Operators today have two main options for running a Flight Data Monitoring (FDM) or Flight Operations Quality Assurance (FOQA) program.
They can choose to purchase software, install it on their own computer hardware and then operate the software themselves. This is sometimes referred to as the “in-house” or “on premises” model and is the more traditional model that has been in use by larger aircraft operators for many years.
A second, relatively newer option, has been for operators to outsource Flight Data Monitoring activities to a third-party. This is typically referred to as an FDM “Service”. With a service model, the operator’s flight data is sent to a vendor where it is then processed and analyzed by the service provider’s staff. Results are made available to the operator through a live website and/or prepared reports.
It is worth mentioning that there is also a third option in which software is installed at the operator’s facilities but the software is managed remotely by the software vendor’s staff. We do not see this as a very practical option, though, as it is more of a stop-gap between the two main models, introducing the “worst of both worlds”.
There are pros and cons to the first two models, though, and Scaled Analytics is pleased to be one of the few FDM software companies to be able to offer both options to customers.
When trying to decide between an FDM service and software, you should consider three main factors:
- Expertise Level and Expectations
- Data Location
The number one factor that will affect most operators’ decision-making process will be the cost of the system and how it fits into their budget. Because a third-party service is normally priced annually or monthly, while software is typically purchased only once, many will conclude that a service model is more expensive than purchasing software and running an FDM program themselves.
But the cost of the software is just one budget line item in the entire program. With a third-party service model, you ONLY pay the service fees. There are normally no other hidden fees (while some vendors will charge additional pay-per-use fees, Scaled Analytics’ service fees are all-inclusive).
When comparing the true costs of your FDM program, consider the following:
- Staff: Will you need to hire personnel to manage and run your program or is this something an existing staff member/team can do?
- IT Support: Does your IT staff have the capacity to manage a new system that may require desktops and a database server?
- Computer Hardware: Do you have existing hardware that can be used, or do you need to purchase new hardware? How often will it need to be replaced/upgraded?
- Training: What level of training is required for staff? Where is the training held and what is the cost? How long will staff be unavailable while taking training? Do IT staff need training as well?
- Software Updates: Are software updates included in the price? What are the annual support fees? Who does the updates and how long will the system be down during those updates?
- Backup and Restore: How will data backup be managed? Will there be offsite backup?
It is beyond the scope of this article to tell you whether an in-house option is more cost effective than a third-party service or vise versa, but it should help to ensure that all costs are considered when evaluating software options.
Expertise Level and Expectations
The level of expertise and experience in FDM or FOQA will also have an impact on what offering may be a better option for your organization.
Larger airlines that have been running an FDM program for decades likely already have a staff of experienced Flight Data Analysts, Statisticians and Safety Data professionals. For these operators, it may make sense to stay with an in-house software program, but perhaps update their technology to a more modern software system in order to reduce operational and infrastructure costs while benefiting from some of the new technologies available.
For smaller operators and/or start ups, a service model typically makes more sense. The service provider will have the FDM and FOQA expertise to assist the operator in understanding the data, while the operator would still ultimately make safety related decisions. As the smaller operator grows in fleet size and/or level of expertise, they may decide to switch to an in-house software model.
Having a long-term plan will help in selecting a software or service provider that will allow you to grow without having to go through the time consuming and cumbersome process of migrating to a new technology.
Finally, keep your expectations reasonable. If you are a smaller operator, it is unlikely that you are going to require complex and in-depth analysis of terabytes of flight, scheduling and maintenance data, so a service model may serve you well. But, if you do plan to undertake complex analysis across data from multiple parts of your organization, an in-house model will most likely be better for you. Reputable service providers would certainly be able to help with such analysis, but it would likely be cost prohibitive compared to doing it yourself.
Finally, the last (and somewhat easiest) decision to make is one of data accessibility. With a third-party service, there is no way around the fact that your data will be stored somewhere offsite. In today’s connected world, this is becoming much more common (is your company financial data stored exclusively on-site?). But it is a legitimate concern for some operators; especially those that may have sensitive and classified data such as militaries and defense contractors.
So, this is a relatively easy question to answer. If you cannot store flight data off your organizational premises, then your only option is for a traditional in-house system. It is possible to operate cloud-based software completely on-premises within your intranet, but the hardware cost is typically out of reach – or at least excessive. This option would likely only be viable for large government/military organizations or defense contractors.
The alert reader may be thinking now that the “worst of both worlds” option listed earlier might be a good option in this case, but I would argue that if your security policy is so strict that you cannot store your data offsite, should you be allowing vendors, who are offsite, to remotely log into your system to access that data?
As software technology improves, so do the options for running a successful FDM/FOQA program, with the costs continually becoming more affordable. If you are contemplating setting up an FDM program within your organization, you should consider both in-house and third-party service options to decide which is best for your organization.
At Scaled Analytics, we are pleased to be able to offer both options to our customers. We make it simple for customers to start with one model and switch to another at any time.
If you need help deciding which model may be best for you, please feel free to contact us at [email protected] and we will be happy to answer any questions you may have, at no obligation.