The airworthiness certificate is a mandatory quality document that must be attached to every shipment. While the process of obtaining an airworthiness certification is standard, the process of storing the certificate and maintaining it throughout the life cycle for quality audit purposes requires a considerable amount of effort and the use of multiple systems across suppliers and manufacturers. With the current infrastructure setup, suppliers and manufacturers are unable to share the certificate beyond their immediate next level (i.e. tier 1, 2 and 3) and raw material suppliers.
Tracking data related to each airworthiness certificate could be stored in a variety of backend systems, with different schemas and processing rules. This data is often spread across multiple business systems, making it difficult to connect data internally, as well as with different vendors in the supply chain. Therefore, it is cumbersome to track the airworthiness certificate data, and maintain links to prior forms and related shipments between disparate protocols and vendor formats. In addition, these certificates are sometimes physically shipped, which is quite unsafe.
Overall, the entire process of tracking, updating and maintaining these certificates is cumbersome, slow and prone to integrity risks.
INNOVATIVE BLOCKCHAIN APPROACH
There is another way to manage airworthiness certificates which is easier and safer. Blockchain uses distributed ledger technology (DLT) and distributed applications (DApps) to share digital assets in the most secure way. It uses cryptographic security and auto-validation of business rules via smart contracts.
A private blockchain network shared among the original equipment manufacturer (OEM), its suppliers and maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) network will enable all the participating stakeholders to share the data related to the airworthiness certificate uniformly across nodes. For using the private blockchain network, it is necessary that all the stakeholders in the supply chain act as a node which records and publishes every transaction.
The transaction is then registered on blockchain and made instantly available to authorized parties and nodes of that blockchain network. It means that every transaction between two stakeholders is recorded as a blockchain transaction. Moreover, both the stakeholders will act as nodes to share the information about the transaction. The blockchain smart contracts enables tracking of changes in the status of all intermittent transactions and also links the certificate to the next stakeholder in the supply chain, based on permission levels across all nodes. For example, a tier 1 manufacturer will be able to see the airworthiness certificate of tier 2 and a subsequent update on the certificate by tier 3.
Through this approach, a digital copy of the airworthiness certificate is made available in blockchain and a shared ledger gets updated when new certificates are uploaded, linking together every part’s airworthiness certificate and shipment transactions. Every new blockchain transaction will create instant communication amongst all the nodes across the blockchain. This approach leverages shared ledger records and enables instant exploration of airworthiness certificate records.
BENEFITS AND VALUE OF BLOCKCHAIN SOLUTIONS
- Blockchain makes it possible for every vendor to be on the same network without having to deal with the complexity of multiple systems, protocols and formats. As a result, it is easier to track airworthiness certificates across the supply chain.
- The DApps of blockchain solutions can easily integrate with the business systems of all nodes in the supply chain network. This enables each manufacturer to obtain and share information beyond their tier 1 suppliers.
- Blockchain registers the provenance of each part and removes the risk of counterfeit parts, making certificate tracking completely transparent.
- The immutable ledger maintains the audit trail and certificate of every asset entering the aircraft, through its lifetime.
- The solution can be extended for predictive maintenance, meaning smart contracts maintains the logs of the aircraft and then alerts owners of parts that are due to be inspected for maintenance and repair.
- Blockchain automates, simplifies and removes risks associated with the procurement and maintenance of aircrafts.
- Instant communication across all the blockchain nodes ensures everyone in a given network has the latest updated records.
- The solutions makes the quality audits fast, fault free and convenient.
- Since the core business transactions such as shipments and receipts are recorded in blockchain, it creates better visibility across the larger supply chain ecosystem.
Considering the benefits and traction of blockchain in the market, this solution has the opportunity to revolutionize certificate tracking in the aviation industry. The only challenge that lies ahead is to integrate the value chain of suppliers into the blockchain ecosystem of the airlines’s OEM. This is important, as every stakeholder in the ecosystem must agree on payment rules.
Airworthiness certificate tracking mechanisms are similar to certificate tracking in other industries. This implementation of blockchain in the airline industry will serve as the foundation to market blockchain across these other industries.