Multiple MRO players have formed a partnership to jointly investigate and set standards for the use of blockchain technology to digitally track aircraft parts.

US engine lessor Willis Lease Finance, one of the participants, says the “MRO Blockchain Alliance” includes Bollore Logistics, Cathay Pacific, Flydocs, HAECO, Ramco Systems, Safran and SITA.

The initiative represents “the air transport sector’s first industry-wide investigation into the use of blockchain to trace, track and record aircraft parts”, says Willis.

“Today there is no global database, incomplete data sharing and only partial digitalisation for commercial aviation parts,” the Florida-based company notes.

Following a six-month planning phase, the group intends to start a live “proof of concept” trial of the technology in the third quarter.

Participants in the trial will record and track two separate strands of information – a digital thread and a digital passport – for individual aircraft parts.

The digital thread will provide real-time status, chain of custody and back-to-birth tracing of a part over time, while the digital passport will document a part’s “indisputable identity” and contain “vital data to prove ownership”, says Willis.

SITA president of air transport solutions Matthys Serfontein foresees “tremendous opportunity for streamlining the sharing and recording of information across the air transport industry”.

He states: “In an industry as interconnected as ours, the ability to share and record common data in a secure way without giving up control of that data is fundamental to driving new efficiencies in air travel.”

Willis and SITA cite a PwC study in which it is estimated that blockchain employment could reduce MRO costs around 5% across the sector – equivalent to savings of $3.5 billion.

The role of SITA in the project is to manage the alliance’s governance, ensure regulatory alignment, and provide technology components.

Beyond the MRO Blockchain Alliance, the aviation IT specialist leads a wider industry forum to explore blockchain’s potential across the air transport sector: for example, in passenger identity and flight data applications.