Industry experts at MRO Europe underline the importance of the traceability of used serviceable material in the aviation supply chain 

Flying in a passenger plane is over 2,000 times safer than travelling in a car. 

Since the advent of commercial aviation, safety records have steadily grown each decade – just 50 years ago, flying in a passenger plane was only 70 times safer than travelling in a car. 

Today, it is 2,100 times safer: an imperious record testament to the pillars on which the modern aviation industry is built. 

And as metaphysical as these pillars might be, they could equally be physical and literally reach for the sky as mountain after mountain of paperwork: the certification of the parts that make up the planes. 

Parts traceability core to the business

Nothing is more important in the industry than the traceability of parts was the deafening conclusion at this year’s MRO Europe as the Satair Knowledge Hub spoke to industry experts.

Our interviewees were a selected handful of the estimated 6,000 decision-makers in the European supply chain industry who gathered last week in Amsterdam for the 25th-anniversary edition of the conference.

Parts traceability is the DNA of the entire supply chain, contends David Stewart, Partner at Oliver Wyman.

“It's core to the business and we will not survive without it – because if it goes wrong, and we become an unsafe industry, people will not be in the air.” 

Databases that follow and track are essential

Traceability documentation is vital to knowing the origin stories of parts – without it the parts are pretty much worthless. After all, the industry’s track record is no fluke; airlines are not in the business of taking risks with parts they don’t know the history of.

It is worrisome, therefore, to know that the aviation supply chain once took such a scattergun approach to traceability documentation. 

Often files were uploaded to servers such as DropBox, making it inefficient to find them years later. Furthermore, only essential data was stored – often other information, even though it might have been valuable further along the supply chain, was lost. 

Fortunately, increasing numbers of aviation companies have started to use databasing tools such as blockchain to keep digital records of parts and materials – a welcome turnaround, according to Tommy Hughes, President and CEO at VAS Aero Services:

“It's becoming more and more critical that there's a fundamental understanding or a database associated with the following and tracking of the movement of those parts so we know where they originated.”

Important to maintaining safety standards

Traceability documentation is important to maintaining safety standards in the industry, according to Stewart:

“I would say it's very vital for the industry to maintain traceability of parts because the DNA of aviation is safety and safety equals traceable parts, so it's 100 percent one of the most vital things we do – along with having well-qualified pilots.”

And it also plays an important role in understanding why planes perform in the way they do, adds Jasper van den Boogaard, VP Airframe Acquisition & Trading at APOC Aviation:

“Traceability is absolutely essential. We have to work with very high levels of certification and quality, and if something happens, you cannot afford not to have good traceability of each part – all in accordance with the high standards of the industry.”

Meeting the industry’s quality and reliability requirements

The answer to why something went wrong can often be found in the traceability documentation, asserts Hughes:

“What's been done with them, how they've been operated, how they've been treated, and where they were repaired – did all of this meet the quality and reliability requirements to install and run an aircraft?”

Ultimately, traceability is integral to the plane’s DNA, concludes Stewart:

“It's in the DNA of regulations, in the DNA of audits, in the DNA of processes, and in the DNA of all of the multitude of manuals that airlines have to have their operating certificate.”