AB25:Use of standards in maintenance data: blessing or nuisance?

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Use of standards in maintenance data – blessing or nuisance? Lufthansa Technik's Christian Eickhoff and Dierk Kruetzmann discuss

Standards have brought great improvements, both for safety and economically, in several industries. A standard improves safety because it eases the use of standardised products. Standardisation also brings economic benefits by streamlining processes not only within a company, but also across a whole industry.

Given all the regulations that govern aviation, you would suppose that the aviation industry is standardised strictly. So why is there a big market for converting and displaying maintenance data for airlines and MROs alike? Surely the authorities' regulative clout should enforce standards worldwide?

Far from it. The Air Transport Association of America (ATA) has set standards for the past 60 years. It has provided standards for a numbering system in SPEC100 in a data format, for example in iSPEC2200.

 ABOUT THE AUTHORS

 lufthansa technik christian eickhoff dierk kruetzmann
Christian Eickhoff, quality management (right) and Dierk Kruetzmann, engineering, of Lufthansa Technik represent almost 45 years of experience in the aviation industry. More information here

However, this later standard has not been adopted as such by producers of aviation hardware. Rather, products were modified to the point where they became proprietary versions. When the world turned away from paper towards electronic distribution, OEMs provided their own software with proprietary display options and functionality.

A need arose for converting these data to a common interface, leading to a market for software companies. These companies provide conversion services, maintain display software and train aviation staff, among other functions.

The cost of maintaining several maintenance document formats is borne by all airlines and their suppliers when there is more than one aircraft type in the fleet. For example, Lufthansa Technik (LHT) has about 1,500 suppliers of maintenance data, several of which provide their data for web access only.

In the case of LHT, the MRO had a choice to make. Either it could provide access to all OEM systems to all mechanics, so each and every mechanic would need a broadband internet connection, knowledge of several websites, logins, and so on. No, this is not an option. Or it could gather the raw data of the OEMs, convert them into a common standard and design a common display - in other words, standardise the proprietary data. This is what LHT started in 2003 with the eDoc system, initially converting four OEM languages into HTML. By 2010, this had increased to more than 10 converters, with the associated cost.

But there is hope: S1000D is the newest attempt to standardise maintenance data. The aviation industry's latest products will use this standard. Due to its enhanced functions, it offers benefits to authors and users of maintenance data alike.

For example, Rolls-Royce has a three-year schedule to provide all maintenance manuals strictly adhering to ATA iSPEC 2200 or S1000D, starting in summer 2011. Likewise, Airbus plans to convert its manuals to standard-adhering iSPEC2200. The step towards a full standard-adhering S1000D manual is a small one.

What about products not being offered by Airbus or Rolls-Royce? Their operators and maintainers keep their known problems, while being offered part of S1000D functionality by weekly revisions of maintenance data written in the OEM's proprietary language. So users are supposed to revise their technical documentation more often without benefiting from the S1000D implementation.

Standards are a prerequisite for safety. As an industry that has always put safety first, all players need to adhere to standards they defined themselves through ATA. The authorities may have to enforce adherence at one place or the other.

Standards also offer economic benefits. The aviation industry has been known to make a living on small margins, so adherence to standards and access to source data offers benefits for the whole industry.