Airlines have long recognized the importance of tracking aircraft parts from “cradle to grave,” i.e. from production, through maintenance and transfers, to disposa.
To bring consistency to the tracking process, the Air Transport Association of America, or ATA, created a standard called Spec 2000, which is followed by the major airlines. (ATA is now known as Airlines for America, or A4A.)
ATA outlines several methods for traceability of components in Spec 2000 Chapter 9, Automated Identification and Data Capture. AIDC includes barcodes, 2D Data Matrix and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), technologies used to mark and identify products and store information about them. The data can then be retrieved with automated equipment such as scanners or readers.
Using AIDC technology cuts down on errors that occur when data is entered by hand. Other benefits include improved tracking, ability to maintain repair history and reduced risk of counterfeit parts. RFID tags offer additional advantages, namely that a line of sight is not required to read them. If the tag is behind a panel, covered with dirt or is located so it can’t be seen on the part, chances are it can still be read. RFID tags work in pressurized or non-pressurized areas.
As detailed in ATA Spec 2000, RFID tags must contain the same part information as that included in barcodes or data matrices. But since RFID high memory tags can hold much more information, it is expected that the RFID tags will store additional information about the part, such as its number of hours in operation and the date it was last removed.
Airbus will reportedly use RFID tags on about 3,000 parts per plane in its new A350 XWB extra-wide body fleet. RFID high memory tags will make up about half of those. Boeing is also planning an RFID system for its 737 and 777 aircraft.