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FUTURE INSPECTION AND MAINTENANCE IMPROVEMENTS

BY

Ron Craik November 21, 2007 Introduction A study conducted by Boeing and the US Air Transport Association (1995) found that maintenance error was a crucial factor in aircraft accidents from 1982 to 1991, contributing to 15% of the commercial hull loss accidents where five or more people were killed. Rankin and Allen (1995) established the economic costs of these maintenance errors, estimating that 20% to 30% of in-flight shutdowns are due to maintenance error, 50% of flight delays are due to engine problems caused by maintenance errors, and 50% of flight cancellations are due to engine problems caused by maintenance errors. The need is apparent for a proactive system which will help track maintenance errors, identifying both potential problem areas and the factors causing errors. Kapoor, K., Dharwada, P., Iyengar, N.,Greenstein, J.S., and Gramopadhye, A.K., A Strategy for the Development of a Web-based Tool to Reduce Aviation Maintenance Errors, Proceedings of the 48th Annual Conference of Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, New Orleans, Louisiana, 2004. Based on these statistics the potential for saving lives and hundreds of millions of dollars every year is enormous! So what is the industry doing at present? Will their new initiative address the ageing 55,000 commercial aircraft in use today? When will it be introduced? How will the airlines manage the implementation of this new technology? If an aircraft is delivered tomorrow, and it will be in service for the next 20 years, can it be retrofitted with this technology? My goal is to answer these questions and introduce you to a complete aircraft inspection, maintenance system. New Initiative The most important advancement for increased safety and reliability for aircraft maintenance is the introduction of Automatic Identification Technology (AIT). This technology consists of tagging: parts, components and sub-assemblies for aircraft using a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tag or a Contact Memory Button (CMB). RFID tags contain a silicon chip and antennae. They can store information, have limited memory capabilities and use radio waves to communicate. A Contact Memory Button (CMB) is a microchip, which can hold large amounts of data, sealed in a ruggedized container with a read/write device to transfer data through direct contact. Both have pros and cons; for example, the RFID tag can be scanned behind bulkheads or on life vests under seats just by passing within a few feet. However, due to lack of security for RFID chips, this may allow passengers with advanced phones/ PDAs/lap tops to scan the RFIDs on your plane. CMBs need to be touched in order to read the data. It may be desirable to have direct access to the inside of the flight data recorders Black Boxes to do

yearly maintenance. You want the technician to open an access door/panel in a bulkhead and touch a CMB to verify with a time/date stamp that they did their job. RFID is cheap and quite practical to put on most parts of an aircraft. CMBs are relatively more expensive, but have huge memory capacity so fewer are required. They would only be used on critical parts or inspection areas. Both these technologies are compatible, as you can use the same hand held device with different attachments for scanning RFID or reading CMBs. RFID Parts Marking or CMB Solution? What is the difference between them? The fundamental difference lies in the identification of the specific problem(s) that each is trying to address. RFID parts marking for Aircraft addresses the problem of how to order and track each individual component you use in the construction of your aircraft. This is the Big Box retail approach to aerospace manufacturing, and RFID offers a very cost effective means of providing unique identifiers and transparency for every item in your inventories. This works well in the manufacturing process for new planes but is prohibitively expensive for older aircraft, other than by adding RFID gradually, as you replace parts each year over the planes life. Aircraft manufacturers will grin from ear to ear with the possibilities: they can force all their suppliers to comply with their RFID system and eat the implementation costs, ordering and inventory levels can be finely tuned for just in time usage, endless possibilities for reports, inventory counts and verifications/cross checks, etc. Database programmers would take the position, once you have electronically tagged an item there is no need to store data at the item itself; this data would be redundant since all information can be accommodated in the database. However, RFID can significantly improve your assembly efficiencies and lower your cost per plane. This is the objective of the major aircraft manufacturers in creating a standard for RFID-tagging (ATASpec2000 chapter 11) for aircraft parts since some have up to 70% of their suppliers in common. Recently, as this directive has taken shape, a persistent argument for having memory storage capability on the RFID chip has taken hold. Warranty and part-replacement history are some of the items that show an advantage in being stored with the individual part or assembly. A 10-kilobit read-write passive chip with a 15 foot range that met ISO Standards was tested because it had the biggest memory capacity. For a few dollars per RFID chip they could easily afford thousands per airframe. Barring some unforeseen technical glitch, RFID chips will be on every part of each new commercial aircraft within the next few years. Military Option Looking at the Contact Memory Button, inspection and maintenance solution that the U.S. Department of Defense has implemented, which they call Aviation Maintenance Automated Tracking Systems (AMATS) for all their aircraft, you can see they were fundamentally addressing different issues. The objective was to overcome problems with inspections, maintenance and spare parts shortages such that paper work could be reduced and inventories, repairs could be tracked more efficiently. This system also includes two

important functions which help ensure airworthiness of an aircraft: surveillance and auditing of maintenance activities. They had the same goal of electronically tagging as the commercial aircraft manufacturers but found that RFID posed some significant concerns. The RFID chips could not meet some of their stringent military specifications. The contact memory buttons (CMBs) easily met these specs since they were: inert (didnt interfere with airport directional radio beacons or electronic systems on the aircraft such as RADAR), armored, had very fast data transfer rates, huge memory capacities (by RFID standards), could withstand radiation from a nuclear blast, store data for 100 years and had unlimited read-write capabilities. Not to mention that RFID and ordinance (bombs and missiles) do not go together (it might be considered a bad thing if your enemies could read the data on your RFID chips from a distance). The military solution needed to be retrofitted to all the aircraft that they were flying, not just the new ones being delivered but also the 40 year old work-horses that were still in operation. The contact memory button was the perfect solution, so they attached the buttons to critical, high value components on the aircraft and in spare parts and repair inventories. They took advantage of the larger memory capacity and were able to store more comprehensive technical descriptions and history of the items and assemblies on the buttons. This information stays on the equipment and is accessible regardless of internet or main frame data base access. This is very important for the aircraft deployed around the world, especially in third world countries or very remote areas where there is no internet access. The DOD system is a hybrid system in that it uses bar code and RFID for inventories and Contact Memory Buttons for all the high value applications on planes. In their June 2003 General Accounting Office (GOA) report to the Chairman, Subcommittee on Defense, it is stated According to the Navys analysis, serial number tracking will streamline maintenance work by facilitating identification of maintenance problems and part defects, measurement of part reliability, and investigation of spare parts engineering. Moreover, the initiative could reduce time required to complete certain maintenance actions. Military Results The Navy budgeted approximately $58 million over 5 years to implement Serial Number Tracking. This amount included engineering research to determine which components were compatible with Contact Memory Button technology, installation of Contact Memory Buttons and outfitting maintenance facilities with scanning equipment. Despite these startup costs, the Navy anticipated that this initiative would yield net savings of more than $193 million over 7 years. Various military operations have now attached close to 3,000,000 CMBs on aircraft and their spare parts. They see the mounting benefits and are realizing a quick pay back in the form of improved efficiencies for their personnel and reduced costs for their maintenance programs. A Navy official cited the example of a maintenance team that had reduced the time necessary to conduct an airframe maintenance inventory from 3 days to 4 hours by using Contact Memory Button technology (GOA Report, June 2003). Improved availability in all their fleets of aircraft has resulted from this program.

There are numerous accounts of personnel coming up with new areas where the CMBs can be implemented for improved readiness/war fighting capability through shorter aircraft maintenance turnaround times. Contact Memory Buttons can interface with performance support software on handheld devices to automatically generate specific maintenance and repair process models in response to particular error codes or BIT tests.will provide E2C aircraft technicians with task-based guidance and reference information, allowing even novice technicians to work productively to resolve aircraft systems problems quickly. According to Contact Memory Button manufacturers, Maintenance Action Form (MAF) completion time can be reduced by 50% using AIT, and transcription errors are eliminated for greater accuracy. Conclusion The same solution that the United States DOD came up with (AMATS) can be adapted for all the existing commercial and private aircraft flying today. Using Contact Memory Buttons on the critical, high value components and at important inspection points on the aircraft allows all the current planes flying to be upgraded. The Airlines will be better equipped to utilize the new generations of more modern electronic inspection and maintenance systems. Older aircraft can be updated with Contact Memory Buttons (CMBs) now, and over time as parts are replaced that have RFID tags, this information can be recorded on the CMBs and integrated into the aircrafts electronic log book and maintenance records. As the demand for more memory storage capacity on components progresses the Airlines who have adopted the CMB solution will be more prepared for the future. This solution would provide a smoother transition for Airlines as they add new planes with RFID parts marking to their current aircraft fleets. Airlines who modernize their safety and maintenance systems with CMBs would realize the same benefits and cost reductions that the Military has achieved already! Starting this year, we could begin to realize the benefits of saving lives and reducing the number of lost airframes for the Airlines Industry. NOTES 1. United States General Accounting Office June 2003 Report to the Chairman, Subcommittee on Defense Committee on Appropriations, House of Representatives Defense Inventory Navy Logistics Strategy and Initiatives Need to Address Spare Parts Shortages 2. Kapoor, K., Dharwada, P., Iyengar, N.,Greenstein, J.S., and Gramopadhye, A.K., A Strategy for the Development of a Web-based Tool to Reduce Aviation Maintenance Errors, Proceedings of the 48th Annual Conference of Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, New Orleans, Louisiana, 2004 3. Elena Malykhina, Airbus Delivers Its RFID-Enabled, Next-Generation Aircraft Information Week, Jan. 19, 2005 4. Laurie Sullivan, Tags Take Test Flights On Jet Engines, Information Week, April 25, 2005 5. Michael Gnam, Automatic Identification Technology (AIT) and Performance Support

System Integration to Streamline E-2C Radar Maintenance and Logistics for Improved Readiness, Project ID:21, June 12, 2005