Aviation Technology Aviation Articles

Aircraft Data-Driven Management

That which is measured improves…

For professionals who fly with precision and leave nothing to chance, Business Aviation leaders need to apply metrics in their managerial duties.

Conventional Wisdom has a quaint, comforting sound to it. Unfortunately, when challenged or tested, much of it can be found to be based on half-truths. Aviation is a science. Professional pilots pride themselves on the precision of their flying. The management of the flight departmental also requires precision. Thus, as an aviation manager, you should be looking for useful ways to measure your Flight Department’s performance and the value of the company aircraft as a business tool.

One area that is ideally suited for measurements is the maintenance condition of the aircraft. Today, Business Aviation recognizes the use of data tracking for maintenance. In fact, it is difficult to sell a turbine airplane that does not have some sort of electronic record keeping and maintenance reporting. For the aircraft and engines, we are moving toward measurements and data reporting in real-time.Aircraft Data-Driven Management

The civil helicopter community has taken a leadership role in maintenance monitoring with Health and Usage Monitoring Systems, typically known as HUMS. With over a decade of experience, the civil helicopter industry has discovered that not only does aircraft reliability increase when aircraft condition is monitored, there also are benefits to safety and operational control too.

For example, Gulfstream’s PlaneConnect is an aircraft health, trend and monitoring system that collects reams of data on the aircraft’s status and datalinks that information to the maintenance team on the ground for analysis as the aircraft begins its descent for landing. Ground crews are aware of any issue that must be addressed prior to the aircraft’s next departure. Their latest version, introduced on the G650 series, the Health and Trend Monitoring (HTM) system anticipates when a part or component is nearing a maintenance review and sends the alerts its land-based technician.

Dassault Falcon is implementing a similar system with its newest models. The Falcon 6X will be equipped with an on-board self-diagnosis system called FalconScan, which will monitor the aircraft systems and collect about 10,000 parameters in real time. The technological advancement that has enabled monitoring of aircraft condition is the ability for near instant communication.Aircraft Data-Driven Management

With the advancements in airborne connectivity, most turbine aircraft can have real-time data collection and reporting to the flight department.

But there are many more opportunities to make use of data in the management of the aviation operation.  While quality control engineer and statistician W. Edward Deming is often credited with saying “What you don’t measure can’t be managed” (he didn’t), measurements for measurement’s sake leads to data overload and an inability to see the trends that matter. With regards to measurements, the corollary statement is, “If you step on the scale, you’d better do something about it.” Raw data without a system for analysis and a mindset to use the information data provide, are of little value.

Aviation Management’s Role

Data-based management starts at the top. A corporation thrives on profit and loss. Management has a number of metrics that indicate not only the current profitability of the company, but trends that will affect long-term profitability. To be useful, a metric needs to be tailored to the business function, or in our case, the aviation business function.

Business Aviation is a means of transportation for the firm’s personnel and clients. As such, immediately after safety, service should be your Flight Department’s top priority. With safety, accidents are a terrible measure, but they are indeed a metric. Organizations that value safety seek smaller measures like incidents as well as counting or measuring processes and procedures that are not followed properly, to track their quest for safe operations. Using such measures, intervention can be instituted before tragedy happens.

The level of service provided extends beyond hours flown and passengers carried. Things like denied trip requests and days the aircraft is unavailable due to maintenance can lead to a discussion of whether the current aircraft is adequate or whether it is time for another aircraft. Tracking sales made by passengers flown on the business aircraft as well as new contracts signed as a result of meeting with clients also are very important metrics of a business aircraft’s usefulness.

There are other ways to develop and maintain various metrics to improve the levels of service as well as better manage costs.  Measuring things such as staffing, additional duties, and days away from home can provide both efficiency metrics and be an leading indicator for turnover.

Organizations like the National Business Aviation Association and Helicopter Association International are supporting these measurements though education and industry cooperatives. The leadership of this effort comes from forward-looking aviation managers who understand and support the needs of the corporation.

There are many different measure of success.  Choose ones that fir both your operation and what it is that you want to measure. More on that later...

 

David Wyndham - David joined Conklin & de Decker in 1993. His primary responsibilities include developing and managing new programs for the company, conducting consulting studies, managing aircraft cost and performance databases, and providing customer computer support.

 

Aircraft Technical Analysis

To continue our review of the components of a successful Aircraft Acquisition Plan, I will be discussing the technical analysis. The technical analysis is as varied as the types of missions. They keys are to adequately define the key missions and evaluation parameters. Use those to develop the objective criteria to judge candidate aircraft.

I just finished a fleet plan for a client. Before starting the report, the Chief Pilot was sure that the best aircraft for their mission was the "BelchFire Warp 2K." But to placate the boss, the Chief Pilot hired us to do an analysis. As it turned out, their preferred aircraft was number three on the list of best alternatives. The other two had similar speed and range capabilities and offered the bigger cabin the boss was looking for. While in many instances, your initial instinct is correct, the technical analysis can reveal other alternatives, some of which may be better suited for your mission than the initial pick.

Aircraft Technical Analysis

The focus of the technical analysis is on size, features, range, and performance. The acquisition cost, cost of operation, and other financial and ownership matters are for a second analysis.

Make sure the requirements are listed correctly. An eight passenger cabin and 2,500 NM range are different than a range of 2,500 NM with eight passengers. Perform the basic analysis with the objective of developing a short list of candidate aircraft that will be used in the detailed analysis. Then you are ready for the detailed analysis:

* Determine the most (likely) demanding payload, range, cabin size and/or passenger seating requirement as defined by your key mission.

* Compare those requirements against the capabilities of a range of aircraft from the sources of information you have gathered.

* Eliminate all those that do not meet the requirements.

* Eliminate those aircraft that are vastly more capable than required. The cost of acquisition and ownership does up dramatically as size, range and speed increase.

How many aircraft should you end up with the do a detailed analysis? An absolute minimum would be two aircraft but three to nine aircraft is the preferred goal. If you end up with only one aircraft to analyze, go back and review your key missions. It is rare than there would be only one aircraft that can perform your mission. If that is the case, it is likely that the aircraft seller may know that and thus, you will have little room to negotiate on price. More than nine aircraft and your analysis gets unwieldy - better to go back and come up with some more restrictive requirements.

The detailed analysis is designed to outline clearly the various capabilities of the candidate aircraft in relation to your key mission. Depending on your key mission, the following may be included:

* Weight buildup. This includes passenger payload, baggage capacity and even weight and balance considerations. Also include baggage size considerations. Four sets of skis may not weigh much, but will require a longer baggage compartment than will four overnight bags. Four fully-equipped SWAT Team members will weight a lot more than four medical personnel. Remember the mission drives your requirements.

* Range and reserves. Given your weight for the key mission, can the aircraft fly the required trip? Make sure the fuel reserve calculation is correct for your mission. Run specific scenarios to make sure the aircraft will perform as required. Do you need to lift two med-evac patients from a high altitude location on a hot day? What about navigation requirements such as FAMS-1, ADS-B,  minimum engine inoperative altitudes if operating over mountains, etc. can be important considerations.

* Airport restrictions. Do you fly into a short runway? Narrow taxiway? What is the weight limitation on your parking ramp? Where you operate will define things such as runway requirements, climb and obstacle clearance criteria, etc.

* Have a hangar with a twelve foot opening? Don't find out that your new aircraft is 12 feet 2 inches tall after the sale is completed! 

* Features and Equipment. This can be a short list or an extensive one. It can include things such as auxiliary power for ground and air use, a private lavatory, single point refueling capability, crew rest areas, a separate cargo door, and required ground support equipment. WiFi here in the US is a different requirement than WiFi with global capability. Again, the key mission defines the parameters.

* Reliability and Support. This can be hard to quantify as very little quantitative data exists. A good source of this type of information is to talk to other operators of the type of equipment that you are evaluating. In addition, magazines conduct and publish product support surveys. Locations of factory approved service centers can be important, as can spares support. If the manufacturer is still producing the same or similar aircraft that you are evaluating, support could be better than trying to find qualified support for old, out of production models for which there is no major spares supplier.

These are some of the major items. Your evaluation parameters may likely include others. Once you have performed the analysis, it is time to rank order the aircraft.

Determine how many criteria each aircraft meets, did not meet, or exceeded. The minimum Key Mission criteria is mandatory - failure to meet them will result in the aircraft being removed from consideration. Other criteria should be rated as desired in that it will enhance mission effectiveness or add extra capability. Not meeting desired criteria can still result in a mission capable aircraft. See which aircraft, having met all the required criteria, also meet some or all of the desired criteria. Adding the deficiencies and excesses can result in a numerical score. You may add your own multiplier to favor one criterion over another.

If no aircraft meets the required criteria, what do you do? Go back to your key mission and carefully evaluate each of the evaluation parameters and how, if changed or removed, would affect the key mission. In other words, find out what you can live without.

There still may be an occurrence where no one make/model will adequately perform your missions. In that case, maybe acquiring one aircraft to do 90% of the missions and chartering an aircraft to perform the remaining 10% may be the solution. I had one client with a lot of trips with four to six passengers of 150 NM and under. The next requirement was for three to four passengers to fly 2,000 NM. In their case, a turboprops served the short trips quite well and since the longer trips were infrequent, a fractional share was a good alternative for those trips.

The technical analysis is as varied as the types of missions. The keys are to adequately define the key missions and evaluation parameters. Use those to develop the objective criteria to judge candidate aircraft. It is better to explain to the boss why his favorite pick (1) can't perform the mission and to offer alternatives than to acquire a less than desirable aircraft and find that out after the fact.

Note (1): Yes, I’ve seen a thorough analysis identify a best-fit aircraft only to have the decision maker get a different, less capable aircraft because of personal reasons. My job is to provide the factual data to allow for a fully informed decision. 


FAA Suspected Unapproved Parts Program

What are “Unapproved Parts?”

Aviation is such a complex industry, with so many (literal) moving parts. While learning about MRO (Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul) operations, we touched briefly on the FAA Suspected Unapproved Parts Program, and I was intrigued. If you think about it, there are billions of aircraft parts in circulation in the U.S. Aviation Industry at any given moment. The majority of these parts are vital to aircraft operations, and can put passengers in danger if they fail. How do aircraft operators ensure that their parts are actually the high quality that they are relying on when they purchase them?

In 1993 the FAA created the Suspected Unapproved Parts Program in order to decrease the amount of aircraft parts in circulation with unknown or questionable history. The purchasing and installation of these unapproved parts can cause a hazard to flight operations, as their quality is undetermined and they may be unacceptable. The ultimate requirement of an aircraft operator is to maintain airworthiness as specified in the particular part of the Federal Aviation Regulations that governs that type of operation, which also includes all individual parts being in compliance.

Advisory Circular 21-29C defines a S.U.P. as, “A part, component, or material that is suspected of not meeting the requirements of an approved part. A part that, for any reason, a person believes is not approved. Reasons may include findings such as different finish, size, color, improper (or lack of) identification, incomplete or altered paperwork, or any other questionable indication.” So really, a S.U.P. could be anything.

The Advisory Circular makes a clear distinction between aircraft parts that are sold with the understanding that it is for decorative purposes only, and parts that are disguised as airworthy. It is the responsibility of the buyer to request and receive the documentation necessary to show the purpose of the part. Selling a part that is clearly not airworthy is not a crime, as long as the seller does not do it under the premise that it is airworthy.

How are they caught?

There is a process that the FAA has created to report a suspected unapproved part. First, you could call The Aviation Safety Hotline to report unsafe practices that affect aviation safety, including the manufacture, distribution, or use of an S.U.P. Their number is 1-800-255-1111 or 1-866-835-5322. If requested, the caller may remain anonymous.

There is also a standardized form, FAA Form 8120-11, that outlines the information needed about the S.U.P. This includes the date the part was discovered, the part serial number, information about the company that supplied the part, a description of the issue, and several other important facts that the FAA will need to investigate. This form can then be sent to the Aviation Safety Hotline via e-mail or to their physical address in Washington, DC. Although this is a relatively low-tech solution to the problem, it is a solid system for reporting S.U.P. and has done a lot of good.

The FAA then investigates the S.U.P., and if it is found to be unacceptable they will send out an Unapproved Parts Notification (UPN). These are available to the public, and can be found on the FAA website. The most recently posted UPN was put on the site on February 15th, 2018, and outlines various parts distributed by Genesis Aviation Inc. This report recommends that aircraft owners who have installed the parts to inspect and remove them from their aircraft to keep it airworthy.

Why even bother?

The goal of the S.U.P. program is to improve safety and promote transparency in aviation. By having a system in place to detect and report unapproved parts, aircraft maintenance personnel and aircraft owners have an easier way to ensure they are using the best parts available. Removing all unapproved parts from the U.S. Aviation Industry is a huge undertaking, but with the task force making it their personal mission it is much more likely to come to fruition.

This leaves one to wonder what happens to the company or individual that gets caught selling unapproved parts. According to a press release fact sheet sent out by the FAA on the matter, “if the FAA determines that a manufacturer, air carrier or other user violated Federal Aviation Regulations regarding approved parts, they could be subject to anything from a warning letter to a stiff fine. In the case of criminal activity, the appropriate law enforcement authority and judicial system can pursue the case.”

Unapproved parts are a very serious matter that affect the safety of air travel. The FAA has created a great way for any possible unapproved parts to get caught and removed from the U.S. Aviation system.

 

The Aircraft Acquisition Plan - Sources Of Information

In the two previous issues, I discussed that the foundation of the Aircraft Acquisition Plan is to understand the aviation mission. That understanding leads to identifying the key missions of the aviation function. Those most important missions are what allow you to derive a set of objective evaluation parameters. Those mission-specific parameters can include payload, passenger seats, range, runway performance etc.

Given a set of parameters, you will need to find out which aircraft are capable of meeting those parameters. For example, if you are an Emergency Medical Services (EMS) operator, you may need to carry 2 liter patients plus two attendants. You may also need to lift that load from a 3,000 foot elevation on an 86F (30C) day. You know the capabilities of your current EMS helicopter. Where do you get the information about possible replacement helicopters? What about performance on specific trips such as London City airport to Cairo, Egypt? What about the maximum payload you can depart Eagle, Colorado and make Charlotte, North Carolina non-stop? There is generally available data and specific data calculations. 

There are three generally available categories of published sources of information and data. Trade publications, off-the-shelf databases and the manufacturer published data.

Trade Publications. There are a number of excellent publications that publish surveys, list performance reviews/pilot reports, and have new aircraft pricing. These magazines are readily available via subscription. In addition to hard copy, many have electronic copies and some maintain past issues on their website. The cost to receive them is nominal. This is a good first step to get general information. The ones with pilot reports may have more technical information versus general product reviews. These articles may not answer your detailed questions or cover all the aircraft models you are interested in.

Published Databases. There are a number of databases published in the US that can provide a great deal of useful information. They cover four areas: acquisition costs, operating costs, performance and specifications, and specialized data. While trade magazines usually do a good lob of listing new aircraft process, they don't have a lot of information on pre-owned process. Information that is published on acquisition costs relies on sellers or buyers reporting their transactions to the publisher. Not every transaction is reported and there is a time lag in the reporting of a transaction and the ability of a publisher to analyze and publish their data. When markets are changing rapidly, this data has less value than in a stable used market.

Operating cost databases focus on the day-to-day costs of owning and operating aircraft, including taxes and fixed costs such as insurance.  Operating cost databases also have limitations. No two operators operate their aircraft in the exact same way.  Some operators do much of the routine maintenance in-house while others use a service center. Unscheduled maintenance is just that, unscheduled. There is no way to predict unscheduled maintenance save for using generalities and defining assumptions. Guaranteed hourly maintenance programs may help, but each manufacturer or program seller will use different assumptions and many allow for some variability in charging based on utilization. As they say with automobiles, “your mileage may vary.” These databases can be a valuable tools for comparing relative costs, but aircraft costing is not an exact science!

Performance and specification databases are useful provided that the person using them is knowledgeable about aircraft performance.  They go into more detail than many magazine articles and they tend to have standardized formats for each category of aircraft. These generally come in software versions. Unless you buy the flight manuals or subscribe to a database that offers that level of detail, the ability to change the data for your exact mission can be limited. Again, as a relative comparison tool, they can be invaluable. 

Costs of the above databases vary from several hundred dollars to over $1,000 for complete sets. They tend to offer a fair amount of detail, are impartial, and given the time involved in gathering each bit of information on your own, a very worthwhile investment. Our company has published a number of these types of databases for over 30 years.

Other specialized databases do exist. They can be for things such as charter listings, aircraft for sale listings, airport databases, and en route winds and temperature statistics. Depending on your mission, they still may not answer the very specific question that you may have.

Manufacturer's Data. The information from the aircraft manufacturer can range from the sales brochures' optimistic, best case information, to very specific performance analyses. Be cautious reading generalized sales information as they may or may not conform to standardized criteria. They may also be out of date. The flight manuals are the best source for specific calculations. Buying them for one-off comparisons can be quite expensive, especially when researching a number of different aircraft models. 

Detailed performance questions can be easily answered by the manufacturer. Contacting the manufacturer does inform them of your interest and usually generates sales calls and perhaps a visit form your local aircraft sales person.  If you wish to maintain your anonymity, you may wish to order a technical manual through the product support group. 

What are the other sources? Consultants can be paid to do all or part of the work in the Aircraft Acquisition Plan. When we do a study for someone, we work closely with both the aviation professionals and well as the end user to make sure all the right questions are asked, and answered. Other operators can be a wealth of "inside" information, as are maintenance facilities and training companies. When asking questions, be specific. Ask a general question, get a general answer. List price is not necessarily selling price, nor does a flat-rate cost for an inspection tell you what to allow for unscheduled and “over and above” maintenance.  

When gathering data, keep in mind the following:

What is the reliability of the source?

What assumptions went into the data?

How would specific information apply to your situation?

In general, starting with the publicly available data allows you to develop a short-list of candidate aircraft. If you want an aircraft with 2,800 nautical mile (NM) range, an aircraft with 2,300 NM is probably not going to be your top choice. Next time I’ll get into the analysis of the numbers.


 

 

 

Key Missions & Evaluation Parameters

In the two previous issues, I introduced the Aircraft Acquisition Plan and your Acquisition Team. To be effective, your acquisition plan should consist of the following elements: - The organization's real aircraft needs. - Key missions and evaluation parameters. - Sources of information. - Technical analysis and ranking. - Fleet size. - Financial alternatives. - Financial analysis and ranking. - Tax Planning. This issue, I’ll focus on the first two items. 

“Mission drives requirements”

The foundation of the plan is to understand the mission assigned to the aviation function. Where does the aircraft add value to your company or owner? Yes, it makes better use of time. To what end? What is the importance of that time, and more over, the value of that time? Connecting the corporate goals and aspirations with the use of the aircraft enables you to define (and defend) the use of the aircraft as a valued business tool. Identify the most important mission for the aircraft as it relates to the achieving the corporations goals and vision. That is the mission which enables the aviation department to select the right aircraft by defining the parameters the aircraft must meet in order to help the corporation succeed. 

In defining the mission, we get to the importance of quantifying the mission. While a decision maker may select an aircraft from emotion, we need to make sure that they have the information needed to quantify their decision.  We need to quantify the mission, the aircraft requirements, and the costs. The decision maker can allow emotions in the process, as advisors, we cannot. Quantify every requirement to the greatest extent possible. 

Be proactive. If today’s mission is likely to change, focus your planning on what will come. While during times of rapid change, it is difficult to forecast, do it anyway. Ask the major users and decision makers for their inputs. Try to get a “probable” and a “best case” scenario. Or, if things are looking poorly, a “worst case” scenario.

Evaluation Parameters (Quantify!)

Evaluation parameters include cabin size, door size, cargo capacity, range, payload, etc. A key mission such as West Cost of the US to Asia could allow for a stop en route. If you can make it to Hawaii, every other over water leg can be made with less range.  The distance from the West Coast of the US to Hawaii is about 2,300 nautical miles (NM). Allowing for headwinds, you need at least 2,500 NM range to make it most of the time and 3,000 NM range to make it under almost any conditions. That Asia mission may require non-stop capability, but be aware of the available options.

Key missions allows you to define with the evaluation parameters needed to evaluate the possible aircraft. Identify aircraft that meet all the requirements and those that fall short in one or more areas. Include your current aircraft in this list as a baseline for judging other aircraft.  Once you have your aircraft criteria, it is usually good to list those in terms of “required” and “desired.” Required criteria are those which you must have to perform the key missions. Desired criteria are nice to have criteria that enhance the ability to perform the mission, but aren’t crucial to its success. 

If you don’t do your homework, you either end up with too much aircraft, or worse, end up with an aircraft that fails to do what was required. There is nothing worse than explaining to the boss why you can’t do the trip that was justification for the aircraft in the first place. Do this work up front and the rest of the analysis just falls into place. You’ll see. 

 

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