Aviation use of RFID tags is expanding rapidly
Any skepticism regarding the value of Radio Frequency Identification for tracking aircraft parts may have largely evaporated following the recent announcement that Airbus will expand its use of RFID tags to certain components of all its aircraft families.
Starting in 2013, all life vests and seats on Airbus A320, A330, and A380 aircraft will be marked with RFID tags — accounting for approximately 120,000 and 40,000 RFID tags, respectively. That’s in addition to existing part marking on A350 WXB aircraft, which have used RFID tags.
In making the announcement, Airbus officials noted the benefits of RFID tags in providing efficient and accurate identification of flyable parts throughout their life. In contrast to barcode or Data Matrix tags, a line of sight is not needed to read RFID tags. That’s useful if a component is behind a panel, difficult to locate or covered with dirt. Multiple RFID tags can be read simultaneously. The tags can be used in non-pressurized or cabin environments and can withstand harsh conditions.
Someone with a handheld RFID reader can confirm the presence and location of hundreds of RFID-tagged life vests and seats on an aircraft in a matter of minutes — saving a substantial amount of time compared to manually checking each component, according to Airbus. And the RFID tags share some of the properties of other automatic identification systems such as barcodes, namely that they stay with the part throughout its life, providing a permanent record.
The use of RFID for tagging flyable parts is addressed in the Air Transport Association of America’s Spec 2000 standards. Under ATA Spec 2000 RFID, a tag can include just basic identifying information about a part, known as its birth record. Or high-memory tags, including flexible, integrated RFID labels, may also contain details on the part’s maintenance, repair, and overhaul history. ATA Spec 2000 RFID includes details on how the information should be formatted.