An aviation blockchain platform could unify the fragmented aviation ecosystem, reduce costs, eliminate data silos, and equip network participants with new capabilities.
In the current environment, each entity that touches the aircraft—a stakeholder—maintains its own database which is generally not connected to the others.
A single aircraft can have records scattered across all these touch points. Maintenance records in one or more maintenance provider databases; registration at the F.A.A.; title, liens, insurance with their respective organizations, etc.. It’s an expensive and inefficient system that doesn’t easily provide a picture of an airplane’s history. This is especially true in general aviation, which still relies on paper log books.
A blockchain platform eliminates these and other inefficiencies by connecting all participants to a blockchain.
A quick blockchain 101 and then on to some uses cases.
There is no central database in a blockchain. Instead, each network participant maintains a complete copy of the blockchain, known as a ledger. When one of the stakeholders adds information to its ledger (a new block of information) that information is propagated throughout the network, to keep all ledger copies in sync.
The distributed nature of blockchain makes it more robust than a traditional, centralized database in a fault tolerant way. But it also makes scaling a challenge in high transaction situations, for example, an airline reservations system. Fortunately, fixing something, getting insurance, selling a plane, an many other aspects of aviation are slow movers.
In the graphic below I have depicted the blocks as post-it notes and the chain as the yellow line linking them together. This kind of comprehensive snapshot of an aircraft’s life is very time-consuming—more likely impossible—to get when data is isolated in scattered databases.
(Abbreviations below: AD stands for airworthiness directive, SB for service bulletin, MRO for maintenance, repair, overhaul, OH for overhaul alone, F.A.A. for Federal Aviation Administration, NTSB for National Transportation Safety Board, and GA for general aviation.)
Blockchain shifts our focus to the asset, turning the formerly scattered data into a single digital scrapbook of the aircraft covering all dimensions of owning and operating it.
Blockchain is more secure than a centralized database. A process known as consensus is used to ensure that new transactions are legitimate while the immutable nature of blockchain prevents accidental or deliberate alteration of records. The distributed nature of the ledgers also eliminates a single point of attack as we have with a centralized database. Combined, these attributes assure a secure, accurate and unbroken picture of the aircraft’s (or any asset’s) life.
Blockchain is a foundation technology onto which business process and applications are overlaid. The user experience doesn’t have to be any different than it is today and people can still access the information by computer, tablet, or smartphone.
Aviation blockchain value add
Some benefits of using blockchain in aviation are
- Simplicity. A single-source picture of the aircraft, encompassing all its dimensions.
- Ease of access. Each authorized user has its own ledger copy, which makes access to the complete picture a snap.
- Immutability. Once verified by the blockchain consensus protocol, transactions are permanently part of the aircraft history and safeguarded from loss or alteration.
- Fewer regulations. Each blockchain participant keeps its own copy of the ledger in its own jurisdiction so there are no trans-border data governance issues.
- Lower costs through the elimination of traditional, centralized database infrastructure and management.
- Options. Say your preferred widget fixer has a 4 week turnaround time. Your visibility into the ledger enables you to see who else does that type of work for alternative sourcing options.
- Efficiency. Third parties, e.g. insurance and finance companies, can execute contracts on the blockchain as opposed to email or fax (ouch) document exchanges and maintaining the information in their own, isolated databases.
Looking at the stakeholders above, here are some use cases I can think of
- Manufacturer – Observe MRO patterns for the aircraft over its lifetime to view safety, performance, and cost information. If component “A” is consistently failing sooner than expected it would be observed and proactively addressed by the manufacturer instead of the responsive nature of maintenance reports coming in from various sources.
- Aircraft Management Companies – All information pertaining the airplane is in one place. Easy monitoring, scheduling, reporting, and leasing/selling.
- F.A.A. – Items that interest regulators could be monitored similar to the manufacturer use case.
- NTSB – Single-source access to entire aircraft maintenance history. Much easier than descending on a hangar or offices to review records.
- MRO Providers – Record what was done, when, by whom and view the work performed by others. With new airplanes this could altogether eliminate general aviation’s reliance on paper logbooks.
- Finance/Insurance – Electronically execute smart contracts that become part of the aircraft’s history. No emailing documents, signing, scanning and returning. No data silos.
- Buyers – Easily view a complete picture of the aircraft. No need for GA aircraft buyers to fly to the logbooks.
Blockchain vs central database comparison
Should you try a blockchain solution for a business process? Here’s a summary of blockchain/database differences and commonalities
- A single-source story of the aircraft (the asset) throughout its life, encompassing all of its dimensions
- Data portability. Data follows the aircraft and is not scattered in silos across the aviation ecosystem.
- Security through immutability – data can be appended but not altered or deleted.
- Ledgers are free from geographic, organizational, and regulatory issues because each node has a local copy of the ledger.
Common to blockchain and centralized database
- Accessible from anywhere by authorized parties.
- Brings disparate information into one place.
- Eliminates risk and inconvenience of paperwork, mostly for GA.
- Can handle high transaction volumes or streaming/burst data such as air-to-ground telemetry.
- Is a mature technology powering most existing business processes.
Blockchain is a new and evolving technology. We are already seeing chains developed by individual companies for their own business processes. An organization similar to the Blockchain in Trucking Alliance would be a logical route to establishing an aviation blockchain vision and promoting industry standards for use in the aviation industry.