By: Ori Marom, founder, Segmentis


While almost any 30-year-old widebody aircraft will have a thoroughly modernized “young” cockpit virtually all 30-year-old merchant ships will retain almost all its original, old, and obsolete bridge systems. Why is that? I explore this issue in this short article.

The replacement of an aircraft cockpit or a ship’s bridge would require a modular design that allows the interchange of various interoperable systems throughout the product lifecycle.  For this to be possible, engine systems, navigational systems, database and communications modules, and other components would need to speak the same “language”, both over time and across different world regions. In turn, such wide modularity and interoperability require strong international standards.

Yet, it has been widely noted that both the maritime-transport and the shipbuilding industries suffer from acute lack of international standards. While the International Maritime Organization (IMO) acts as the industry’s main standard-setting body it focuses almost exclusively on navigational and environmental-safety and lacks both the capacity and the interest in issuing or monitoring technical standards for shipbuilding or port-logistics.

Furthermore, as a chapter of the United Nations the IMO is also a political body and is thus restricted by non-technical considerations. For example, The Philippines’ economy is largely dependent on remittances made by overseas seafarers and as such, this country would probably be less likely to support new autonomous-shipping initiatives. Almost all other IMO member countries would manifest such specific and often counter-productive biases.

At the same time the Aerospace industry profits from an array of both political and non-political standard setting bodies.  The most important political standard-setting bodies are the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA.) Most other countries would simply follow the rulings of these two bodies. Hence, the fragmentation of political interests arguably bears less harmful influence on technical efficiencies than in the case of the IMO.

While political bodies are certainly important for public safety, technical standards are arguably more efficiently agreed upon among industry-consortia and voluntary-associated engineers. Simply put, by people who freely come together to think creatively and collaboratively about their common challenges. In Aerospace, SAE International, a non-profit organization formerly known as the Society of Automotive Engineers, provides just such as environment. Consequently, SAE has evolved into the industry’s leading standard-setting body. Indeed, most organizations operating in the aerospace industry are required to register to one of the specific SAE quality-assurance standards AS 9100, AS 9110, or AS 9120.

Other successful non-profit standard-setting organizations include the European Organization for Civil Aviation Equipment (EUROCAE) and the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA.)

Crucially, bodies such as EASA and FAA work together with all these non-government bodies. The result is a good balance in policy making among different considerations including efficiency and economy rather than a strong focus on safety alone.

It is therefore proposed that a more harmonious, collaborative, and diverse set of standard-setting processes be sought by the maritime industry as well. A good place to start could be found in bridge building and cross-fertilization between existing Aerospace and Maritime engineers, technology companies, and standard setting bodies.

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