In Conversation: Digital Flight Logs with Karl Steeves

Simple Flying recently caught up with Karl Steeves, the co-founder and CEO of TrustFlight. The commercial pilot founded the Vancouver-based digital technology company to provide tools and services that bring new levels of safety, efficiency and insight to everyone involved in aircraft operations and maintenance.

The company supports airlines, airports, maintenance providers and regulators around the world. With the current focus on pilot logs, we were eager to hear more about key developments in this area.


Replacement of aging processes

Sumit Singh: What information is recorded in TrustFlight’s aircraft technical log?

Karl Steeves: Interestingly, the Tech Log shows everything on a paper log, and more, but in a much more intuitive digital format. In fact, the Tech Logs we create can be turned into the printed versions airlines used to use. We record a variety of information, including routine data for each flight, such as fuel consumption, flight time and crew duties, as well as any technical information that may affect the airworthiness of the aircraft , such as defects or damage.

Defects are an important part of our system because as soon as one is registered a whole bunch of processes start to understand if an aircraft will be delayed, coordinate engineers to resolve the issue or determine if the aircraft is still safe to fly with the unresolved defect. We have also integrated other aspects, including, for example, safety reports that streamline workflows when safety and maintenance incidents occur on an aircraft, such as a bird strike.

The use of the digital technical journal is versatile. Photo: Trust Flight

SS: How does this help increase productivity and reduce errors?

KS: Half the battle in getting a plane off the ground is for the captain to sign the papers. Some 25 signatures are required by the captain on carbonized paper for each flight. On top of that, there are many calculations done on the cockpit – fuel, engine time, block time for example – that require manual calculation. Then the captain writes everything down, including the calculations. I don’t know about you, but my handwriting is often hard to read, and just someone somewhere in the chain misreading the handwriting is single-handedly causing a lot of errors.

All of this has traditionally been done on carbon paper – 5 sheets per flight or some 7,300 per year for the average Boeing 737. One of the sheets is for the airline’s maintenance team, who then have to manually enter the data into a database, leading to further errors and wasted time. In addition to this, the airlines are responsible for keeping records and other sheets are stored. All of this costs the airline time and money.

Critical information is shared and displayed transparently. Photo: Trust Flight

Major progress

SS: How does this product compare to initiatives such as Collins’ Flight Hub?

KS: Many systems today, including Collins’ Flight Hub, focus more on operational data that helps pilots in their flight, such as weather and airport information. An underserved area is aircraft maintenance and technical condition. Our system is about logging technical aircraft issues and helping everyone from pilots to mechanics understand what happened to an aircraft and most importantly keep it running safely and efficiently avoiding delays .

SS: There have been advancements in electronic flight bags over the years. How does this advance the process?

KS: Most EFBs have focused on operational data such as weather, performance calculations and airport information. Our system introduces a whole new aspect of digitizing aircraft maintenance status. We’ve also focused heavily on building integrations with existing security, operations, and maintenance systems, allowing us to bring together many processes that historically stood alone or resulted in a lot of duplication.

Staff would appreciate the thorough approach. Photo: Trust Flight

Savings at all levels

SS: Please tell us more about the cost savings to be achieved.

KS: Let me give you the example of a client. A customer revealed that our tools reduced processes by up to 30 hours, seamlessly combining more than 80 steps from all relevant departments into one powerful workflow. The company can now instantly access, manage and update all relevant documentation, with the ability to assign, track and monitor all related actions in real time. It’s quite powerful. We estimate that for every hour of flight, two hours of work are required just to maintain paper records. In addition to this, the airlines are responsible for keeping records and other sheets are stored.

SS: And what about overall environmental savings?

KS: For starters, each airplane uses carbonized paper with about five sheets, and the average Boeing 737 uses about 7,300 sheets of paper per year by our estimate. That alone is wasteful. Then think about the cost of moving all those pieces of paper, the trip to airline headquarters, the maintenance shop, as well as the cost of storing records. Everything can add up.

The amount of waste saved cannot be underestimated. Photo: Trust Flight

SS: What can you tell us about the usability aspect?

KS: Everyone is comfortable with tablet interfaces these days — even regulators! Commercial airlines and pilots have built-in tablets for flight planning and cockpit mapping purposes. But when it comes to the interface between maintenance, pilots and the aircraft itself, paper rules, at least until our system is adopted. It should be easy to both review an aircraft’s past data, with a visual form factor, enter new data, and separately access and analyze that data. All of this can be done with our suite of systems.

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Look forward

SS: How is the deployment in the industry going?

KS: We are working to change processes that haven’t really evolved since the initial development of leading passenger aircraft like the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320, where paper-based solutions are the norm. Indeed, even engine manufacturers still deliver engines to customers with reams of paper newspapers.

For many airlines, there is a strong desire to improve efficiency and reduce manual processes. During COVID, we saw that airlines were forced to quickly adapt their operations and that maintaining paper-based processes became even more difficult than before. So now that the industry is recovering, we are seeing much faster adoption of our systems.

SS: What is the current direction of the program?

KS: We have developed a suite of digital tools, including a digital technical journal, a digital engine journal, Centrik, which provides comprehensive SMS and operational management support to over 80,000 global users across the aviation, UAS, army, sea and navy. Centrik eliminates costly and outdated paper-based processes and procedures, increasing efficiency, improving safety and ensuring full compliance in some of the world’s most regulated and safety-critical industries. Our goal is to expand integrations between systems and add additional features that can help make carriers safer and more efficient.

SS: Is there anything else you would like to point out?

KS: TrustFlight recently signed a new agreement to supply its product range to Bonza, Australia’s new ultra low cost carrier. The airline will launch later this year with a fleet of Boeing 737 aircraft. The news follows TrustFlight’s integration with Flair Airlines in Canada, which shares a common investor, Miami-based private equity firm 777 Partners. Bonza will begin operations with TrustFlight’s tools integrated from the start, which will help the airline maintain the lowest costs in Australia.

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