The paperless office may not have arrived, but it looks like the paperless cockpit is well on its way. Boeing has announced that Air New Zealand is abandoning old-fashioned hard copy technical logs on its fleet of six 787 Dreamliners in favor of Boeing's Electronic Log Book (ELB). According to the aircraft manufacturer, Air New Zealand is one of the first airlines to gain operational approval for the app, which is designed to improve the speed, accuracy, and efficiency of aircraft maintenance operations.

Airliners are among the most complex pieces of engineering ever devised by man and the development of some has rivalled the space program in their expense and technological challenges. However, they are so much a part of our daily lives that, as we fly across continents and oceans, we forget just how involved the repair and maintenance of these jet-propelled behemoths is.

A key factor is the technical log, which is a record kept by the flight crew of any faults noted during operations on the flight deck or in the cabin. These are used as a guide by the ground crew to address any problems or to track situations that might develop into faults later on. The problem is that these logs, like most paper records, are bulky, tiresome to keep up to date, and are of little use until the plane is actually on the ground.

Another problem with current log keeping is that it's often incomplete. According to Boeing, this lack of data means that things like takeoff and landing calculations are very conservative and often result in delays and added costs for each flight.

Part of Boeing's Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) suite of cockpit data software, the ELB uses a touchscreen and big, easy to find buttons to allow the flight crew to quickly enter data without adding to their workload. Boeing says that it's designed to integrate seamlessly with back-office systems, and store fault reports, flight logs, maintenance orders, and service records. As faults are recorded during a flight, the ELB forwards this data to ground crews at the destination and to the company so engineers can assess the problems and be ready to fix them when the plane lands.

"Advances in digital technology, such as the ELB, provide a more data-driven predictive maintenance process," says Captain David Morgan, Air New Zealand Chief Flight Operations and Safety Officer. "With this capability we can proactively troubleshoot and quickly solve maintenance items, further driving improvements in reliability and on-time performance."

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