The Benefits of Aviation Data Sharing and How to Get Started

Posted on March 18, 2020

Few industries stand to benefit more from the efficient and effective sharing of data among colleagues than aviation does. Aviation companies use highly complex systems, and failure to learn from the experiences of others can lead to incidents that result in costly property damage, serious injuries and even loss of life. As a result, the data sharing concept is one that has champions in every sector, from flight crews to ground operations personnel to executives.

data-sharing

David Ryan is VP aviation at MI Aviation Holdings, a west coast Part 91 operator. He’s also the former chair of the NBAA Safety Committee and is a data sharing expert and vocal advocate. From his experience and his interactions with other operators and safety experts, he knows the value of open, honest communication among aviation stakeholders.

Ryan also understands the reluctance that individuals and organizations may have about sharing the successes and the failures they have had in their aviation careers. Nevertheless, he continues to encourage companies to contribute to and capitalize on the ever-growing data repositories that are helping organizations operate more safely. In fact, his tireless efforts resulted in his being named Business Aviation Volunteer of the Year in 2018 by the readers of Business & Commercial Aviation Magazine.

Data Sharing on Multiple Levels

Not surprisingly, Ryan’s company participates in data sharing on several different levels. “Data sharing to us ranges from things like a grassroots airport roundtable to formal, nationwide initiatives like the Aviation Safety Information Analysis and Sharing (ASIAS) program,” he says. “We’re firm believers in all aspects of data sharing, and we’ve found that different benefits result from different types of participation.”

He explains that his company participates in data sharing on a regional level through the Southern California Aviation Association and the SHARE (Safety Hazard Awareness Reporting and Empowerment) program it started years ago. Using the program’s online portal, a flight department can enter safety reports and related data, and other participants can access that information.

The organization has roundtables where data uploaded through the portal is discussed in person. “I would tell you that these face-to-face meetings provide the most value,” he says. “People are sitting around the table, everyone has signed an NDA-type agreement and there’s a high level of trust that lets us focus on our goal: to have everyone learn a particular lesson once—collectively.”

Three Critical Elements of Data Sharing

Ryan describes three critical elements of data sharing, the third of which is often overlooked. First, organizations must identify where they can find useful data. Next, they have to determine how they can use that information. Then, they have to utilize it. As he discovered as chair of the NBAA Safety Committee, “It’s great to participate in data sharing initiatives, but if you aren’t learning from that participation and implementing positive changes in your organization, you’re missing the point.”

As for how data is recorded and shared, there are many tools for doing that. Ryan’s company uses a computer portal sponsored by Baldwin Aviation. Safety reports can be entered using the portal and the company’s flight operations group uses it for entering internal reports.

Real-World Examples of Risk Mitigation Through Data Sharing

How does data sharing produce real-world changes? Ryan relates a story from a roundtable he attended a few years ago. “An operator shared a situation where an engine servicing procedure was referenced,” he says. “They had gone through the learning process on this particular procedure and shared it during the roundtable. We ended up augmenting some of our procedures at my company to prevent that type of situation. Here again, we were the beneficiary of the idea of learning a lesson once—collectively.”

Another area where Ryan’s company has benefited from shared data is with a risk-mitigation tool from ASIAS that highlights airports that are prone to higher levels of traffic advisories. “If we’re headed for an airport that appears on this list, we know to be extra vigilant during our approach,” he notes.

How to Start a Data Sharing Program

Asked about how an organization can get started in data sharing, Ryan explains that, “We’ve found both in flight ops and the NBAA Safety Committee that the biggest hurdle when flight departments are considering getting involved in data sharing is what people refer to as the ‘trust firewall.’ And that’s true all the way from local initiatives to ASIAS. People are concerned about how disclosure of an event will affect their operations.”

The best way to get over that hurdle, he says, is for a flight department to get involved on a grassroots level first in order to get their feet wet. “This could be as simple as flight departments at your local airport getting together quarterly to share their experiences about the facility. Or, virtually every regional association around the country has a safety committee and/or a Safety Day, and lots of data sharing happens at committee meetings.”

He encourages people to attend these meetings even if they aren’t comfortable contributing. One of the many benefits of listening to others talk about the issues they’ve encountered is that it shows the attendee that they aren’t alone and that others are facing the same challenges.

Concerns that an organization might have about its data not being fully de-identified when they provide it are understandable but unwarranted. “If you’re sharing data manually, you can, of course, de-identify it to whatever degree you like. And in any type of automated data sharing, there are many levels of cleansing,” he says. “That’s something that’s not widely known, but should be. The more people learn about the data sharing programs, the more they see how much effort is put into ensuring the data is anonymous. Aviation professionals just want to learn from each other, not point fingers.”

As a final bit of encouragement, he asks the somewhat sobering but important question, “Do you want to be on the backside of an event that could have been prevented if you had become involved in data sharing?” The universal answer, of course, is “No.”

Keeping the Spotlight on Data Sharing

Ryan was a member of the NBAA Safety Committee from 2010-2018. When he started, data sharing was in its infancy. By 2014 or 2015, it had been raised to the level of a top safety focus area and it remains there today. He believes the aviation community will continue to prioritize improving safety through shared experiences.

“From NBAA to regional associations to industry partners like insurance carriers, stakeholders throughout the industry are providing resources on their websites, giving presentations and generally promoting data sharing,” he says. “And it’s paying off with more organizations embracing the concept and operating more safely as a result.”

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