Once a complete set of manuals has been approved and distributed, airlines need to ensure that they remain current, comply with regulations and there is oversight on changes required. In addition, consistency is a key aspect of the process as this ensures both ease of viewing but, of importance, ease of change. An aviation document management process never stops and indeed cannot afford to remain static such is the fast-moving nature of an airline organisation.
Senior management will be interested mainly in preserving regulatory compliance whilst exercising supervisory oversight of the document status in their organisation. Usually such tasks are delegated to various manual owners who will be responsible for ensuring that all new regulations and OEM operating procedures are incorporated and that the workforce are keeping their manuals up to date.
To assist the manual owners, the system administration toolkit should include items such as a compliance dashboard so that managers can determine, at a glance, who has and who has not updated their manuals. This feature will also provide assurance to management that new processes or procedures have been distributed and delivered to operational crews. As such, it is a significant contributor to the safety management of the organisation.
Furthermore, the administration team will be provided with a suitable application such that the workforce can be divided into various user-groups. It should be possible to assign permissions to both user-groups and to individuals so that only the relevant documents can be accessed. For example, it would be inappropriate to issue the jet operating manual to all pilots on the turbo-prop fleet.
Manual Owner Support
Defining the role and time requirement for a manual owner is often very difficult, primarily because changes are highly dependent upon the OEM and/or the regulator – with time often compounded during an audit process. The ultimate objective is overall process and resource efficiency – ensuring that changes are completed and distributed in a timely manner and the amount of time spent on checking and editing by the subject matter expert (SME) is reduced.
The question for many airlines is whether actual changes should be made by manual owners or by specialist editing professionals, with the former often requiring editing and software training, and the latter leaving the responsibility with editors whose sole responsibility is the update and maintenance of the manual suite. Whilst the former has some technical benefits in terms of knowledge, it often suffers in terms of document consistency and version control.
Manual owners often need a process that will allow more than one person to amend a document at the same time (for example the MEL which is owned by both Flight Operations and Engineering). In some cases, the internal editing process will support the owners to implement changes as required.
Alternatively, and to provide complete standardisation and consistency, a fully managed service comprising editing and publishing professionals, can complete all of the amendments as directed by the Manual Owner and will then be responsible for incorporating the changes and then re-formatting the document appropriately. This frees up the time of the Manual Owner and provides a complete version and quality control process.
It is up to the organisation to determine which process they prefer. However, use of a fully managed service can reduce management time and effort considerably. This is particularly the case for large or complex manual amendments (for example the MEL).
Cost Effective Global Distribution Process
Once an amendment is completed and approved, it should be distributed as a 'delta' update (i.e. incremental update) only. This means that only the amendment is changed in the existing manuals that are already installed on end user’s viewer (i.e. EFB, mobile, tablets). This speeds up the entire process and reduces potential roaming charges.
During an aviation document management specification and GAP analysis phase this should be a key consideration. Very often distribution of an entire PDF document can be both costly and time consuming to download, whereas partnering with a distribution platform that understands the value of incremental / 'delta' updates will improve overall crew engagement and publishing efficiency. This form of efficient update can apply to XML, SGML and Enhanced PDFs.
An area that can be overlooked is the method used to produce and disseminate Notices to Aircrew (NOTACs). These important notices are often issued to deal with a short-term problem that may have been identified through your Safety Management System (SMS) or Quality Audit processes. Additionally, OEMs may issue airworthiness directives or urgent changes to operational procedures that must be communicated quickly to your operational staff. Rather than use the more complex manual amendment process, it is quicker to release a NOTAC for immediate distribution.
In the same way that document amendments are delivered to end users, the NOTAC will be distributed by use of push notifications. Ideally, the NOTAC system will include some form of read and understood acknowledgment from end users; again, improving management oversight.
It is usual for NOTACS to be of a temporary nature (generally six months). After this time the NOTAC is either withdrawn, re-issued if necessary or incorporated into the relevant document.
It is often the case that part of the operational manual amendment process is the incorporation of relevant NOTACs. By combining the NOTAC distribution plus the Read and Sign facility with your document management partner, you can semi-automate this incorporation process; thereby, reducing management time in this area. Furthermore, if your Regulator also has access to the NOTAC process, he can approve incorporation of relevant NOTACs before the operator submits the full amendment for approval.
It should be noted that the ability to draft and distribute NOTACs in a timely fashion is a significant contributor to the safe operation of the airline. Urgent, operational procedure changes may need to be distributed quickly and effectively. Furthermore, management will require oversight of who has read and understood such notices so that they have an assurance that all operating crews are aware of the new information. This ability is of huge importance when overall safety of the operation is considered.
During the specification phase or even when reviewing your existing aviation document management process, the considerations set out in this article bear serious thought. Both the inputs and outputs of the editing, publishing, distribution and document viewing are all worthy of investigation in order to obtain a balanced approach to this important operational area. This will have implications for resourcing, software selection and supplier partnerships.
A correctly assessed and developed document management system can have positive effect upon an airline’s overall operation in terms of both utility and commercial value.