It Takes More Than Wrenches
To maintain an airplane nowadays
By Fred Workley
Technology is marching on! Aircraft maintainers have a lot more tools available today than just a set of wrenches. One example is the Navy's Super Hornet F/A-18 (models E&F) which is a "paperless aircraft." This complex aircraft has taken the step past BITE (Built In Test Equipment) by employing built-in component usage measurements to drive maintenance scheduling. At the same time it places heavy demands on both operators and maintainers of the aircraft when it comes to management of the maintenance program and the large volume of associated information. This is done with the latest maintenance information technology and has become an electronic logbook.
Just imagine this type of system on the aircraft that you maintain. No more handwritten logbooks. No paper revisions. No more microfiche. No more CDs. But along with maintenance you are now being called an IT professional. Yes, you are now "IT," an information technology professional.
According to the Journal of Business Logistics, 2000-21(2), pp.173-186, modern information systems perform three vital roles: (1) they support business operations, (2) they enhance managerial decision making using decision support systems (DSS), and (3) they provide a strategic competitive advantage. The way I interpret this is that, for the life cycle of the airplane, maintenance tasks are integrated to the supply chain so that you get the parts that you need, just in time, to fix the airplane when it is available to you so that there is no unnecessary downtime. In other words "Keep 'em Flying."
Maintenance at the component level
This maintenance information technology can provide component centered equipment data at the serial number level. It provides a system that can schedule maintenance based on an elaborate combination of measured parameters and/or calendar time to determine when maintenance is due, again at the component level. It allows forecasting of maintenance requirements to take advantage of the aircraft's availability to meet certain maintenance scheduling opportunities. It functions "enterprisewide" anywhere at any time. This system enables an automated interface to data recorded in-flight to ensure that maintainers are not burdened with a very intensive data input. It permits total fleet visibility for more than 750 aircraft and 2,000 engines. It tracks configuration, status, and confirms maintenance management.
Maintenance data is stored while at remote sites like aircraft carrier groups that are running silent. This fleet data is then transmitted by Internet or Extranet back to the central database once the network connectivity is permissible. This allows fleetwide forecasting of upcoming spare parts and resource demands. This same technology is also used to transmit maintenance plan revisions from headquarters to affected sites where the local systems are automatically updated. This system now has the ability to transfer the whole maintenance record (log) from site to site, wherever the airplane lands. The line-level maintenance technicians like it because of its ease of use. It enables technicians to devote more of their time to actual maintenance tasks and less to data entry and complicated reporting.
Total life-cycle system management
The goal for any military or civilian airplane over its life cycle is maintainability, reliability, and sustainability. Total life-cycle system management improves sustainment by establishing clear responsibility and accountability to meet reliability and performance from acquisition to the end of economic useful life. Terms like end-to-end distribution are starting to be referenced by recent aircraft offerings. Aircraft manufacturers are offering programs by providing parts support, upgrades, configuration documentation, associated maintenance information, and data packages as part of the acquisitions cost. In some cases this has included heavy maintenance visits in factory-authorized facilities.
Method to become industry standard for simplifying hardware and software integration.
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