Business Aviation Insider - November/December 2013 (PREVIEW) - (Page 30)
Industry awaits revisions to AC 120-78 on approved uses for technology.
Tablets Increasingly Common in Aircraft Maintenance Ops
Tablet computers, such as Apple's ubiquitous iPad, have become
common throughout business aircraft cockpits in recent years,
thanks to the inherent advantages of using these electronic flight
bags (EFBs) in lieu of occasionally ponderous - and always heavy
- paper charts. A lesser known, though no less significant, application for these devices is with aircraft maintenance operations.
The rapid proliferation of EFBs and other portable electronic
devices led the FAA to issue Advisory Circular (AC) 120-76 last year,
revising its guidance on EFB certification and operational use by
flight crews. The agency is also taking a harder look at use of these
devices by ground support personnel through revisions underway
to AC 120-78 regarding the validity of electronic signatures and use
of electronic operations manuals.
"There are a significant number of operators using electronic
devices to overcome the long-time burden of carrying volumes of paper," said Jim Sparks, chairman of the
NBAA Maintenance Committee and aircraft maintenance director for a Fort Worth, TX-based operator. "FAA
guidance on approved usage lies within Advisory Circular 120-78, which is undergoing significant scrutiny."
Adoption Outpacing Regulation
Key among the issues under examination by the FAA include the use of various applications (or apps) as diagnostic tools for repair and maintenance of aircraft, as well as the validity of electronic signatures recorded on
handheld devices for the purpose of compliance with established regulations. Despite these questions, however,
maintenance departments are increasingly turning towards tablets to assist their technicians.
"[We] have all received company-issued iPads, along with smartphones," Sparks added. "Several of our aircraft
have cabin management systems that are Wi-Fi controlled and the flightcrews have the cabin app as well.
"On the maintenance side, in addition to the obvious benefits of accessing electronic aircraft support documentation, there are a significant number of tools available," Sparks added. "I have a vibration analyzer, sound
meter, flashlight and a Wi-Fi analyzer all on my phone."
Such uses of these devices will only increase, added former NBAA Maintenance Committee Chairman Brad
Townsend, especially as OEMs and other entities transition their documentation and even diagnostic programs
to handheld devices.
"As is often the case in aviation, our industry has been on the leading edge of this technology, to the extent
that we've outpaced established regulations when it comes to use of these devices by maintenance and
support personnel," he added. "Pilots and ground crews alike have discovered the benefits of using tablets
as a single access point for almost instantaneous information and for presenting complex matters in a simple
Electronic Approvals a Concern
One key area of concern with tablets lies with the use of electronic signatures for the purposes of tracking and
verifying compliance with approved maintenance procedures. An electronic signature may range from a "clickthru" approval verification, a name typed into an electronic document, use of a personal identification code, or
30 | Business Aviation Insider
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