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IATA’s Digital Aircraft Operations Initiative
Author: Iryna Khomenko, Manager, Operational Efficiency, IATA SFO, IATASubscribe
Iryna Komenko, Manager, Operational Efficiency, IATA SFO, IATA shares the latest thinking on Digital Aircraft Maintenance.
Many airlines are making good progress in the field of digital aircraft maintenance but a lot of them still need help. It’s good to see the many interesting projects and improvements but a lot of airlines are struggling with basics as far as their aircraft maintenance is concerned, so the IATA Digital Aircraft Operations initiative was created to assist airlines as much as possible with those necessary improvements. But, first of all, I’ll quickly tell readers about IATA.
THE INTERNATIONAL AIR TRANSPORT ASSOCIATION (IATA)
Rather than writing at length about IATA, we have here a short video that will introduce the Association.
IATA is a trade association that includes and represents today some 290 airlines across many areas of activity such as ticketing and passenger handling, cargo and airport handling, clearinghouse activities within industry players (airlines, travel agents, various service providers etc.). There is an IATA division focused on operational matters for airlines, Safety and Flight Operations, and my work and mandate are part of that division.
… including the external leadership who are airlines from all levels starting at CEOs and to engineers and line managers. There is also an internal structure including, as you’ll see on the lower right side, Heads and Assistant Directors and Managers.
DIGITAL AIRCRAFT OPERATIONS
Digital Aircraft Operations activities at IATA (figure 1) include a few work streams that are in existence today.
The initiatives that exist today are the linked ones in the figure with E-enablement and connectivity scheduled to be the next in line. To just quickly go through the initiatives:
The Scheduled Maintenance Data Standard Group is a joint group with ATA Business Program – one of the producers of the S1000D standard – that is working to define a data standard for scheduled maintenance. Also, in parallel, by defining that standard, we’re working to optimize and make scheduled maintenance more efficient. We’re also trying to harmonize scheduled maintenance requirements across the OEMs. Full details in figure 2.
The average number of routine (scheduled maintenance) tasks per aircraft per year can vary between aircraft types (figure 3).
The survey on which figure 4 is based was conducted across IATA members selected as the largest operators of those aircraft types. This has been compiled to show how many routine tasks have to be planned and executed every year. Plus, of course, we’d need to add non-routine tasks to those findings. Readers will know that, for newer aircraft, the non-routine to routine ratio could be as low in the ten to twenty percent range but, if we consider older aircraft types, non-routines might add as much as fifty percent and more on top of the routine tasks.
Scheduled Maintenance Data Standard
Also, there is the MPD (Maintenance Planning Document) which is not, in essence, as airlines again will know, just one document but is a collection of requirements that come from many different sources (figure 4).
But, in truth, there are too many sources to the extent that, to keep them all updated and synchronized is become a challenging task for an operator. And so, the Scheduled Maintenance Data Standard Group has come up with the concept of moving away from the maintenance planning document philosophy and having a maintenance requirement that originates with the OEM and is carried across all documents up until the operator’s maintenance program at the end (figure 5) while preserving its source.
As you can see in the lower left half of the figure, the current situation is that there is a maintenance requirement document issued, then the MPD has to incorporate that document and, by the time that incorporation has been completed, the source document has already become part of compliance with a date. So, we want to move from that philosophy to the concept of data modules where we have the maintenance program in step with the maintenance requirement.
Aircraft Health Monitoring (AHM)
Another activity that we keep our eyes on while participating in and voicing the airlines’ community perspective, is Aircraft Health Monitoring (figure 6). There are important stepping stones laid out by standards setting organizations like SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) and MPIG (Maintenance Programs Industry Group), with the involvement of major aircraft Type Certificate Holders / OEMs, the participation of Airlines and benefiting from the direct oversight and contribution of CAAs (Civil Aviation Authorities).
IATA and MPIG steered the effort of a dedicated AHM working group which finalized the document IP-180 adopted by the nine Aviation Authorities forming (at the time) the IMRBPB (International MRB Policy Board). Subsequent to the IP-180 initial issue, and embracing the approach in which AHM is recognized as Aircraft Health Management, the FAA is finalizing the AC 43-218 together with the set of FAA specific implementation documents (like Ops Spec) necessary to airlines. The shifting of aircraft maintenance towards AHM implementation is seen as a potential new paradigm in the aviation industry. Although the existing number of implemented AHM cases is still limited, IATA is actively pursuing the developments and the involvement of all relevant players. While the schedule may have shifted, due to civil aviation critical priorities emerged in 2020, the latest IATA Engineering and Maintenance Group update (from 2019) shown in figure 7 is indicative of some of the on-going activities with AHM relevance.
RFID Airline Interest Group
It is likely that some readers will have heard about this group (figure 8).
The RFID Group has been very successful since being established in 2011. There are now thirty-six airlines conducting activities in the area of RFID for aircraft maintenance. We have not stopped the work of this group but we put it on a hibernation mode whereby, if airlines have questions, they come to IATA and we open the floor for discussion but, for now, we have achieved a lot in this group. We have updated the SAE standards for passive RFID tags; we have updated the FAA Advisory Circular 119-2A and were in close contact with EASA on this. We are pleased with what we have achieved but, that said, there remain a few action items still pending so, while the group will not be as active in future, it will continue.
We’re also working on guidance for the implementation of an electronic log book or electronic techlog; the consultants and the subject matter experts on that project are MRO IT companies that are offering those solutions as well as the airlines at the forefront of this implementation. IATA has received feedback from between ten and fifteen airlines who are using eLogBooks today and some five MRO IT companies who are offering this solution. The aim of the guidance document is to help those airlines who are just setting off down the road of eTechLog/eLogBook (ETL/ELB) to understand what will be the correct project approach and the approach most suited to their business and circumstances.
Aircraft software reliability
Another activity that we were planning to start this year focuses on improving the reliability of avionics software (figure 9).
IATA issued a paper in 2013 about loadable software. Seven years ago, we realized that the number of software components in aircraft was increasing exponentially and it was clearly becoming necessary to address this from the product support standpoint and the reliability metrics standpoint. Some of the products and challenges that airlines have encountered in recent years have accumulated and this has built sufficiently to become another workstream for IATA to start in 2020.
Why is software reliability important? I’m sure readers are familiar with the notion of MTBF (Mean Time Between Failures) and MTBUR (Mean Time Between Unscheduled Removals) for hardware parts. However, there is not that type of metric for software parts. How do we measure the quality of software; how do we make sure that we know the history of updates and issues of the software and how do we make sure that there is a system to assess the supplier and the software quality? There are a few issues that airlines are encountering today with regard to software reliability. There are no targets for reliability; basic functions can be deferred; bug fixes are combined with the block point updates and then, not only the bug fixes are delivered but also some improvements and, at the end, the airline has to pay for the block point update. Furthermore, new updates bring with them new bugs… so all these issues need to be addressed in the industry and that is what we will be doing.
Some work has been carried out by the aviation industry committee in 2016 and 2018. So, we’re not starting from zero; there is a report that identified five root causes for the problem:
- Lack of product support coverage;
- Insufficient rollout process;
- Lack of learning from the IT industry;
- Combining bug fixes with functional upgrades;
- Lack of transparency.
Aircraft operational data
Another issue that comes up in the sector is operational data and what it means for airlines. IATA defines AOD as “data produced from/by the aircraft, its systems, components and sensors, once the aircraft is accepted into operation by an airline. This data is generated during flight, when the aircraft is undergoing maintenance, or while on the ground waiting or being serviced”. Figure 10 shows a few examples of operational data that exists today in various areas of an airline, including the maintenance area.
And readers will be aware that data volumes have increased in recent years (figure 11) as illustrated by the simple comparison on the right of the figure comparing the amount of data generated between the Boeing 777 and the same company’s 787.
The Aircraft Operational Data Working Group has the objective to educate IATA members about the data they receive from OEMs and to address any monopolistic practices; also, in the future, to build the independence of the data and be capable of working with the data themselves if they choose, in which case, the data should be able to serve their purposes and objectives. For now, this group only includes airlines but, of course, when the airlines have come up with the objectives and deliverables, OEMs and regulators will probably be invited to join the group. However, for now, we’re at the start of the process which commenced last year (2019).
There are some principles that come out of all this, in particular the CCC principle (Control, Choice & Competition) (figure 12).
An issue that is increasingly discussed in aviation circles today is data ownership, a vague notion that is poorly defined in legal terms. So, at IATA, we moved towards the definition of data control or “first right” to use data rather than ownership. And, of course, the airline should be able to choose whether or from where it wants to receive the data, which competition should, in turn, open the market to third party suppliers. Data analytics is a new fast developing field and the more experts work on data the higher the chance for innovation for data use to improve safety, performance and efficiency.
Figure 13 shows an issue that is increasing in importance within the sector: skills shortages and not just in aircraft maintenance. There are IATA working groups addressing the issues of shortages in pilots, in ground ops staff, in air traffic management but, in this article, we’re talking about aircraft maintenance on which IATA conducted a survey in 2018.
We asked airlines whether they are experiencing problems in this regard and the reason for including this topic in an article about digital aircraft operations is because, as the figure shows, on the left side, what are the precursors form the future qualitative skills for mechanics. The list displayed is not exhaustive but it can be seen that a future mechanic will have to be tech savvy, which is not always the case today.
On the quantitative data, there are also some issues: most forecasts predict that air travel traffic will double by 2038. However, and also from the results of the IATA survey, the average age for a mechanic today is over fifty years old while the average retirement age is 62 years which suggest that there will be massive numbers of retirements in five to seven years from now. That prospect is compounded when we consider that the sector has difficulties in attracting and retaining personnel because young people do not understand why they have to be out there in 20 degrees below zero Celsius under the wing and doing an unattractive job when they could work in IT or machine learning or artificial intelligence: it’s becoming ever harder to motivate young people to become interested in this job added to which, the sector has not tapped into the potential for female members in the labor force. Also contributory to that problem is that training requirements are outdated in some jurisdictions and they are not harmonized even in the two major jurisdictions which are FAA and EASA whose requirements differ significantly.
For the supply chain side of MRO, IATA’s new product, MRO Smart Hub, is a commercial product developed in 2018. MRO Smart Hub is the connector between spare parts providers/vendors and buyers but, rather than just imitate the functions of those platforms that already exist in this area, the benefit of this platform is the real or fair market value evaluation in addition to which, we have been working for many years on the likes of LLP (Life Limited Part) traceability and have established an agreed standard between the lessors and the airlines as to what LLP traceability back to birth means to the industry; so that will also be incorporated into this tool. Rather than just selling and buying parts this is telling the airline community what is out there and what is the quality of that product. Do take a look at the short video about the Smart Hub.
In conclusion, I hope that this article has brought readers up to speed on this aspect of IATA’s work.
Link on iata.org
Iryna Khomenko is a Manager of Operational Efficiency in IATA with 14 years’ experience in Aircraft Operations including, for the last 6 years, being responsible for development and progress for several projects within the Digital Aircraft Operations Initiative. Before joining IATA Iryna worked at Aerosvit Airlines in Ukraine for 6 years, having started her career in Ukrainian – Mediterranean Airlines after she had obtained her master’s degree in Management and Economics.
The International Air Transport Association – IATA
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is the trade association for the world’s airlines, representing some 290 airlines or 82% of total air traffic. IATA supports many areas of aviation activity and helps to formulate industry policy on critical aviation issues. Over more than 70 years, IATA has developed global commercial standards upon which the air transport industry is built. The aim is to assist airlines by simplifying processes and increasing passenger convenience while reducing costs and improving efficiency.