While digitizing maintenance records has received a lot of attention in the business aviation industry and led to the creation of companies that specialize in that area, many flight departments, Part 135 operators, and individual owner/operators still keep their records—including aircraft logbooks—on paper.
Too many aircraft owners and flight departments have also suffered financial and operational losses from poor recordkeeping practices, according to the Foundation for Business Aircraft Records Excellence. In most instances, those situations were avoidable, it added.
“It’s time we take the same care with the aircraft’s records as we do with the actual aircraft,” said the foundation’s executive director, Larry Hinebaugh. “Until we change the way things are done in the aviation industry, the state of aircraft records is unlikely to improve. Inertia is on the side of the status quo.”
Education and technology awareness, Hinebaugh argued, will improve the state of aircraft recordkeeping, starting with “infiltrating aviation training and education programs at universities, colleges, and technical schools.”
An aircraft’s logbook is one record that an owner doesn’t want to be incomplete or lost because it can “severely” affect the airplane’s value, according to Jared Hasty, director of sales and key accounts for aircraft brokerage Ogarajets. “We could give extreme examples where you’re talking 10, 20, 30, 50 percent of the value of your airplane is tied up in logbooks,” Hasty said during a recent ATP (Booth 1133) webinar. “I think if people were reminded of that more often, they would probably take better care of them, storing them better, keeping them more organized.”
When the time comes to sell a business jet, its logbook and associated records should be complete, or else the transaction may be in danger. “You want to make sure everything is up to date and traceable,” said Philip Rushton, president of international jet sales consultancy Aviatrade.
During the due diligence phase of a business jet acquisition, an inspection of its records “becomes a forensic exercise...[that] is the best term for it,” Rushton said. “You’re not looking for what’s there. You’re looking for what’s not there.”
The founders of Bluetail (Booth 3026), a business aircraft record digitization platform launched nearly two years ago, said apathy about aircraft recordkeeping is probably one of the company’s biggest hurdles. Still, the company now supports business aircraft valued at more than $1 billion and has raised more than $2.1 million in a Series A investment round that closed this summer.
“I think it's maybe not being aware that your logbooks, unlike your airplane, are not insured,” said Stuart Illian, who along with CEO Roberto Guerrieri founded Bluetail. “The people that keep their logbooks on a bookshelf…are probably our top challenge in educating the market as to why you really need this.”
Generally, Bluetail recommends that clients scan aircraft logbooks, supplemental type certificates, airworthiness directives, and service bulletins, as well as delivery, maintenance, customs, legal, and financial documents, and “anything for the safety, compliance, or operation of that aircraft,” Illian said. He suggested even digitizing weight and balance records and “old 8130s”—FAA Authorized Release Certificate/Airworthiness Approval Tags.
“It doesn't cost you much to scan, and [digital] storage is so cheap,” Illian said. “And with the tools that we’re building around search and auto organization, why wouldn’t you have everything in one place? Because you never know when you’re going to need that one little bit of information from 12 years ago. And rather than having to look through binders or filing cabinets, why not have it all in there, especially if it’s easy to find?”
At Bluetail, the process of digitizing records begins with a subscription. Plans start at $69 a month per aircraft for owner/operators and $99 a month per aircraft for flight departments. Bluetail assesses how many records there are to scan—a banker’s box, for example, can include between 1,700 and 2,500 “images”—and then lets clients decide how to get the records to one of 120 U.S. scanning centers with which Bluetail has contracts. All of these centers are SOC 2 compliant, the criterion for managing customer data based on security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy.
The company can provide a bonded courier for transporting the records, or the client can take them directly to the scanning center nearest them. “We’ve tried to pick locations that are around major cities or business aviation hotspots,” Illian said. He estimates that 80 percent of Bluetail's clients choose the courier option.
The rest request to have their records scanned at their business by a “mobile team” made up of airframe and powerplant technicians from Bluetail. “Some people, under no circumstances, will let those records leave the hangar,” Illian explained. “Obviously, that's going to cost a little bit more [to do the scanning there for the client].”
It usually takes Bluetail about four weeks to scan a couple of banker’s boxes, he said. Illian added that while Bluetail provides clients with an estimate of how long it will take to scan and process their aircraft records, it consistently tries to beat that estimate.
Guerrieri noted that as in other industries, the shift to digital recordkeeping in business aviation will take time. “While I’m not from the aviation space—but I’ve come a long way in two years—I’ve been with several companies in the [software as a service] world and have actually been a part of some big digital transformations,” he said.
“I see the digital transformations happening in the aircraft records space, and a tipping point is coming," he added. "I don't know where or when, but we’re starting to see a groundswell of interest. The transformation’s happening...so that's what encourages us every day.”