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Beyond paper

Bluetail’s digital, searchable service

Paperwork. Just the word conveys a sense of mindless drudgery. There’s some truth in that, as many aircraft owners well understand.

Illustration by Andrew BakerPreserving maintenance records for the life of an airplane can snowball over the months and years, leaving owners with what can be disorganized boxes and stacks of logbooks and other paper documents, easy to neglect and frequently stashed away in a corner somewhere.

But neglect them, and you risk some serious repercussions. Incomplete maintenance, airworthiness directives, service bulletins, and other such records can seriously reduce resale values, void maintenance plans, negate warranty coverage, and create numerous other blocks to a clear title. “I’ve owned my PC–12 for 20-plus years, and other planes before that, and I always had an anxiety about logbooks,” said Sarasota, Florida-based pilot Phil Rosenbaum. “I knew I needed a backup to the logs and paper documents…and if they were ever lost it could mean a $250,000 reduction in value if I want to sell it.” His Pilatus service center keeps a set of duplicates in a fireproof safe, which is a great idea, but it meant that they weren’t accessible unless he was on site. And even then, it would mean a tedious manual search of hundreds of documents.

In 2020, two aviation-minded former Apple executives—Stuart Illian and Roberto Guerrieri—founded Bluetail Inc., a company that digitizes aircraft records and stores them on a secure cloud-based platform. Bluetail’s service begins when a customer brings logbooks and other paper documents to one of the company’s 120 scanning centers—or a Bluetail specialist comes to the customer’s location and does the scanning. After that, customers and/or their maintenance providers can keep the records current by several means. Using your iPhone or Android device, you can take photos of maintenance documents and upload them using the Bluetail app. Or use your computer to email a PDF file to Bluetail.

One big feature is what Bluetail calls its MACH search capability. This uses optical character recognition (OCR) and machine learning to allow documents to be stored, sorted, and searched several ways. The OCR will even recognize an airframe and powerplant mechanic’s or inspector’s signatures. Let’s say you want to look up any records that mention a specific part, form, inspection, or date of service. The search can locate all these and allow customers to share the information with the maintenance and repair organization, flight department, or other owners they designate. This can come in very handy if you remember that a certain component was overhauled, but didn’t write down the part number, don’t have the form 8130 at hand, and can’t remember when the work was performed, let alone who did the signoff. MACH search will quickly recognize all those details and let you share them. Same thing with airworthiness directive, service bulletin, and other compliance documents.

This kind of capability becomes vital when more than one airplane is involved. Jim Taylor has a Cessna 421 and a Cessna 182 based at his home field at Camarillo, California, and five other aircraft at various nearby airports. “I’m not much of a laptop-iPhone guy,” he said. “So, I had two banker’s boxes’ worth of paper downloaded, and now I don’t have to spend hours and hours, say, looking for when I last had some generator work done.”

Bluetail made the news recently when Jet It, a fractional ownership operation with access to more than 1,000 jets ranging from Citation CJ3s to HondaJets to Falcon 50s, signed up for the service. “We have thousands of pages of maintenance information contained in countless paper logbooks,” said Glenn Gonzales, Jet It’s CEO and founder. “Having all of that information digital, searchable, and sharable, anywhere in the world by Bluetail will enable our mechanics to perform inspections, and maintenance faster, more efficiently, and at a lower cost.”

Bluetail isn’t just for turbine airplanes. After an initial setup fee, the company’s per-aircraft monthly charges are $69 for piston singles, twins, and warbirds; $99 for light jets and turboprops; $149 for mid-size jets and helicopters; and $249 for large-cabin jets.

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Thomas A. Horne

Thomas A. Horne

AOPA Pilot Editor at Large
AOPA Pilot Editor at Large Tom Horne has worked at AOPA since the early 1980s. He began flying in 1975 and has an airline transport pilot and flight instructor certificates. He’s flown everything from ultralights to Gulfstreams and ferried numerous piston airplanes across the Atlantic.

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