The Importance of Calibration in the Aviation Industry

The calibration of measuring equipment is critical in the aviation industry to ensure quality, safety and aircraft performance. The aviation industry has specialized accuracy and reliability specifications for its equipment and an extreme level of confidence and integrity is required in the measurement data and results. 

In the aviation industry, the cost of failure is high. Equipment or component failures on aircraft can cost from tens of thousands to millions of dollars, while an aircraft failure in flight can present an enormous cost in the loss of lives.  As the technical aspect of the aircraft equipment and systems becomes more advanced, the calibration processes, equipment, and personnel training will need to keep pace to ensure that the equipment performs correctly.

Calibration Program Advantages

Maintaining an effective calibration program in the aviation industry is more than just a requirement, it is an organizational necessity. Familiarity with the requirements of a calibration program should be common knowledge across an organization’s management and technical personnel and must include open discussions about the calibration processes, regulatory compliance, documentation control, record keeping and the risk potential for failures within the calibration system.

A number of distinct advantages of maintaining a calibration program are listed below.

Safety of Aircraft Passengers and Personnel

Passenger and personnel safety are of the utmost importance when maintaining or operating aircraft. The calibration of the equipment that tests critical aircraft systems such as the pitot-static, hydraulic, electrical and avionics systems is paramount to the operational safety of the aircraft.

Equipment Quality and Performance

Regular calibration ensures that equipment maintains its stated accuracy and reduces the chances of the item being out-of-tolerance (OOT). Calibration not only involves the calibration of items that are new, but also those that have been repaired or modified, have been dropped, or when measurements do not seem accurate. Equipment that is not regularly calibrated or that is continually OOT creates numerous risks such as safety concerns, questionable quality and increased downtime which can create scheduling and other challenges for aircraft personnel.

Documentation Compliance

In most aviation fields, the FAA requires extensive documentation for virtually every element of a calibration program. Calibration documentation is required for equipment being calibrated as well as the equipment used in performing the calibrations. Required documentation includes the measurement results, calibration certificate, and calibration procedures used for the calibration. A calibration program is designed to record and maintain all of the current data on equipment as well as historical data on previous calibrations or obsolete equipment.

Measurement Traceability

Measurement Traceability is the requirement that a connection exists between the measurement results of a calibrated instrument and a national or international reference standard. It is commonly defined as an ‘unbroken chain’ of comparisons to higher level standards. Equipment needs to be calibrated by accredited laboratories in order to maintain this chain. The documentation of the Calibration Certificate serves as a link in the chain. If any link in the chain is broken, then traceability is lost and the accuracy and confidence in the measurement results are in question.

Equipment Inventory Control

Most quality systems require the tracking of all instruments that have an impact on performance. A successful calibration program typically contains a comprehensive inventory of all of the testing, measurement and control equipment in an organization to ensure compliance with all applicable standards. Managing the equipment through this resource makes it easy for new equipment to be added, older equipment to be removed and changes in equipment ownership and location to be easily tracked.