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The Benefits of Using XML for Airline Documents

Jun 22nd 2018
Why using XML is beneficial for airline document management

Airline documentation includes everything necessary to support running an airline and its aircraft safely and legally. This is done through a set of industry-standard visual and informational structures, which is driven by a core operational requirement to ensure that large amounts of data are organised in such a way for it to be easily accessible and usable.

Therefore it’s no surprise that OEMs and AMMs are amongst the more rigorously structured airline documents delivered in XML format - largely due to the level of information density and complexity included to support sophisticated aviation machinery. However, XML has proved to be difficult for end users to maintain and manipulate, especially if they don’t understand the complexities of this scientific format - and could end up spending more time on document management than they’d like. And when there are a multitude of documents to work with at a time, the stress load of dealing with XML can take its toll on your employees.

However, there is a reason why XML is used to deliver documentation and why it’s actually more beneficial to your airline than you realise. Read on to learn more.


The Management of Information

Aircraft, though designed to be mass produced, are still incredibly complex machines comprising digital electronics, control systems, power systems and mechanical technology. So it’s understandable why manufacturers provide flight operations manuals in such a structured format like XML (or the now defunct SGML).

The supporting documentation for each of those components alone may be vast, so the AOM and AMM are huge and require frequent revisions in response to a myriad of improvements, updates, changes and technical information requirements. It’s enough to make a regular person’s head ache, let alone someone who deals with these documents on a daily basis.

Even a well-established aircraft design, such as the Boeing 737, isn’t as straightforward as it seems. For example, when operating a single aircraft type, no two airframes will ever be identical as the accompanying systems and technologies that support them are always being redesigned, upgraded and improved. Likewise, the software controlling these technologies is always undergoing similar improvements.


Revision Management

Aircraft manufacturers have both a technical imperative and a legal responsibility to provide the correct, valid documentation for the operation and maintenance of these systems to the aircraft operators on a constant basis. After all, inaccurate information could compromise the safety of the aircraft.

As a result, there is an onus on the manufacturers to continue releasing revisions of operation and technical manual information to ensure that the operators of the aircraft are always using the most up-to-date documentation. For new aircraft types such as the Airbus A380 or the Boeing 787, the frequency of these manual revisions can be in the order of 4 to 8 times per year in the first few years of operation.

Complex documentation such as the flight crew operating manual or AOM can easily run into the hundreds of pages if printed. As such, there needed to be a simple solution for the timely delivery of this documentation in a way that was guaranteed to to be understandable to end users and their organisation alike.

Find out how a partnered solution can help with your airline’s document management. Learn more in our free interactive guide.



Why Use a Complex XML-Type Approach?

Considering the sheer volume of information, having a scientific and structured approach is the most reliable and efficient way of organising data with the help of a framework of rules to help define different aspects of the content and these can integrate with the computer systems on board. Therefore, delivering documentation in a format such as SGML, XML or Structured FrameMaker is essential for complex aircraft.

The manufacturers realise efficiencies through storage of the aircraft documentation, as the framework of rules help define every aspect of the content and the content types. This framework also allows them to quickly identify any areas of change, then to make the changes in a consistent way to produce a new version of the documentation - conforming to the given set of manufacturer’s rules for delivery to the end users.

For manufacturers, the use of the structured format for their manuals, such as the AOM and MEL, means that the data they contain, can integrate with the onboard computer systems on the aircraft, delivering technical and operation enhancements. It is through this scientific, consistent structuring that these advantages can be unlocked.

As a result, the documentation delivered is as every bit as technical as the machinery that makes up their aircraft.

Herein lies the challenge for airlines. With such complicated means of data structuring, airlines are legally required to ensure that the correct Flight Manual standard is maintained at all times. This means that airlines need to either invest in expensive training for their staff to be able to use XML, or to invest in hiring specialist staff as well as paying for the right infrastructure than can help them manage the data coming in from the manufacturers.

However, while XML can seem like a burden, there are benefits for your organisation in using it, and there is a solution to how complex XML data can be managed in the best way.


The Benefits of XML for Your Airline

Love it or hate it, XML is the next generation in documents. Here are a few examples of how XML delivers great benefits for different people in your organisation:

  • Technical authors and publishers - XML technology can help speed up the editing process through the use of automation of routine jobs and even provide smart sharing of documents.
  • Crew - XML is able to deliver a great user experience and can allow for improved search, with functionality to highlight and annotate documents as required as well as allowing for faster downloads (i.e. delta updates)
  • Pilots - Digital documents offer benefits in the form of improved accessibility, flexibility and portability, diminishing the need for paper documents on-board (something which is critically important in a cockpit with limited space) and also provides:
    • Revision-resilient annotations
    • Synchronisation of document updates
    • The ability to search documents at speed including cross document search
    • Ease of downloading the right documents when you need them
    • Boeing and Airbus manuals to be accepted in XML format
    • And more


While it’s likely that documents being delivered in an XML format is a complicated job for your employees to manage, it’s important to understand that the data being provided goes much further than simply providing a detailed account of an aircraft - though this does still pose a significant technical problem and a mismatch between airlines and aircraft manufacturers.

As a result of such highly formatted information output, airlines need to seek out niche expertise on the subject of structured data in order to handle and manipulate the revisions and updates that flow from the manufacturers - otherwise operations could grind to a halt. Since the implementation of documentation regulation such as JAR OPS (now EU-OPS in Europe) and FARs, airlines must pay attention to their now operationally critical documentation as a regulatory necessity.

There are current software tools, produced by aircraft manufacturers as a means of publishing support, that are neither use-friendly nor operationally perfect. This is a problem for technology users today, who expect well-designed user experiences and simple interfaces - of which structured data is the opposite (unless you’re well versed in understanding it).

However, from this dilemma comes a solution which can diminish an airline’s concern over costs of expensive infrastructure and employing specialist staff to deal with documentation.

A partnered document management solution can help provide a complete flight operations manuals’ management and delivery for your airline, which removes this technical problem created by structured documentation. A partnered solution means there will be:

  • No technical expertise required from subject matter experts ('SMEs') - who will be able to concentrate on their subject matter
  • No specialist IT infrastructure required, including no third-party editing software
  • No training and no need to fund for specialist technical staff
  • Savings on operational costs
  • Freeing up time and resources for employees

In essence, when you work with a trusted partner whose sole purpose is to manage and maintain highly structured aviation documents day-in and day-out through trained XML publishing experts, you’ll find that document management becomes much simpler.

Learn more about how a partnered solution can help your airline’s document management requirements. Download our free interactive guide today.