Why Aviation Data Sharing is Crucial for FBOs and Operators

Global Aerospace Editorial Team, June 10, 2020
Aviation Safety

Two stakeholders whose collaboration plays a major role in aviation safety are operators and fixed base operators (FBOs). Effective communication between these groups can help minimize risk and maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of their work.

One aspect of that communication can and should be aviation data sharing. Unfortunately, incident-related information exchange doesn’t always take place.

fbo data sharing

Observations on Aviation Data Sharing

Success in business today—whatever the field—requires that companies excel at properly managing their data and sharing it when appropriate. Consequently, it is no surprise that the number of organizations involved in aviation data sharing is growing.

“To raise the bar in safety, we have to use data to be more predictive on losses so we can implement mitigations to prevent them from happening,” says Global Aerospace Senior Vice President, Projects & Communications Marilena Sharpell. “Ground handling incidents are not only having a significant negative financial impact on our industry. People are being hurt and lives lost that can be prevented. FBOs play a key role in sharing the root cause analysis of these ground handling incidents to prevent them from happening in the future. Sharing this data can be as simple as flight crews sharing this experience in a sanitized professional manner as they move throughout the system.”

It seems that advanced flight departments are unified in their belief that data is the foundation of proactively managing risk in the aviation space. That is why their organizations take a holistic approach to collecting aviation data throughout the trip lifecycle. From the trip request and preparation, to the flight and post-flight review, they have data collection points that give them a clear picture of the risks and enable them to take action to minimize them.

To ensure they get all relevant information, companies focus on collecting aviation data from personnel, from technology applications and from the overall system. Then they devote resources to performing flight data analysis to produce positive outcomes in a wide range of areas, from preflight and inflight processes, to how they interact with their corporate partners.

The companies that are most successful with data sharing are those that create a culture in which colleagues aren’t intimidated by aviation operator data sharing. They understand the value of the data repository that their organization is developing and the flight data analysis that it enables, and they do not change the way they work or the way they report incidents in order to make the data look “good” when it is reviewed by others. They realize that data purity and an unbiased approach to data collection is critical.

Most companies with established data sharing practices disseminate information in multiple ways and to multiple groups. For example, they make information available internally both at the operational and corporate levels to aid in professional development and in the crafting and refining of business strategies. They also share de-identified flight data with industry partners to help them improve their operations, and with regulators to aid in trend identification and analysis that benefits everyone who works in or relies on the aviation industry.

Aviation Data Sharing Contributors as Beneficiaries

Not only is aviation data sharing simply the right thing to do, organizations that submit their information benefit from the robust data sources that they help create. An example of how aviation data sharing helps flight departments operate more safely is the abundance of information on stabilized approaches.

This data allows them to understand where there are external challenges at particular airports and implement new SOPs to help crews proactively manage the risk and improve approaches into these locations. It is clear from the way the number of incidents declines over time that data-driven operational decisions make a positive difference.

The FBO Management/Personnel Data Sharing Disconnect

Aviation experts say that data sharing between FBOs and operators tends to be minimal at best. Part of the problem is a disconnect that exists between FBO management and FBO frontline personnel regarding the importance of incident data exchange so that workers can improve the way they do their job, train their peers and interact with customers.

Many stakeholders feel that there has been an inconsistent approach to information management by FBOs, and that has made it challenging for operators to build relationships around aviation data sharing with these organizations.

Clearly, better FBO data sharing could have a positive impact. For example, using shared data to provide more meaningful, standardized training to team members regarding everything from geometry to speed requirements to safe zones around aircraft could make a significant difference. The benefits of better-trained staff could include cost reductions, fewer insurance claims related to equipment damage and fewer injuries sustained by employees, business partners and travelers to name just a few.

Getting More FBO Data Sharing Participation

It is likely that many factors contribute to FBOs not participating in data sharing. One is the concern that identifying persistent problems might force them to incur costs related to changing processes or providing specialized training to staff. Another is that they simply have not had exposure to data sharing and don’t understand its many benefits. Plus, even when they have learned about those benefits and are ready to focus on them, FBOs often don’t know how to get started in data sharing.

What’s more, those who are somewhat familiar with data sharing but don’t fully understand the processes may have concerns about anonymity. They might not know the degree to which the data they provide can be de-identified, and therefore may worry that there can be negative repercussions from sharing information about incidents. They may also feel that doing so can be a competitive disadvantage.

Fortunately, there are ways to overcome an FBO’s objections to data sharing. For example, it can be helpful to explain to them that transparency about incidents can decrease employee turnover, which can be high and costly for these organizations. Promoting a data sharing culture can also impress potential clients and lead to more business. In addition, FBOs can be shown how other parts of the aviation industry have benefited from data sharing, and how their organization could capitalize on it.

For FBOs still reluctant to get involved, small steps can be the launch point for big changes. This perspective on getting started in data sharing is held by many in aviation. For example, the process can be as simple as line personnel having a conversation with a flight crew regarding what caused a particular incident. Were there distractions? (An awareness issue.) Did they push the wing into the fence because they didn’t know that the wing grows when the aircraft turns? (A training issue.)

It is also important that FBOs be given a seat at the table in large data sharing groups so that their challenges are understood and their concerns are heard. After all, while they don’t fly, they are involved in virtually every aspect of the trip lifecycle in one way or another.

Looking Ahead

What does the future of aviation data sharing look like? For one thing, experts believe it will involve a much more advanced ecosystem. There is going to have to be much greater sophistication in terms of policy, data collection applications and aviation data sharing systems integration, for example. This is, in part, because there will be so many more types of data collected in the future—fatigue data, SMS data, etc. Many believe that data sharing will increasingly become a factor in business contracts, as well.

As for FBO and aviation operator data sharing, many stakeholders think that markets will become more competitive and a strong data sharing program will be a great differentiator for organizations that devote the time and resources to launching and maintaining one. This is a stretch opportunity for FBOs and aviation in general, but as the industry gets more complex, aviation data sharing and flight data analysis can help organizations navigate those complexities more efficiently, more effectively and more safely.