Improving airline safety with better technical documentation

When you buy a new car it comes with a sleek little owner’s manual that fits into your glove box. With a new jet airliner, things aren’t that simple.  Every jetliner comes with a massive library of documentation covering every aspect of inspection, maintenance and repair of the plane’s systems. And “every aspect” is no exaggeration.

Technical documentation by the board foot
At Information Mapping we’ve helped aeronautics firms develop technical and maintenance documentation. Their technical writers used to say they measured projects not in pages but in board feet of shelf space required to house all the manuals. Today much of this documentation exists in electronic form, but it’s still a tremendous amount of information.

Documentation causes risk and safety hazards
Technical and maintenance documentation is a major cause of risk for the aviation industry and an obstacle to improving airline safety. Documentation-related problems cost the airlines millions of dollars in errors and rework. They also create maintenance-related delays and safety hazards that can lead to disaster.

Aviation safety experts pinpoint the problems
Last year, aviation safety experts met in Atlanta, GA at the Federal Aviation Administration’s AVS Technical Documentation Workshop to identify issues and propose solutions to the documentation problem. They urged the industry to

  • improve maintenance of technical documentation throughout its lifecycle—in the US, the average commercial airliner has been flying for over 12.5 years
  • eliminate confusing and conflicting information, and make it clear, consistent and easy to navigate
  • make it easier for technicians to access information from fewer sources—one post-incident analysis showed that performing a single maintenance procedure required the technician to access a total of 73 (!) separate reference documents, and
  • promote cultures of usage and compliance with documentation—in the airlines’ schedule-driven environment this calls for a major cultural shift, but experts believe it’s essential to improving airline safety.

Our content management experts agree - it’s time to act
The experts at the AVS workshop were speaking our language. Their recommendations reflect the advice we give our customers who want to improve their control of large knowledge bases. At Information Mapping we aren’t aviation experts, but we know quite a bit about creating content architectures that make it easy to manage large amounts of information. And we’ve seen the improvements to safety and efficiency that result from improving the quality of documentation. By taking action now the aviation industry could significantly minimize risk and improve airline safety.

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