Maintaining pilot and aircraft logbooks is a practice that dates back over a century. The way pilots maintain logbooks hasn’t changed much over the years. But with increasing technological advances, digital logbooks may end up being the only future there is in aviation record keeping.

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The Digital Revolution of Maintaining & Storing Logbooks

Are we close to saying goodbye forever when it comes to keeping physical logbooks for aircraft on hand? We’re not quite there yet, but digital logbook maintenance is definitely in the future of aviation.

Brief History Of Pilot Logbooks In Aviation

The Wright Brothers’ first successful flight in 1903 is an ever-famous event in world history. What many people don’t know is that the brothers’ detailed and thorough notes or logs are what helped make their revolutionary discovery a reality. Their notes would not likely look like what we see today in modern logbooks. But they still included every aspect of their research, building, and testing stages leading up to their success.

As planes grew in popularity, pilots would often keep personal flight diaries to document an aircraft’s limits and capabilities. They also kept up with their careful documentation to ensure they were being paid fairly. The U.S., however, didn’t require pilots to keep official logs until the 1960s.

Impact Of The Air Commerce Act Of 1926

Aviation’s early years welcomed all pilots as new pilots. As the industry grew, Britain’s Royal Corps adopted the practice of logbooks in 1912. A year later, they established a template for future logs using designated rows and columns inspired by shipping logs.

However, making logbooks a requirement in the U.S. would only become an official practice through The Air Commerce Act of 1926. Among documenting air travel, this act also set the first regulations governing the certification of aircraft and licensing of pilots. As technology quickly developed, maintenance documentation became a part of logbook entries to ensure its mechanical history and airworthiness.

Typically, pilot logs were kept in journals, but many pilots adorned their logs with coins from different countries, stamps, details written on scraps of paper, etc. You can think of it as a sky-based scrapbook. What we’ve learned since then is that there’s quite a bit that can go wrong when you’re expected to maintain physical logbooks that are meant to be passed down throughout the life of an aircraft.

What Can Go Wrong With Logbook Storage & Maintenance

If you’ve ever heard a familiar auto insurance tagline, “We know a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two,” then you’ll understand the difficulties that go hand in hand with pilot and aircraft maintenance logbooks.

There are a few main reasons that an aircraft’s logbooks are missing and they usually include:

  • Theft
  • Damage from weather-related incidents (fire, flood, etc.)
  • Misplacement
  • Mishandling

Remember, original logbooks for an aircraft are irreplaceable and can affect the value of an aircraft. This is why more pilots are looking ahead toward digital solutions to maintain and keep aircraft logs.

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Future Proofing Pilot Logbooks

Charles Lindbergh’s logbook recorded every detail of aviation history’s first 33-hour nonstop transatlantic solo flight in 1927. Nevertheless, the general public would never know what was documented, and they were stolen quickly after he landed. This, among other countless incidents, is exactly why using technology to our advantage is becoming more widely accepted.

Cloud-based data banks are nothing new, so why not just make the switch altogether?

Yes, the idea of cloud-based logbooks that can be updated from a smartphone, tablet, or computer isn’t new. But there is still much to learn before hardcopy logbooks completely go out of style.

Making the switch to digital logbooks goes beyond flying aircraft with the technology built right in. In fact, the average age of a U.S. fleet is 18.4 years old. The internet alone has an official birthdate of January 1, 1983. So the real challenge is matching our advanced technology to older, still airworthy aircraft with their original logbooks intact.

That being said, the technology of digital record-keeping is simply unrivaled when compared to traditional logbooks. According to Avionics International, everything from mobile capabilities and smart notifications to using AI and easily integrating multiple devices is doable with digital logbooks. Plus, you get all of the information in real time.

From a safekeeping perspective, digital capabilities reduce logbook loss from theft and from being destroyed physically by an accident like a house fire or spilled cup of coffee. This prevents any costly consequences.

Why Are Logbooks Needed Anyway?

Among being an FAA requirement, logbooks contain every piece of information you can think of in a flight experience. Most aircraft are not new, which means many pre-owned aircraft will have these logbooks in tow as they travel from owner to owner. These notes include data about miles traveled, operational notes, completed maintenance, etc. When it comes to pilot and passenger safety, logbooks play a crucial role with every additional sale and owner. In the event of missing or destroyed logbooks, a plane’s overall value truly takes a hit.

Diminution In Value of A Plane Without Logbooks

Missing or damaged logbooks can be one reason why you see a perfectly fine-looking aircraft for sale with a too-good-to-be-true price tag attached. Missing logbooks can diminish between 40% and 60% of the plane’s total value. Although there is no one to stop you from buying an airworthy aircraft with missing logbooks, there are a few things you should know before you do.

Without its associated logbooks, it is nearly impossible to determine or confirm any of the following:

  • Airworthiness
  • Airworthiness directive and service bulletin compliance
  • Annual inspection status
  • Engine and prop overhaul status
  • Other critical factors

Depending on what’s missing, buying a plan sans logbooks is also highly unlikely to come with a satisfaction guaranteed clause. You may be purchasing an aircraft that isn’t airworthy at all or with far more extensive damage than you were told. This is exactly why digital logbooks are becoming more valuable moving forward.

RELATED: A Guide: Buying An Airplane With Missing Logbooks

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There is certainly an amount of nostalgia associated with seeing the scribbles of previous pilots. Whether you’re fascinated by margin notes, deep aircraft history, and beyond, there is certainly a rich history behind every aircraft. As aircraft retire from service, it will be more important to preserve physical logbooks as a reminder of how far we’ve come.

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