The selection criteria for an aviation document management system (DMS) can be many and varied but there are a number of key elements that must be taken into consideration when looking to improve an airline’s processes in this important area.
One key area is on understanding how the key inputs are managed so perhaps the obvious starting point is the OEM manuals that apply to a particular aircraft type. They are critical elements because without them the airline will be unable to develop their own operational manual suite.
These will include documents such as the Aircraft Operating Manual, Performance Manual, Safety and Emergency Equipment Manual, Cabin Crew Manual, the MMEL or MEL and the Approved Maintenance Manual to name but a few!
These documents will be supplied in various formats (many OEMs use different formats, and this can lead to problems when an operator has mixed fleets). Not all OEMs will supply the documents in an appropriate format for electronic distribution (e.g. PDF only) and even then, they may not be compliant with local regulations. For example, EASA specify exactly what the layout of various aircraft documents should be in (as specified in EU-Ops, Part ORO, Sub-Part MLR).
Some airlines may elect to simply use the OEM documents for their operating manuals (if their regulators allow it) but many will need to re-format OEM manuals into an approved set of Operations Manuals in a style required by their Authority.
Part of the input task that should be performed by a manual system provider is to re-format all of the various manuals into a consistent, web based and compatible layout (for example XML). Furthermore, all manuals should be in a similar format such that end users are familiar with the layout and can, therefore, navigate more easily to required sections. This should be one of your first requirements when selecting a suitable supplier because not all offerings include this facility.
Once the conversion process is completed, the organisation must review the final documents and then arrange for Authority approvals. At this stage, the final manuals will be available for end users and any necessary AOC amendments will have been completed to allow operations to commence.
As with most things in life, the aviation world is subject to constant change and it is incumbent on an operator to ensure that his manuals are both current (all relevant OEM amendments incorporated) and compliant with regulations. Some suppliers will offer a regulation checking service whilst others will supply a “compliance matrix” that requires the operator to input all of the regulations (e.g. EU Ops) or audit requirements (e.g. IOSA) into the relevant sections of their manual. Although somewhat laborious, this will make both the audit process and the regulation change process a much quicker evolution for the manual owners.
Furthermore, OEM amendments to manuals must be scrutinised by the manual owners to determine if such changes should be incorporated into their manuals. This is a time-consuming process and various comparison tools are often provided to streamline this exercise. However, you should be aware that, although some document system providers offer a regulation checking service, the responsibility remains with the operator.
Defining and refining your aviation document management process can result in important flight operations cost and efficiency savings – however it is essential that the full range of inputs are assessed, and the likely output requirement understood, before a final process is agreed. 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.