Evolution of Aircraft Logbooks

Whether you are a pilot or a maintainer, when you look back at your earliest days in aviation, it’s a pretty good bet that a logbook was one of the first “airplane” things you ever had to deal with. They’re as perennial as the grass regarding how you keep track of every minute of an aircraft’s life and a pilot’s experience. 

But have you ever wondered where logbooks came from? Interesting story that – well at least from what I can piece together.

A thousand or so years ago, papyrus paper scrolls were used to record the sale and transfer of various cargos that early merchant ships carried across the Mediterranean Sea. As the decades passed and the ships started traversing the world’s oceans, the “Ship’s Log” or “Deck Log” evolved to become large, leather-bound volumes that were afforded great care.

It’s said that the logbooks were often the first things put aboard the lifeboats in the event of an incident at sea. And, because of the importance of the information it contained, keeping the log became a post of honor and was usually handled by the First Mate or Ship’s Navigator. But, the ultimate responsibility of each log entry fell on the ship’s Captain.

While no one knows the exact beginning of the aircraft and pilot’s logbooks, it’s commonly agreed that the basic logging formats came from the ship’s log. After all, the information they needed to record is pretty much the same whether it’s a sailing ship or a flying boat.

As for the history of the pilot’s logbook, the earliest record anyone can agree on about its beginning is a single page of details about a local flight penned by an unidentified aviator in 1913.

And just like our seagoing forefathers, today’s pilots and maintainers are meticulous about the information they write on those lined logbook pages. Very few pilots would risk their licenses by deliberately falsifying their logbook entries.

Besides, the requirements for exactly how pilots are to record details about their flights are spelled out in FAA regulation 14 CFR 61.51. No doubt you’ve read it. 

While a pilot’s logbook entries are important to their flying future, the detailed entries that an aircraft mechanic makes in the maintenance logs are crucial to aircraft airworthiness and its ultimate resale value.

The incredibly odd and alarming ways owners store their aircraft logbooks.

There’s no arguing the importance of a pilot’s or aircraft’s maintenance logbooks. The loss of either can take a long time and a lot of money to replace. And that’s why I’m amazed at the haphazard approach aircraft owners take with regard to the care of these valuable documents.

It’s not uncommon to walk into a hangar belonging to a Fortune 500 company and find hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of aircraft operational and maintenance records stored in metal filing cabinets, cardboard Banker’s Boxes, plastic storage tubs, or worse, just sitting on shelving.

All out in the open waiting for any number of ways they can be damaged, stolen, destroyed – or held for ransom by a disgruntled ex-employee. Any of which can render the airplane unairworthy until the records are replaced.

So you’re asking, why do owners put this valuable information at risk? Well, the most obvious reason is they don’t know there’s an alternative to paper logs. But there is. Bluetail has digitally scanned and stored thousands of aircraft records for aircraft operators worldwide. 

These digital records are not only secure and safe from any harm – they’re stored on the ‘cloud’ – they’re also instantly accessible and shareable with anyone, anywhere.

NBAA New Guidelines on Electronic Recordkeeping