In defence of retrospective analysis for the airport industry | Helios

Helios’ Maja Marciniak discusses the importance of retrospective analysis in airports.


Last year we were approached by Inmarsat to carry out an analysis of the benefits that satellite communications, or SATCOM, has delivered to oceanic flights between the years of 2001 and 2016. This fifteen year retrospective analysis revealed estimated benefits of around USD $3 billion, a large sum that made headlines in the industry. Of course, these monetised gains were shared broadly across the travelling public, airlines, and Air Navigation Service Providers and it raises the prospect that retrospective analysis can contain much strategic value for challenges that are anticipated in the future. This may sound obvious to those in the industry, but retrospective analysis is the ‘bread and butter’ of many aviation organisations, particularly airlines and ANSPs, who use it for operational decision-making such as rostering or routeing. The European Commission also undertakes expost analysis of regulatory measures to inform changes.

Did the benefits arise in the anticipated areas, or has a different string of benefits been enabled?

Nevertheless, we wonder whether the strategic potential of the data produced is sometimes unrealised. Indeed, for some in aviation, the very impetus for retrospective analysis is reduced because their institutional or organisational set-up impedes change due to regulatory or legal restraints for example. So, even if analysis provides great insight, or justification for innovation, will those analytical efforts be rewarded by change? We should dig out old strategic plans and compare them with an actual valuation of the results that our actions brought. Did the benefits arise in the anticipated areas, or has a different string of benefits been enabled? Did the effort result in greater or lesser benefits than we expected? Is there a potential for increased benefit in the future, or should our strategy be changed? Helios has spent many years now working with airports, ANSPs and regulators to try and answer such questions. For example, a posteriori analysis of an airport’s seasonal on-time performance can provide useful learning and knowledge that can be used to target improvement programmes for the subsequent equivalent season. As you’ll have read elsewhere in this newsletter we live in an age of data richness, possibly even overload. But we now have much better tools we can use to ‘crunch’ the numbers. It’s just a matter of asking the right questions, and then acting on the answers.

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