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Aircraft Reliability

October 2012

Category: Business Aviation and the Boardroom

Author: David Wyndham

Aircraft Reliability
You can only manage what you can measure.
Demming, Druker and others concur that you can only manage what you can measure, outlines David Wyndham. Business leaders know this almost instinctively. So how can the logic be applied effectively to the reliability of the company aircraft?

Could the CFO who sees only total expenses and total income adequately manage the finances of a company? The CFO with a copy of every dollar spent and received, conversely, would be inundated with data. In an ideal scenario, various levels of management need various levels of information. In terms of aviation, the pilot needs to know how much fuel is required for the trip, the aviation manager needs to know the cost of fuel from various sources and total fuel used, and the manager of the company’s aviation function needs to have a measure on how well the flight department is doing.

Two major productivity measurements commonly used for flight departments are trips/hours flown and passengers carried. These show how well, or how reliably the service is delivered.

DISPATCH AVAILABILITY AND RELIABILITY
Aircraft availability and dispatch reliability are two vital signs of any aviation operation. Availability refers to whether the aircraft is available for a flight, whether scheduled or not. An aircraft in for maintenance cannot be flown, and thus is not available. Does your aircraft spend too much time in the maintenance shop and too little time available for flight? At its most basic, aircraft dispatch reliability accounts for whether the aircraft took-off on time, and if not, why? If the dispatch performance of the aircraft is poor, then so is the level of service. If your car spent a lot of time in the dealer’s service department or broke down several times a year, you would want to know why.

The airlines recognize the importance of these metrics and spend considerable resources defining and tracking availability and dispatch data. To the airlines, a standard reliability window is a departure from the gate within 15 minutes of schedule, excluding non-aircraft issues such as air traffic delays, bad weather, connection delays (due to waiting on transferring passengers), etc. Scheduled airlines track and update dispatch reliability data continuously.

The goal for most airlines is a dispatch reliability rate in excess of 99%. Most data suggest that the large regional and major airlines achieve between 96-98%, with the most reliable carriers achieving 99-99.5% dispatch reliability. On time departures make happy customers - and happy customers return to spend more money. The airlines are very serious about this metric and review it on a daily basis. A cancelled airline flight means increased costs and the possibility of lost revenue in the future.

BUSINESS AVIATION TRACKING ISSUES
From my experience, operators of business aircraft do not track availability or reliability with the same focus. Perhaps that is because availability and reliability have never been a big issue in Corporate Aviation.

The cost to your business of a delayed or cancelled private flight can be significant. The business aircraft is selected for its ability to minimize travel time. Sitting around waiting for the airplane to be fixed is not an efficient use of your time, or the capital invested in your flight department. For the business aircraft to meet its productivity promise, it has to be on-time, all of the time.

Anecdotally, Business Aviation appears to focus on dispatch reliability more so than aircraft availability. The manufacturers release limited data. Gulfstream reported that the G450/550 fleet routinely exceed 99% dispatch reliability (achieving 99.87% in 2009). The hard data are scarce, however. Rates for older and out-of-production aircraft are generally not to be found.

Aircraft availability figures are much lower. It is not unusual for availability numbers to be about 85%, and some fleet operators deal with aircraft availability in the vicinity of 80% due to issues associated with unscheduled maintenance. A second problem exists in this arena: Those that do track such data may not use the same definition in calculating such performance. The National Business Aviation Association is working to fix both the problem of tracking data among operators and the uniformity of data tracked. At present it has a tool called FERMS, the Forum for Enhanced Reliability and Maintainability Standards (http://www.nbaa.org/ops/maint/ferms/faq/).

FERMS is a web-based tool providing business aircraft manufacturers and operators with real-time information about business aircraft maintenance and performance. NBAA has defined the metric for measuring the operational availability and reliability of business aircraft. This secure collection tool is available for NBAA members and select industry participants such as the aircraft manufacturers. These factual data will ultimately serve to validate reliability and maintenance programs, bringing about timely response to maintenance and operational issues.

The key to success is to record this information consistently and accurately. NBAA’s FERMS seeks to achieve this. If your aviation operation is not yet a part of this effort, I encourage you to consider it. There is no reason not to track availability and reliability metrics.

When working with operators, I find that those that track this type of data also have the highest reliability rates. This type of data collection seems to correlate with those aviation operations that are efficiently run and offer the high levels of service that Business Aviation promises.

The payoff is that Board Members will gain hard information with which to analyse the benefits of how well the company aircraft is maintained, and what impact maintainability and reliability programs have on the ability of your company’s flight department to satisfy the corporation’s transportation needs.

Do you have any questions or opinions on the above topic? Get them answered/published in World Aircraft Sales Magazine. Email feedback to:
Jack@avbuyer.com

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