This essay represents Part 1 of a three-part series titled: WHY DO WE CONTINUE TO USE PAPER RECORDS IN THE DIGITAL AGE?
Our aviation community continues to use paper as the vehicle of record for aircraft maintenance and for an aircraft’s proof of Airworthiness. What is the reason behind our continued use of paper? What are the factors that keep an industry known for its pioneering spirit and use of modern technology fastened to a world reminiscent of the 1950s’ when hula hoops were all the rage?
Part 1 deals with the financial motivation behind this mystery. The intent of this essay is to point to the reasons that keep our world of business
THE BERNIE MADOFF SYNDROME
Bernie Madoff … in 2008 the New York Post called him ”The Most Hated Man in New York”. Why? Because Bernie Madoff organized and directed a 50-billion-dollar financial investment empire which was found out (after many decades of operation) to be the largest Ponzi Scheme the world had ever seen. Thousands of investors were devastated when Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities collapsed during the financial breakdown of 2008. Some of the people that had invested with Bernie were reduced from living a life of luxury … to homeless and looking for any kind of work that would keep them afloat … in just a matter of weeks.
But how did Bernie get away with his schemes for so long in an industry as regulated as the financial investment industry? This answer is simple: No one, not the individual small investors, nor the large banks and investment firms, not even the SEC itself, wanted to change the fact that Madoff Investments was paying steady and reliable returns, even when the volatile stock market would go through its many ups and downs. The market was just not nearly as consistent as Madoff Investments. Madoff was even elected and served as
Even though it appeared to a few industry watchdogs in as early as 1993 that Bernie was running a Ponzi Scheme, the SEC only conducted a superficial investigation of Madoff Investments when challenged. The reason: Bernie Madoff being a crook and running a Ponzi scheme was an inconvenient truth that no one wanted to face when all the investment firms using
AVIATION’S INCONVENIENT TRUTH
Today, in business aviation, single aircraft operators, large multi-aircraft flight departments, even FAR Part 135 certificate holders and aircraft sales and management companies continue to profit despite having to use, and rely on, paper records for an aircraft’s history and proof of its Airworthiness.
The following paragraphs delineate how each entity involved in the sale, administration, and operation of a typical business aircraft profits in-spite-of, and sometimes as a-result-of, the dysfunctional paper recordkeeping system in use today.
SALES (Salespeople, Brokers, Attorneys, etc.)
Whether the goal is simply to sell an aircraft and receive a commission, or to be engaged in the administration of buying or selling an aircraft; paper records are just part of the process. A hurdle to get over, usually with the help of a maintenance professional. And like a speed bump in the road, paper records may slow the process, but they don’t usually keep a good sales organization from completing its mission.
MAINTENANCE (MROs, A&Ps, Professional Consultants, etc.)
Maintenance, of course, is most negatively affected by paper records. But, at the same time, maintenance is also its biggest beneficiary. Millions of dollars are spent every year by aircraft brokers, accountants, legal departments, and the operators themselves for skilled maintenance personnel to seemingly and somewhat magically, glean information needed from an aircraft’s chaotic paper record in order to prove its Airworthiness. Aircraft whose records can’t pass the muster are simply destined to be sold at reduced prices. Many times, these same aircraft resurface as FAR 135 candidates whose value is then restored once the aircraft passes through the gauntlet of FAR 135 configuration and is on certificate. Again, it is maintenance that requires the enormous amount of money and manpower needed to make this happen. This not only equates to job security of skilled maintenance personnel, but in a somewhat disquieting manner seems to justify employment and salaries in the minds of these skilled merchants of Airworthiness.
AIRCRAFT OPERATORS (Corporate Flight Departments, Management Companies, FAR 135 Certificate Holders, etc.)
Simply stated: the goal of every aircraft operator is to operate the aircraft. In business aviation that means anytime the aircraft owner wants to use the plane, it, and everyone involved with it, are ready. Paper records only represent a small obstacle in this effort. More often than not, paper records do not become a factor in an aircraft’s daily flight readiness. Because, every operator uses its dysfunctional paper recordkeeping system in the same manner … with company ordained coping mechanisms. Often this means the records are locked away in an office or cabinet, not to be consulted for the all-important flights the aircraft will make. In this way, the paper recordkeeping system does not interfere with, or disqualify an aircraft in its day-to-day operations.
THE BOTTOM LINE
So, if almost everyone in the business aviation industry either benefits from, or at least is not harmed by using paper records in our industry, then who ultimately pays the price for the problems and dysfunction that paper records create?
The answer is, of course, the aircraft owner.
This is aviation’s inconvenient truth. I could go as far as calling it “aviation’s dirty little secret”. Not that it really is a secret, but the reality is that most aircraft owners are unaware, and are never made aware, that so much of their money is spent accomplishing the business of their aircraft’s administration because of our use of such a grossly obsolete and dysfunctional recordkeeping system.
But just the same as with the Bernie Madoff syndrome; when so many are benefitting in spite of an inconvenient truth, that truth is often minimized in order to keep the status quo. Acknowledging the truth and doing something about it frequently means disruption on a grand scale. More often than not, only eminent disaster is enough to get the attention the truth deserves.
And so, it is in business aviation; we continue to use paper records to buy, sell, operate, and prove the Airworthiness of an aircraft, despite the cost to the aircraft’s owner and the hardship if places on everyone involved. Why?
Because it’s working.
And everyone it seems, is making money in our industry with a paper recordkeeping system in place. So Why change?
As an industry, we need to ask ourselves … is this the best we can do? Are we willing to continue to accept this inconvenient truth? Or are we ready to disrupt the status quo, and move from paper records to digital before eminent disaster appears on the horizon and forces us to change?
That shouldn’t even be a question in an industry responsible for creating and operating aircraft that fly faster, travel further, and operate more efficiently than ever before.
Technology helped us get these aircraft to where they are today. Isn’t it about time we apply this same technology to recording the important maintenance history and airworthiness of these amazing machines?