Back Up an Aircraft’s Paper Records Electronically

May 15, 2023

Just scanning and backing up aircraft logbook entries into electronic images is not as simple as it sounds. A Part 43 logbook entry copy will often require a licensed A&P to certify that the copy is the same as original and is not in violation of Part 43.12. And a complete backup of an entire aircraft record requires special handling to be considered as a real logbook. It’s a complicated process.

The one phone call that changes everything

Consider the following: You’re the director of maintenance for a company’s flight operations. Yesterday, you were involved with a problem on one of the aircraft you operate. Fortunately, you fixed the problem, allowing the aircraft to make today’s flight as scheduled.

Suddenly the phone rings. Upon answering, you get the worst news a director of maintenance will ever get. This same aircraft has been involved in a serious incident during landing at its intended destination. Upon touchdown, the right tire blew sending the aircraft careening off the right side of the runway, collapsing the right gear as it left the pavement. There was a fire. The good news: everyone onboard got out safely. The bad news: the aircraft is a total loss.

As an experienced DOM, you know that things are about to get really busy, and you mentally go through a checklist of items you will need to provide if there is an accident investigation. And, sure enough, there is. As a result of its investigation, the NTSB determined that the right brake caught on fire, causing the tire to blow and the aircraft to exit the runway.

Show me proof

Since the brakes on this aircraft are listed as a time-controlled item, the investigator sent by the NTSB wants to see the maintenance entry that changed the brake and/or the associated 8130 airworthiness tag. A thorough search through the records finds both to be missing. Since the brake was changed several months before you took over the maintenance of the aircraft, you don’t know the reason why these are missing. However, you are aware that an electronic backup comprising the aircraft’s logbooks was made several months before you came onboard. Looking at the electronic backup, you discover the maintenance entry and the 8130 that are missing and believe you can use them to restore the paper record. Your home-free right? Wrong.

Let’s look at two methods to develop an electronic backup of a logbook:

Method #1

The aircraft records were backed up into PDF images using a scanner in the flight department office and stored on one of the computers in the office.

A money analogy

I give you an envelope and tell you that it contains a hundred dollar bill. Several months later you decide you need the $100. So, you retrieve the envelope only to find that there is not $100 in it, but only $1. What happened to the rest of the money? You can’t be certain. And that’s the point. The money was neither verified in the beginning, nor was it secure.

The problem with this method

The FAA has gone on record many times stating that Part 43 documents used to prove the airworthiness of an aircraft must be “original” documents (checkout legal proceedings involving the FAA). A simple copy of a legal document is often not accepted in a court of law. So, how do you make a scanned copy of an original logbook entry accepted as a legitimate replacement for the original paper record? At minimum it requires an A&P to certify that the scanned copy is an exact replica of the original paper document. But in this case, the original documents are missing so it’s impossible to verify.  

Method #2

All the aircraft’s archived records, as well as on-going documents, are backed up and verified that the scanned copies are the same as originals by a licensed A&P technician. The records are immediately placed into an AC120-78A compliant security system by you or a trusted source; and remain stored in this secure environment for the life of the aircraft. 

A money analogy

I give you an envelope and tell you that there is a hundred dollar bill inside. You verify that; indeed, the envelope contains a hundred dollar bill. Then you take the envelope and place it into your own safe that only you and the safe manufacturer know the combination to. In this way, you and any others that might require the $100 in the future are reasonably certain that the envelope will still contain the hundred dollar bill.

Why this method is best

This method is best for several reasons:

  • The aircraft’s original records were scanned and certified by an A&P technician that the scanned copies are an exact replica of the original records. So, going into the secure system, they’re solid.
  • Next, the scanned copies are immediately placed into an AC120-78A compliant security system for the life of the aircraft, avoiding the opportunity for someone to alter the documents.
  • These records are then available anytime they are needed in the future, with assurance that the records have not been altered. That way, if it becomes necessary for another A&P technician to certify one or all the documents as an exact copy of the original, he/she would be able to do so without concern that they never actually saw the original paper document(s).

The bottom line

Whether you’re scanning records to get the aircraft’s legacy paper records digital in order to go forward with a modern electronic recordkeeping system, or scanning them to have as an electronic back-up to the paper record; scanning and managing the records properly is paramount!

My suggestion: scan your aircraft’s paper records using Method #2. The recorded maintenance history of the aircraft has proven time and time again to be a significant contributor to the overall value of the aircraft. You know how seriously the records are taken whenever the aircraft is sold or involved in an incident or accident. So, take them seriously now. Back them up properly like the valuable asset they are. You will never regret this decision. And one day, it may prove to be worth its weight in gold!

Larry Hinebaugh is currently the executive director of a non-profit company called The Foundation for Business Aircraft Records Excellence. Hinebaugh was instrumental in creating this company after seeing so many aircraft operators inconvenienced, and aircraft owners financially harmed, by our industry’s poor logbook practices.