Aviation is regulated in a vast set of laws and agreements, on an international and national level and is to be respected by aviators of all sizes; from big national airports, till little children playing with drones. All these different rules and moreover national differences lead to an incredibly complex system to implement. The Belgian Federal Public Service Mobility has developed a system that translates these legal requirements into a single online aircraft registration platform.
Safety operations and airworthiness regulations are of crucial importance in order to ensure the highest level of protection for air travel passengers, citizen and the environment. Aviation is therefore regulated in a vast set of laws, regulations and agreements, on an international, European and national level. Furthermore aviation safety rules need to be respected by aviators of all sizes; from big national airports, till little children playing with drones. All these different rules and moreover national differences lead to an incredibly complex system to implement. Aviators being insecure about their aviation license applications and possible mistakes formed a big burden on the staff of the Belgian Federal Public Service Mobility.
The FPS Mobility has now developed a system that translates all legal requirements into one central online aircraft registration platform. Aircraft owners and operators can register and manage their fleet through the BCAA online platform. This facilitates the process while ensuring compliance with all applicable regulation. Aviators do not need to fear to forget legal requirements or to misinterpret legal dispositions, as all is built into the application portal itself. When an application is successful, complete compliance with all rules and legislation is guaranteed. Given that the legislation is translated into code there is also no space for interpretation or ambiguity of the applicable rules. If a certificate holder needs to perform changes to their registration, as for example a change in address, the tool will automatically contact and remind the person to do so. In the same way the tool could inform certificate holders to adapt their inscription if legislation should change.
This tool needed several attempts to be implemented the way it is now. At first a rather classic approach was followed to suit the internal working procedures of the administration. However, the FPS realised that this would not achieve the desired outcome. The project leaders aimed at eliminating unneeded information, simplifying the process in order to help the clients use the tool correctly. To take a step away from all existing routines and analyse the regulatory necessities in combination with the main clients, the FPS hired user experience designers. Their project team consisted of IT developers responsible for the coding, process owners responsible to ensure all legal requirements are met, and a UX designer ensuring an interface compatible with the expectations of the end users. Then the team identified all possible business cases and translated these into process flows and subsequently into wireframes. In order to create the best possible user experience with a user interface that makes the regulation accessible for aviators and processable for computers, the wireframes were repeatedly tested by different stakeholders and adapted according to their feedback. The tool is now fully functional, but it is still regularly submitted for feedback to different stakeholders and adapted to changes in aviation regulations.
After the big success of this initiative, the FPS Mobility is aiming to extend this methodology to all other processes like the application, delivering and follow up of personal licenses and certificates for aircrafts. The FPS also envisages not handing out any documents in paper form, but to save all licences and certificates on a single true data source in their internal database. This allows for more trustworthy documents for security agents in other countries, as well as an easier procedure for accessing licences and certificates to demonstrate compliance with regulations to aviation authorities. Also licences and certificates would then be guaranteed to always be up to date.
Copying this approach in many countries or even having an international portal would be interesting for international flight safety and to facilitate the inspection activities and audits done by aviation authorities. Aviators could effortlessly demonstrate their compliance with regulations and authorities would have peace of mind for the trustworthiness of the documents they are basing their controls on.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
Aviation regulation is handled differently in each country. This goes from the case handling when an aviator asks for licences and certificates, over qualifications and includes even the documents a pilot needs to carry on board. However, aviation itself is the most cross border activity imaginable. Pilots carry suitcases on board including all necessary documents and have to plan their trips well ahead of time, in order to make sure that they can comply with all standards of a country they want to fly to.
The portal leading to an efficient and intuitive case handling allows aviators to be in compliance with national regulations without having to study all possibly applicable legal requirements first. Documents being accessible on an online portal allow authorities to easily investigate their validity and national authorities to revoke them if needed. Moreover, if more countries adapt a similar online approach, pilots will not have to carry paper documents with them while flyimg.
What is the current status of your innovation?
The FPS Mobility is currently in two different innovation stages with its aviation portal. On one hand the aviation platform is already online and fully functional. The FPS is thus diffusing what they learned and achieved in the hope that other aviation authorities (but also authorities ensuring the security of other vehicles) might get inspired to adapt a similar approach.
On the other hand the FPS would like to develop its platform further. It is aiming to extend this methodology to all other processes like the application, delivery and follow up of personal licenses and certificates for aircrafts. The FPS also envisages to share its approach with other countries, so that they can stop handing out documents in paper form altogether and instead save all licences and certificates on a single true data source on their internal database.
Collaborations & Partnerships
Close collaboration between the technical department, ICT department and legal department of the civil aviation authority. During development internal and external users were involved (individuals and companies) to test the software from a user perspective. This process has been done systematically throughout the analysis, development and implementation phases. Feedback received was used to evaluate the effectiveness of the product and to validate, modify, correct or redesign it as needed.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
Users: user-friendly online tool guiding users through their application and ensuring correct completion. Only necessary information is requested. The application status is known at all times.
FPS services: receive complete and correct requests. All manual input is performed by the requesters in a standardised way, allowing FPS staff to swiftly take the appropriate actions. Form completion, archiving, printing, etc. are fully automated, thus relieving the staff from administrative tasks.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
Applications are now treated twice as fast while using half the staff. A standard application sent by mail took approximately two weeks to be processed completely. This has been reduced to five days, including sending the original signed certificate to the applicant by mail. A further digitalisation of the certificate is expected to reduce the processing delays to one day. Staff receive a lot less requests for information on the status of the applications and several simple processes like payments or registration reservations have been fully automated, thus no longer needing any intervention. This has resulted in a 50% drop in work charge while providing a better and faster service.
The FPS envisages to continue fine tuning their tool continuously, involving feedback sessions for all stakeholders, in order to automate the service even more. They also intend to spread their tool to aviation authorities in other countries to share all UpToDate information easily.
Challenges and Failures
Following existing approaches to suit the internal working procedures of the administration turned out not to be useful to achieve the actual objectives of the tool. The aviation authorities former goal was to ensure applications were compliant with regulations. The new tool however is supposed to actively help the client to achieve compliance as quickly as possible, while involving as little staff as possible. This change in philosophy was the hardest hurdle to overcome, as every work action had to be questioned in order to find out what made applicants make errors in the process.
This was solved by continuous test sessions with all different user groups, in which they were asked to use the new tool, without being given any prior explanation. Observation of these testing sessions showed the design flaws in the tool. The fully intuitive tool could only be built by repeatedly following this iterative process until no major problems occurred.
Conditions for Success
It was important to first clearly define the objectives of the tool as well as getting a clear view of the process as a whole and the ecosystem around it. Doing this, all existing routines and procedural steps could be questioned on their utility for the clients and staff. A global vision of the existing and the desired is needed to successfully rethink a whole process.
This type of change management can be challenging. A process being changed needs to be seen as a whole; making an approach more efficient does not consist of making every existing step more efficient, but can only be achieved by redesigning the approach as a whole. This involves many people having to change their work habits. To achieve this successfully it is imperative that the project leader receives the freedom and authority to rethink a procedure from scratch and have staff participate in the change.
This project has not yet been replicated to address similar problems, it could however easily be translated into any other vehicle safety context. Given that the authorities themselves are accustomed to all applicable regulations necessary to obtain licences and certificates, it should not be too difficult for them to implement their own national prerequisites to the FPS Mobility’s existing procedure.
The portal gives surety to both, the vehicle users and the authorities checking on them. The system will work better if adopted internationally by many countries, as it would lead to better cross-border compliance with regulations. Obviously it is even more the case if portals are similar in layout and functionalities, or if there was even one uniform portal. Vehicle users would then not get lost in the application process when travelling abroad and authorities could easily access and trust all documents linked to a conductor.
For an organisation to succeed in innovating, it has to accept things will not be perfect from the start. Change management is a learning process and requires working in an agile way. It also requires that staff are willing to participate in the change, working flexibly and trying out new approaches. Employees being put out of their comfort zone can lead to opposition. A manager must have the necessary authority and understanding for his staff to overcome this successfully. Another staff related challenge that commonly occurs is that people from different departments and educational backgrounds have different points of view on how to tackle one same problem. It is imperative to identify the expectations of all stakeholders from the beginning to convince all involved that the project is beneficial for them and to get all interests in the project aligned.
Technical problems could also impede implementation. For instance legal regulations might impede complete automation or a completely paperless functioning. It could also be that one step in the procedure cannot be processed by a computer. This is the case for instance when aviators must present themselves in person or when vehicles must be examined on their safety. These steps must still be imbedded in the process in the most efficient and logical way possible, to ensure that it remains a lean procedure.
Lastly it is important not to lose sight of the goal to be achieved. For this, it is necessary to constantly remind oneself of the reason for seeking change and of the ideal goal to achieve. It is important not to lose focus of the target clients for the tool and of the context ant ecosystem of people involved in working on the tool. As soon as these main objectives are lost out of sight, automation and lean processes disappear due to administration.
- Implementation - making the innovation happen
- Diffusing Lessons - using what was learnt to inform other projects and understanding how the innovation can be applied in other ways
16 May 2022