Facelift for logbooks

Multi-function interface makes electronic data transfer possible

Every pilot maintains a kind of aircraft diary in which every event or action that occurs in a flight is logged, day in, day out. Anything unusual about aircraft systems and components is documented in logbooks, copied and then manually passed over to the appropiate teams. The technical status of all systems is documented by the pilot in the technical logbook, while all cabin defects are entered in the cabin logbook. In this way the attention of the workshop mechanics is drawn to all unusual occurrences or problems that have occurred during the flight and require rectification or repair. A ramp mechanic takes the logbook from the aircraft to the maintenance back office, where the first step is for data typists to transcribe the data to an electronic maintenance information system (MIS) for the purposes of documentation and demonstration of compliance. These manual processes are very time-consuming and costly in terms of effort and expense. They also constitute a potential source of errors.

The new generation of aircraft types such as the Airbus A350 and A380 and the Boeing 747-8, 777 and 787 are already supplied ex-factory with an electronic logbook system (eLog) installed, while older aircraft types can be upgraded. In this way the possibility exists of totally replacing the extensive paper logbooks in the future with electronic systems. The pilot will then enter all the data directly into the electronic logbook, thus avoiding the time-consuming data transfer and subsequent re-entry of the data into the system in the back office. But before the data can be transferred electronically from the eLog to the MIS, a generic interface must be available. A generic interface enables two systems to be connected with virtually no programming. To specify the mapping of input data to output data and thus enable automatic transfer of the data, it is therefore sufficient to simply configure a few parameters in the interface.

Under the "Generic eLog Interface" research project, Lufthansa Technik and its partners, the Information Sciences department of the Hanover University of Applied Sciences and Arts and edatasystems GmbH, have developed a multi-function generic interface that will connect up the existing systems.The primary aim of the project, which run from December 2009 to November 2013 and was funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), was to develop a flexible "plug-in architecture". This would not only make it possible to integrate any input and output systems but also ensure a high degree of reusability and lower implementation cost when new systems are introduced.

A new input system presupposes the development and integration of an interface. As data from the input system only has to be read, no changes are required to it before the interface can be used. For the new output system, an interface feeding in to the destination system (MIS) was developed and integrated. The development work built on the results of a feasibility study and two practical tests that examined whether the new interface would work with the eLog from Ultramain Systems that is used in Boeing aircraft types and Lufthansa Technk´s own "m/techlog" MIS. The latter is used to track all technical defects on the aircraft and serves as the basis for technical evaluations of web-assisted maintenance and repair operations. The test results indicated that the new generic interface should also work with other electronic logbooks (from Airbus and others) and other MIS systems (AMOS, TRAX etc.) from a wide range of suppliers.

The results of the "Generic eLog Interface" research project will make a significant contribution towards eliminating the duplication of data entry work and transcription errors. The improved data quality will also faciliate downstream evaluations so that, for example, material planners will be able to order any necessary spare parts a lot earlier. Looking ahead, the new generic interface should be suitable for use in all input and output systems and result in a finished product. Lufthansa Technik´s initial focus is on using the new multi-function interface in-house; however, the possibility of marketing it to other engineering operations has not been ruled out.