Whether an airline is using its own facilities or those of a third-party provider, keeping aircraft parts and components in ready supply can mean a lot of paperwork. Help is on the way, however, thanks to a recent joint effort by the Air Transport Assn. and US FAA. The collaborative initiative has advanced the application of an electronic document likely to make aircraft parts distribution more efficient.

In December, ATA released its ATA Spec 2000 Chapter 16 guidance for implementing changes to FAA's parts distribution form, which became effective a month before. In addition to changes related to document preparation, FAA now will allow airlines, OEM part manufacturers, distributors and part repair facilities to use an "electronic" form for validating the airworthiness of new or repaired aircraft parts. The electronic document, known as Form 8130-3 Authorized Release Certificate, incorporates the use of data inputs, a specified computer language and a digitized electronic signature mechanism. Paper forms still will be allowedand required if a glitch occurs in the system.

"The specification ultimately will enable substantial benefits through the use of digital technologies over the paper form," predicts ATA President and CEO James C. May.

In current practice, when a paper document comes with the shipment of an aircraft part, airline or maintenance facility personnel must check part and serial numbers on the form manually against the actual part and review other information for accuracy. "This administrative work is in addition to the basic quality checks that the receiving party must do against the part. Typically the receivers of the parts either manually scan all the paper documents or physically store them," explains Victoria Day, a spokesperson for ATA.

But use of the e-form allows the part supplier to ship the part and simultaneously send the electronic 8130-3 ARC form to the receiver. When the parts arrive, the matching up process can go more smoothly and the receiver is relieved of the scanning or manual filing burden.

Another area for significant savings occurs when fewer parts enter "quarantine," notes Day. "Today, when the paper document is damaged, misplaced or has faulty data such as an incorrect part number, the part is placed in quarantine at the receiver's facility until the paperwork is resolved. This can add dollars to the entire supply chain cost in terms of additional part or turnaround time requirements."

With an electronic form, part or serial number discrepancies can be corrected even while the part is in transit. Also, upon receipt of the part, an integrated automated system could allow the receiver to scan a barcoded identification plate and match it against an electronic purchase order, the shipment notice and the electronic 8130-3 ARC.

On average, it takes at least a day and a half to reconcile some of these discrepancies, according to a FedEx analysis, whereas electronic documentation corrections can be implemented within minutes. FedEx reported that nearly 9,000 repair components fell victim to the paperwork correction process in 2006.

The electronic mode also helps protect the integrity of the airworthiness process. An electronic signature on the document by the part supplier ensures that the person in charge of clearing the part for shipment is the same person who signed the document. The process uses a digitized Public Key Identification method to verify the signature.

FAA encourages the use of electronic documents. "As the complexity of aircraft design, manufacturing and maintenance processes has increased, the number of documents generated and required to be retained by aircraft manufacturers, owners, operators and repair facilities has expanded dramatically," the agency said in releasing the revised 8130-3 ARC. "Electronic information storage and retrieval systems have enhanced the aviation industry's ability to manufacture, operate, and maintain today's highly complex aircraft and [related] systems."