The aviation industry is growing tremendously with an increased number of passengers preferring it over other modes of transport due to the introduction of low-cost carriers. And to fulfil this rising demand new aircrafts are being made operational every now and then. The average lifespan of a commercial plane is approximately 25-30 years. And it changes hands 5-6 times during its whole journey before getting decommissioned.
With such a long lifespan every aircraft goes through a complex maintenance process. Each plane also goes through a regular auditing for it to be certified as fit to fly. This increased number of aircrafts and change of ownership multiple times makes it a challenging task to track and trace the information related to its maintenance. Some of the top officials of these aircraft manufacturers even estimate that around 90% of the maintenance records are on paper, which means tonnes of boxes of these paper-based documents. These paper-based manual records lead to redundant repairing, unwanted delays and the worst of them an increased probability of accidents due to inaccessibility of the required data at the right time.
Though there has been a shift from the paper-based record keeping to an electronic-based system still there are many challenges that these electronic records face. These electronic records are spread across multiple databases which lack interoperability. This, in turn, leads to various process inefficiencies, a lot of wasted time for retrieving the required information and an overall opaque system.
Let us look at the various drawbacks in the current Aircraft Maintenance Record System – These electronic records are generally maintained at centralized databases which makes it vulnerable to data manipulation. The data resides locally in the database of every stakeholder. Therefore in case of any audit or accident, it becomes a daunting task to get the complete aircraft information to make sense out of it. In the current scenario, aircraft maintenance data resides with the aircraft maintenance authority. And therefore it is really difficult for air carriers and manufacturers to retrieve or exchange this data readily whenever required.
Blockchain can be a great way to manage these maintenance records in a much secure way. Further, the implementation of this shared ledger technology can also help to bring trust and transparency in the current opaque and vulnerable system. All the information pertaining to an aircraft like manufacturing details, maintenance reports, operational hours, transfer of ownership etc. can be recorded on to the blockchain. Smart contracts can be used to give the seamless access to these records to various stakeholders involved.
Now let’s understand in detail how blockchain can help to mitigate these issues in the aviation industry. Aviation Blockchain will have the following stakeholders: Aircraft manufacturers, Airline Company, Flight Auditor, Buyer, Aircraft Maintenance Repair and Overhaul (MRO) Service Provider. A manufacturer will record aircraft manufacturing related details on the block chain. This could include details on the material used for manufacturing, hydraulic and air conditioning parts and other components used with the respective manufacturing year and the tentative year of expiry. Data once recorded on the blockchain can’t be tampered with due to its immutable characteristic.
As discussed earlier the lifespan of an aircraft is approximately 25 to 30 years and therefore it is very crucial to keep it in a healthy state for the safety of passengers and aircrew. Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul or MRO Service providers are the ones who manage the maintenance and safety of the aircraft. The information that they will be required to upload on the aviation blockchain includes: Last repaired date of the aircraft. Components which were repaired and were changed Money spent on the maintenance activity. A tentative date for the next maintenance service etc. The information stored by MRO service providers can then be accessed by all the stakeholders involved in the process. Thus making the whole process transparent. Proper data visibility would help to avoid any aircraft mishap as all the stakeholders would be able to monitor the health of the aircraft at any point throughout its lifespan.
Further, every data stored on the blockchain is time stamped. So any historical record can easily be fetched if the need arises. Airline Companies can use this data stored by the MRO Service providers to check cabin and other components before allowing the aircraft to take off. The Airline companies can record flight logs, passengers’ information and their inspection report on the blockchain.
Flight Auditor is the next stakeholder of this Aviation Blockchain. Flight auditor is responsible for auditing the health of an aircraft and then make a judgement on its fitness to fly. He may either approve it to fly or may ask for the maintenance of any component that he believes is faulty and requires maintenance. Whatever the judgement be, it will be recorded on the shared ledger. An aircraft changes hands 5-6 times during its whole lifespan and the cost of each plane runs into millions. So quite naturally, whenever a buyer wants to buy the aircraft, he would like to critically evaluate the essential components of the aircraft.
With the help of blockchain, it would be much easier for him to look at the whole journey of the aircraft and take an informed decision on its price and whether to buy it or pass it on to other buyers. Through the use of smart contracts, automatic scheduling of maintenance activities and service checks could also be done. For instance, the maintenance schedule for different components of an aircraft may vary based on the type of operation and their operating environment.
For example, a component that operates in a harsh operating environment and is required to be operational throughout the journey may require frequent maintenance compared to a component that is operational in only one leg of the journey. A blockchain ledger with information on the installation, operating conditions and utilization of each individual component could very well support this automation and make maintenance process a very robust and transparent process.Therefore we won’t be wrong in assuming that Blockchain technology has a huge potential to disrupt the aviation industry in terms of better efficiencies and easier regulatory compliances.