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What Do I Benchmark?

by David Wyndham 1. May 2009 00:00
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A while back, I discussed benchmarking (Benchmarking in a Corporate Flight Department). As was mentioned in that article, "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." This is a good time to benchmark your operation. For a corporation, your 2008 results should be recorded and the first quarter of 2009 ended a month ago. Now is a time when some folks are asking "how are we doing?"

What sort of things should an aviation operation benchmark that meet the criteria of validity, repeatability, and something that leads to improvement? As a brief review: valid means it measures what it is supposed to measure, repeatable means it can be measured over time, and what is the sense of a benchmark if it can't help you improve in some way?

Fuel costs can be a good benchmark. Right now, fuel prices are down so of course you are doing "better" than last year! But are you still working on getting those discounts using a card or membership program? Have you evaluated the worth of your current fuel purchasing strategy? Does tankering fuel from home still make sense (and cents)?

Along with fuel costs are other operating costs. This gets tricky to measure. Maintenance costs may sound simple until you try to sort them out. Does the mechanic salary count as a maintenance cost, or a personnel cost? In-house maintenance will see different labor costs versus using an FBO or Service Center. Major maintenance such as an engine overhaul will show a huge spike in costs, but don't forget that it took many years and many hours to accrue that expense. Along with what were the costs needs to come an understanding of whether there were significant, infrequent maintenance events.

Manning is a very critical benchmark. How effective are we using our people? While the old standard of three pilots and one A&P per aircraft is still in use, you need to understand more about your operation. How many duty days were there per year? Are you a 365-day work year, 300, or fewer? Do your run two or three duty shifts? With aviation it usually is "as needed" but someone needs to be available during whatever times are required. Scheduled versus unscheduled operators will see a big difference in standby hours. Crew rest, days away from home, hours flown per pilot are all part of the manning benchmarks. This data can support making changes that allow your people to be more productive, or to accomplish more with less as most of us are facing.

Utilization is much more than how many hours are flown. As with manning, how, where and even why the hours are flown can add so much more to your understanding. What about aircraft availability - how often is the aircraft unavailable for flight due to maintenance? Do you use the aircraft for "out and back" trips, or to maximize time spent on the road over multi-day or multi-week trips? What are the trip lengths flown? What about passenger loads and deadheads? Knowing this sort of information can help you understand the operational philosophy of the operation.

One last area that can be valuable to benchmark is safety. Things like IS-BAO certification, third party safety audits, training days, and developing an SMS can all be part of this. Add in crew rest, crew duty limits, and ground safety and you have a good start on a safety benchmark. If flying hours are down, how about updating your operations manual or adding some additional training classes?

It is important to have the benchmark goal be improving your aviation operation. Otherwise benchmarking becomes a pencil pushing, time wasting exercise. Done well, it will help you evaluate yourself and provide you with realistic goals for the future.

How many of you do some sort of operational benchmark at least every two years? Click reply and let folks know your thoughts.


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David Wyndham


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