10. August 2020

How SWISS banished paper from the cockpit


Innovation // Printed learning materials, instruction manuals, and checklists have long played a central role in aviation. Thanks to digitalization, paper is now becoming a thing of the past in the cockpit. SWISS is bringing the future to the whole company with a new information app.

In the early days of aviation, the pilot’s main job was to control the plane manually with ground visibility, and this required con­siderable physical exertion. There was limited opportunity to consult documents during the flight, so these were primarily used for flight preparation. During the flight, they had to make do with the checklist for aircraft operation and the geographical navigation chart.

With the advent of more complex planes, technical and operational limitations, and restrictions based on national boundaries and politics, the scope of the required on-board documentation grew. Nowadays, navigational charts, technical manuals, and standards for operation must be close at hand at all times. Heavy suitcases full of A5 ring binders became a pilot’s constant companion. What’s more, keeping the folders updated entailed a significant administrative effort. 


No more ring binders

The introduction of an electronic library at SWISS brought some relief in the 2000s. That meant the pilots just had to update their PDF files, which solved some of the problems. However, the PDF solution soon became outdated compared with the latest technology in terms of UX, didactics, and handling.

Today, a documentation platform must be able to accommodate and display tens of thousands of pages. It needs to operate as a reference book and have an efficient search function, so that flight information can be usefully accessed from the plane in a digital format. 


Easy to use, yet complex

At SWISS, eKnowledge is at the center of flight operations information. SWISS wanted to create a new documentation platform to make all the information accessible via a single access point, online and offline. This “eKnowledge documentation platform,” as it is known, needs to be user-friendly while meeting the needs of both cockpit crew members and cabin personnel in terms of knowledge transfer, knowledge retention, looking up information, and updating. 

The platform was also supposed to take the pressure off the back office during publication. Added to this is the sheer variety of documents, training content, tutorials, guides, FAQs, and other types of documents that needed to be supported, all of which have to be displayed in an app. The solution is based on a learning process with four stages:

Learning: knowledge transfer
The entire knowledge base must be available to the cockpit and cabin crew in updated form and accessible from anywhere at any time.

Repetition: knowledge retention
Pilots need to know a great deal of information by heart, or be able to retrieve it in an instant. Fun training techniques are designed to help retain and build on their knowledge.

Search: search and research skills
The flight personnel must be able to find the desired content quickly and easily, whether during flight operation or on the ground in a training session. 

Revision: updating existing knowledge
Certain information, both from aircraft manufacturers and from SWISS, can change in the space of a month. The user must always have the latest version available for operational use. SWISS set themselves the target of noticeably increasing the knowledge of the entire cockpit and cabin crew using these four areas.


Four reasons for success

The new documentation platform allowed SWISS to find answers to the challenges described above and to develop a contemporary “eKnowledge solution.” Four elements are central to this success:


1. Platform-independent app solution

SWISS arranged development of both a platform-independent app solution and a browser version. This means that the documentation platform can run on different hardware and a range of operating systems within the Lufthansa Group. All documents can be viewed by the user either on their personal device or via a web browser. The platform also displays personal favorites or notes the user has made. All relevant information can be retrieved from anywhere at all times.


2. Modern & user-friendly functions

Using XML format instead of PDF makes it possible to offer the following functions:

The platform from SWISS has thousands of pages that cockpit and cabin personnel can view, arranged in a predefined structure. It can be difficult to keep track of the information you need, so the “MyBook” function lets users design their own content structure. 

Search function
Search is a key feature. Search results must be displayed quickly and reliably, even offline during a flight. SWISS is currently work­­ing on an improved search function. This will be enhanced with features such as fuzzy search, synonyms, and wildcard 
searches, as well as a – self-optimizing – search algorithm. 


3. Reducing update fatigue: 

The amount of new or amended information for flight and cabin personnel is incredible. SWISS has therefore introduced three categories of documentation. 
Must know: Must be read and must be usable at any time.
Must read: Must be read.
Nice to know: Optional.

In the PDF system previously used, information had to be updated multiple times in different documents. This led to occasional care­less errors, such as different spellings. Now, all the information is available in XML format. The back office only has to make changes to the source documentation, and all linked documents are updated automatically. This has made it possible to significantly reduce the administrative effort and sources of errors. 


4. Digital pilot training:

A new “eLearning platform” within the electronic documentation platform now allows flight personnel to review and broaden their knowledge using a question and answer system. The platform can also be used to prepare for the twice-yearly examinations required by the Federal Office of Civil Aviation. This e-learning content has meant that flight personnel can increase their amount of self-study and reduce the degree of face-to-face training. 

The entire “eKnowledge documentation platform” is an impor­tant step towards the digitalization of knowledge at SWISS. Cockpit crews and flight attendants now have contemporary tools available to help them find their bearings amid the rising tide of information, to make learning easier, and to strengthen their knowledge in a targeted way. 


Documentation platform for Lufthansa Group

A number of different knowledge platforms are currently in use within the Lufthansa Group. With their electronic documentation platform, SWISS has developed a cross-platform documentation solution which is being rolled out across the entire group. Lufthansa subsidiary Austrian has been using this same documentation solution since 2019, and other corporate divisions of the Lufthansa Group are planning to start using the SWISS platform in 2021. 

Sharing knowledge is becoming increasingly important specifically in the field of aviation. All divisions of the Group will benefit from using a consistent documentation platform. SWISS has developed a solution, in partnership with ti&m, that is equipped to deal with the challenges the future holds. Not only does this solution promise to improve safety and security, it also has economic potential. 

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Lorenzo Bittmann
Lorenzo Bittmann

Lorenzo Bittmann works in the eOperations division at SWISS, which is affiliated with Flight Operations. He has previously held a range of IT management positions, including as IT Manager at DPD (Schweiz) AG. Mr. Bittmann has a bachelor’s degree from HWZ Zurich University of Applied Sciences in Business Administration and a master’s degree from the University of Sussex in Brighton, England.