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ATA Future Data Exchange Project

The Air Transport Association's (ATA) Future Data Exchange (FDE) project was launched last year with a mission to provide a new framework for the development and implementation of next-generation aviation information standards that expands on the existing foundation laid by the ATA e-Business committees. Future Data Exchange is the industry's solution to improve the processes, and therefore the quality and applicability of ATA specifications by applying leading technologies and a structured methodology.

Future Data Exchange is based on the simple premise that business processes are the drivers that lead to definitions of information content, which further lead to data structures and exchange mechanisms. The results will be a well-defined methodology that ATA e-Business working groups and task forces will use to derive information content and structure from business-process definitions, as well as guidelines for the technical constructs of the data interchange.

Through the 1980s, data from manufacturers were organized largely according to the organizational structures of airlines. Maintenance planning departments were provided with Maintenance Planning Documents (MPDs); Mechanics received Aircraft Maintenance Manuals (AMMs) and Component Maintenance Manuals (CMMs) and so on. Technical and operational documents were provided in the form of paper manuals, and eventually, microform media.

In the 1990s the industry began to define digital formats for these documents, using the Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML). Industry-standard SGML Document Type Definitions (DTDs) were defined for each document. This facilitated reuse of information components, but was still based on a document-centric view of the information. Document revision cycles varied between functional areas, resulting in inconsistency and redundancy in how information was described across documents. Additionally, airlines were unable to apply revisions evenly and consistently across all relevant applications. Finally, this silo view of information meant that critical cross-functional relationships and dependencies were being missed.

The vision of the FDE project is to define and exchange data in an information-based, not document-based manner, resulting in greater consistency, accuracy, reliability and timeliness of information. The Future Data Exchange project team, consisting of both business and technical experts representing a number of industry functional areas, is defining the methodology, standards and technical requirements by which a physical exchange model can be derived from the conceptual ATA Data Model. Further, the team will define how working groups and task forces can derive semantically complete information sets from the exchange model to drive the data interchange.

The Exchange Data Model will be divided into subject areas in accordance with the Data Model and will define data structures to a detailed physical level suitable for data exchange. These structures will be defined using XML Schemas and will be based on functional categories, not documents.

Future Data Exchange is the critical next step in the evolution of industry information management…from paper…to electronic, but still document-oriented SGML formats…to common information sets that can be uniformly defined, reused across applications, and easily extended for specific purposes all through the power of XML technologies.

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