Operate Like the Airlines: Stabilize Your Expenses

Just because you operate a smaller aircraft than large corporate and commercial operators, you don't need exclude yourself from adopting their operating practices. Instead, being a smaller operator allows you the opportunity to adapt the processes and programs of larger operators on a reduced scale. In essence, you can reap all the benefits of the trial-and-error process developed by larger operations without experiencing any of the risk they had to suffer. The question here is: how do we incorporate large operation philosophies on the smaller scale without excessive risk and/or cost. Let's take a look at what the big guys do, and how we can scale it down to our operation.

#1 - The Use Of ACARS for Flight Times

The FAA is pretty strict when it comes to companies following their own flights. This can trace itself to the need for the company to be able to report a late aircraft arrival to the appropriate authorities, along with all the important information that can be used to pinpoint a missing aircraft's location.

The most popular way to do this is via ACARS, basically texting for airplanes. Using this program, airlines can track out, off, on, and in times for all of their flights in real time. This information can then be used to track performance figures, and maintenance items.

We wager, though, that you do not have ACARS on your aircraft. No problem. Airlines, in the event the ACARS system is inoperative, allow pilots to manually report their times.

So, start tracking the number of hours you fly via manual notes of your out, off, on, and in time. This makes IFR and trans-border flying easier (as the authorities usually ask for this information), but also can increase navigation accuracy when dead reckoning, and allow you more accurate fuel planning.

This information can also be fed into your trend monitoring information to ensure your hobbs is functioning correctly, and provide context to the data collected. Burning hot CHTs during a takeoff on a 105 degree day is less perplexing than if the same CHTs were seen on a nighttime takeoff with an OAT of 20 degrees.

This brings us to #2.

#2 - Use A Trend Monitoring System

Most large aircraft now have the ability to self collect important data, and either store it onboard the aircraft, or to beam the information directly to an airlines technical operations department.

Lucky for us smaller operators, technology is almost just as good. Modern engine monitors have the ability to track and store just about every bit of information you wanted to know about your engine. By downloading this data at consistent intervals, and compiling it with your tracked flight times, and you can develop a holistic picture of your aircraft.

Although the depth of the trend monitoring program will be variable depending on the equipment installed on your aircraft (multi-point vs. single point engine monitors, operable gauges,etc.), the data obtained is invaluable when monitoring how your engine is wearing. Coupled with consistent engine oil sample analysis, you can stay on top of your engine, avoiding costly surprises when things break unexpectedly.

We, of course, recommend you subscribe to a professional service that specializes in reading this engine monitor data. Having another set of specially trained eyes looking at your information can increase the likelihood of spotting any potential troubles early. Keep in mind, however, that these services are only as good as the data you feed them. By tracking everything you can, and the context in which the data was taken, you give them the best chance at fully understanding how your airplane is doing.

#3 - Track and Follow up on Inoperative Equipment

Large operators who operate their aircraft on Part 121 or 135 certificates are not allowed to fly their aircraft with open squawks. Instead, all squawks need to be either closed out, or deferred in accordance with the appropriate regulations. It makes sense. Every bolt, rivet, cam, and bearing serve a purpose on your aircraft. If they didn't, the manufacturer wouldn't have put them there.

Sadly, though, you probably do not have a minimum equipment list, non-essential furnishings document, etc. Instead, you have FAR 91.213. Use it, abide by it, and don't use it as a crutch to avoid actually fixing things on your aircraft.

Get problems addressed in a timely manner that is most convenient for you. If you've been adhering to both religious hourly reporting and trend monitoring, most problems will manifest themselves early through the data. By fixing problems early, you'll likely save more money than if you let them develop into larger issues that affect other components. Time really is money in this scenario.

#4 - Utilize Cost Stabilization Programs

Large airplanes come with large expenses. A Boeing 777 engine is expensive enough to stress even the largest legacy carriers budget. That's why they don't leave themselves unprotected. By utilizing hourly cost stabilization programs, operators are able to price themselves competitively by knowing exactly what it costs to operate their airplane.

Remaining financially prepared for potential future issues you're likely to encounter during engine ownership.  Gemco offers programs that are usually the exclusive domain of larger operators to smaller operations. From Unscheduled protection, to our Overhaul Savings programs, Gemco's programs are designed so that you are financially prepared for future liabilities. 

As always, feel free to contact Gemco with any questions you have, or if are ready to enroll in a program.


Dylan Grimm