Airline Document Management: How to save costs by streamlining your operational manuals

Multiple industries have been hit hard by the current epidemic, including the aviation sector. But as with any crisis, it may just end up serving as a catalyst for due change on various levels. Best case scenario being that affected Airlines use the current, albeit dramatic circumstances as an opportunity to increase efficiency and reduce costs, with the objective of eventually emerging even stronger from the current crisis.

With that in mind, this article aims to clarify how the aforementioned objectives can be reached, specifically in the documentation domain.

Main Cost Drivers in Document Management Today

Before solving the puzzle on how to overcome today’s challenges for the sake of a more sustainable and cost-effective way of managing processes related to maintaining and distributing content both reliably and end-user friendly, it’s well worth investigating the primary cost drivers involved in today’s typical environments.

Legacy systems are certainly one of the major headaches responsible for complicating efforts to streamline content related processes. Typically, these solutions don’t cover the entire value chain of a document’s life cycle, which includes creating, updating, approving, distributing and eventually displaying the information relevant for an end-user. “Connecting and maintaining these systems to work as a unit adds considerable complexity at major costs, hardly justifiable when considering the actual value they create individually”, says Yonder’s Co-Founder & CEO Tom Vogel and adds: “The fragmentation of documentation processes brought about by disconnected legacy systems is also challenging from an audit trail perspective and bares the potential of promoting misinformation to the end user when publishing under pressure.” Traditionally and because these systems merely zoom in on a particular part of the documentation journey, they tend to overwhelm users with non-essential functionalities while providing a less than ideal user experience – at least in comparison to what the average user would expect in today’s day and age. Onboarding users to these solutions therefore frequently requires considerable training efforts.

Although hard to grasp, another major cost driver involved in the processes inherent to managing documentation, is the abundance of manual, repetitive labor involved. Consider the following examples for illustrational purposes:

  • OM-A vs. Cabin Manual: It’s common procedure to extract (i.e. copy paste) information from the OM-A to create a dedicated Cabin Manual. Revised content is maintained separately, thereby generating additional costs in document maintenance, while adding complexity that may result in conflicting information if the two sources are not synchronized properly at all times.
  • FCOM vs. OM-B: Changes to manufacturer manuals (e.g. Airbus or Boeing) are frequently skimmed through by in-house editors manually before implementing the necessary changes to the operator’s customized version. And whenever a new aircraft is acquired, the editing process basically starts from scratch.
  • Compliance: Changes in regulation (e.g. EASA, FAA, IOSA) may require manual tracking by the compliance team, which faces the challenge of allocating these changes to the corresponding content contained in the documentation scattered across the organization’s documentation landscape. Doing so is time consuming and can be viewed as an error-prone process at best that bares the potential risk of resulting in considerable fines from audit-related findings.

There would be many more examples worth highlighting where prevalent inefficiencies generate avoidable costs. Avoidable, because a large number of these processes could indeed be automated, leading to considerable cost savings and the optimization of available resources (e.g. improved efficiency and effectiveness of SMEs, approvers, or in-house editors).

Speaking of resources: There are also considerable costs attached to the traditional processes of approving and distributing information in general, where a large number of approvers (e.g. chief pilots) come together physically to discuss change by change: These meetings generate costs because individuals must be rostered accordingly (especially in flight operations) and mostly well in advance (e.g. 60 day lead time) to make it work for all the necessary stakeholders. Consequently, the organization might have a hard time to react to audit findings, safety incidents etc. that may occur in the meantime and that would require a quick decisive reaction. Why not benefit from functionality that allows for discussions and approval processes to take place right in the content management solution itself, rendering these physical meetings obsolete for the most part? That way and to state but one example, chief pilots could bring in their expertise asynchronously and independent of their location (e.g. crew layovers, in the office, at home, etc.). Additional benefit: All of the discussions and decisions are logged, resulting in a seamless audit trail at all times.

In Summary: Disconnected and overly complicated legacy systems, repetitive manual labor and tremendous amounts of duplications on the document level are all primary sources of inefficiencies that add unnecessary complexity to operational processes, thereby generating avoidable costs and increasing the probability of distributing misinformation that may or may not lead to compliance- and/or safety-related issues.

End User Requirements

After alluding to the main cost drivers involved in managing documentation and before actually talking about possibilities to streamline related processes with the objective of sustainable cost savings, it’s worth asking ourselves: What is required by a content management solution to enable end users to eventually work productively with the distributed information? The short answer: The end user needs the right information at the right time, presented in a user-friendly format (and no: PDF based distribution is rarely a feasible solution!).

That holds true in any case and regardless of someone’s particular function. Hence, whether someone is working in compliance, where stakeholders may appreciate getting an automatic change request pointing to the exact location within a document that correspond to a change in regulation brought upon by an external source, or as a pilot that happens to explicitly look for information on noise abatement for a particular airport that he or she is about to fly to; It’s all about limiting the displayed information to specific use cases.

The Solution

Yonder Mind can replace legacy systems all at once, since it contains all of the functionality that is required to account for seamless content management. Hence, from creating and publishing content, all the way to revising it based on document specific workflow procedures: Yonder Mind has it covered.

In fact, the Yonder Mind content management solution leaves the realm of classic document management altogether. Although we still use the term “document” for the lack of a better word, Yonder Mind’s core philosophy is built around the definition of so-called information modules. These modules are discrete units of information that can be enriched with additional information. In our understanding, a document is therefore merely a container for a collection of such information modules. Having a module-based architecture in place, has major implications as it pertains to managing information both reliably and efficiently. Some prominent examples include:

  • Dynamically display content: Information modules can be enriched with multiple tags (e.g. compliance, cabin, cockpit, operational ground staff, tail number, etc.), thereby allowing to limit the content within a document to what’s relevant for a given role and mission. To bring it into context to one of the examples alluded to before: There’s no need to have a dedicated Cabin Manual with information extracted from the OM-A: Use Yonder Mind’s dynamic displaying capabilities and limit revision procedures to one manual instead while the end-user still benefits from dedicated information.
  • Reuse content: By definition, each information module is a unique entity that is anchored within one source document. However, copy-pasting a given module into another document will not actually create a duplicate, but a reference. Hence, whenever the source module is being changed, it will automatically reflect the same changes wherever it has been reused, thereby mitigating the risk of having outdated duplicates scattered across the documentation landscape. Having this capability allows to freely recombine information from different sources (e.g. to create a winter ops guide with information from several operation manuals) without having to maintain such documents separately.
  • Link information modules to regulatory databases: Content within a module can be directly linked to the official regulation (e.g. EASA, FAA, IOSA etc.). Once the official regulation changes, an automatic change request is triggered, thereby informing the relevant stakeholders specifically about the relevant information module(s) that may have to be changed across the documentation landscape for the sake of remaining compliant at all times. This is not limited to chapters or subchapters but references specific bits of information on a very granular level.
  • Sync manufacturer manuals with operator customizations: Yonder Mind is capable of automatically managing complex changes, e.g. to FCOM/FCTM, MEL, and QRH from manufacturers (e.g. Airbus, Boeing) even with operator customizations to it.

These are just some of the examples that illustrate how Yonder Mind’s module-based approach can reduce complexity, minimize manual labor and mitigate the risk of ending up with conflicting and non-compliant information as part of the overall documentation.

Meanwhile, document specific workflows allow SMEs and approvers to bring in their expertise on an information module basis once again. Meaning that each potential change to a particular module can be discussed asynchronously by the relevant stakeholders in a transparent manner. And it’s all done right within Yonder Mind, resulting in a seamless compliance and audit trail at all times.

Generally, organizations often seem to confuse the process of digitization with translating physical paper into PDF based documents or other formats that look like PDF. We believe that this approach will neither end up in drastic cost savings nor lead to the desired efficiency and quality improvements that one would hope for. Instead, we are convinced that airlines must move away from classical documents and transform their documentation landscape altogether, to fully realize their objectives and reduce cost doing so.

We are here to show you the way.

Published: 24 November 2020
Author: Roger Lüchinger, Sales Director