requirements are invited to download the free white paper “Taming the Complexities of a Multi-spec Content Ecosystem: How Airlines Can Control Costs and Speed the Delivery of High-quality Information” at http://www.infotrustgroup.com/WhitePapers/MSCE/.
 Airlines for America, www.airlines.org
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