Technology Advances to Business Aviation are Impressive, but pose Important Regulatory Questions

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AINOnline chronicles the efforts of five major business aircraft Original Equipment Manufacturers (Bombardier, Dassault, Embraer, Gulfstream and Textron) to incorporate technology into their aircraft. The new systems will clearly improve safety by incorporating sophisticated data-collection and distribution systems (Aircraft Health Maintenance devices [AHM]) into these high end airplanes. The article does an excellent job describing the intricacies of these innovative devices which will inform the manufacturers and operators.

Here are some questions/insights about the addition of AHM to these business aircraft. 

Airlines own fleets of aircraft which in and of themselves may generate sufficient data to support predictive conclusions about the airworthiness of the planes and systems. The Flight Operational Quality Assurance (FOQA) is an FAA program which aggregates the information about maintenance and/or the need for MX and/or repairs. A carrier has the staff to transfer the onboard AHM data to FOQA.

In contrast, most BA departments do not have enough people to download the information. Perhaps, these five airframe companies can create links which will move this information not only to the Operators, OEMs and FOQA through a secure, efficient wireless link?

Remember—no single BA operator has an adequate fleet to create a reliable sample, but through downloading to FOQA of all the BA airplanes, the data should be sufficient to develop early remedial actions. Such a benefit to the OEMs, operators and safety should justify the inclusion of FOQA in these AHM systems.

As well documented by ARSA’s You Can’t Fly Without US, the independent repair station industry provides important safety services for BA aircraft. Its members needed capacity, considerable technical knowledge and a very skilled work force. Part 145 assures that these facilities meet the FAA’s exacting standards. On the other hand, some OEMs tend to prefer that their equipment is only maintained by company MX facilities or their approved organizations. Warranty language is one legal mechanism to limit the access of independent Part 145 certificate holders to their aircraft.

The manufacturers’ technical manuals, special tooling, measuring equipment, parts and other critical aspects are made PROPRIETARY—either to assure quality or arguably to keep the independents from maintain these aircraft. The AHM systems can be an extension of some OEMs’ efforts to limit the ARSA members from these airplanes. Competition and intellectual property rights are not within the FAA’s technical competence, but safety is. As this technology is introduced, the safety value of a vibrant independent Part 145 industry may justify some protection of their appropriate access to AHM data, perhaps the DoT, Justice Department and other experts which frequently gratuitously provide advice could venture an opinion on this complicated matter.

The introduction of these AHM systems to business aviation class airplanes is a great enhancement to the segment’s safety. Hopefully, the equipment can be brought to pure GA aircraft at prices commensurate to these owners’ budget. These pilots have the least resources and would benefit most from enhanced data about the safety of their vehicles.

The bottom line is that the safety advances of these five OEMs’ AHM systems are extremely positive. The operational and proactive regulatory benefits are immense. What is most encouraging is that this use of technology is just the beginning of many new technologies which will further enhance safety in the skies.

 

ARTICLE: OEMs Put Technology To Work in MRO Operations

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