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Benchmarking in a Corporate Flight Department

by David Wyndham 1. May 2007 00:00
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There are many benchmarks and ways to benchmark. A retail business may benchmark sales per square foot of retail space. An investment firm will benchmark a myriad of business statistics and financial ratios. In aviation, we also see different benchmarks in use as well. According to our client surveys, our own Aircraft Cost Evaluator has been used as a cost of operation benchmark for many years. The NBAA publishes a Benchmarking and Salary Survey that is very useful for corporate operations. For helicopter operators, the HAI publishes a survey of operating performance that has a lot of useful data for benchmarking helicopter operations of all types.

To get benefits from benchmarking, you need three things: a valid benchmark, one that is repeated over time, and actionable items that can be identified that lead to some sort of improvement.

Valid means accurate, precise, reliable, and relevant. Something that is valid is also logically correct. Saying that because my flight operation has four pilots and yours, eight, my operation is more efficient is not valid. However, if both our operations are on-demand flight operations, and my pilots average 425 flight hours per year, and yours 350, that is valid.

We also need to compare like versus like operations. Comparing an EMS helicopter provider with a heli-tour operator would not yield valid results. The closer the participants are in mission, the more the practices used can be compared.

A benchmark should be repeated over time. In any given year there may be abnormalities that skew the individual results. Over time, trends can be identified and more reasonable conclusions may be drawn.

What sort of items can be benchmarked in an aviation operation? For an aviation operation, you could define the types of services provided and then benchmark the costs to deliver those services.

Fuel costs when connected with how fuel is purchased yield good information. Crew ratios, utilization per aircraft, per pilot, all can point to efficiencies in an operation, once the mission is known.

Costs are important items to benchmark. However, too broad of a cost definition and the comparison is likely to include different costs depending on how each operation interprets that item. Too specific a definition and you may not find others with any data to compare. It is important to identify not only the cost categories to benchmark, but to define those categories so that comparisons can be made. The individual cost categories must include the same costs. If crew training is part of crew travel for one operator and not the other, the comparisons become useless.

One last key item is to design the benchmark study from the outset with the goal of improvement in mind. You should be able to identify action items that lead to improvements in how you operate. It may be in increased safety by having your flight operations inspected by a safety auditor every year versus every two, or by seeing if there are ways to increase efficiency by having your maintenance done during the hours/days you don't normally operate the aircraft. Carefully worded benchmarks can reveal how you are doing with others like you.

There is a lot of data that can be collected by benchmarking and much of it is interesting. However, if it doesn't lead to doing things better then you have what I believe is called "trivia."

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David Wyndham


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