Airline crew shortages: Key reasons and the solution - Part 2

Airline crew shortages: Key reasons and the solution - Part 2

While there is quite some consensus on what constitutes the ideal airline operations management platform – one that is capable of reducing/eliminating the airline's crew rostering issues, there is greater diversity in what the current platforms on the market are offering. It makes sense therefore to list down what may be considered as ideal for airline operations management.

So here are the key enabling features of the ideal platform: 

1. Situational Awareness Window

This is a new operational paradigm whereby Operations Control Centre (OCC) professionals are freed from having to look at data representations (such as Gantt charts and green screens) which they have to manually process, and instead are given visibility over only distilled information which they are able to monitor effectively 

2. Management by exception 

This is a rational follow up to the staff who are empowered by the Situational Awareness Window. Once the system processes data and packages the information effectively, it will also be able to help identify anomalous situations. Values which have readings within the predefined acceptable ranges can be automatically handled while those which fall outside the tolerable range can be flagged for human intervention. This means human staff will be spending their time fixing "real" issues rather than monotonously checking every event irrespective of its chances of failure.

3. What-if analysis 

 Any solution that involves time, infrastructure changes and/or efforts costs money to implement, and that is in addition to those involving direct investment of money. This means even trial runs represent significant investments in some cases, without promise of assured returns. An operations management platform that can provide a what-if analysis capability that can demonstrate the outcomes to hypothetical scenarios is a major advantage; playing scenarios out virtually involves no real investment of money. 

This gives the airline a sense of what is likely to work, what is unlikely to work, what works the best, what it will cost and how a set strategy can be improved by tweaking, and so on, enabling the airline to make an informed choice on how to solve complex problems. In the context of crew management, it is a powerful tool to be used while stepping into union negotiations – typically by modelling speculative rule changes and gauging the cost or savings involved. Using such a tool can identify the key levers which need to be pushed for cost savings at every step.

4. Mobility and cloud capability 

Consider these two together because of one very specific reason. The sense that it takes to effectively design a platform which offers mobility also logically links to what it takes to offer the same in a SaaS model. Clearly, the two are technically very different but the features converge to most effectively provide the freedom to users of a platform able to perform their professional tasks in the most effective manner. In the absence of these, the user is in danger of being chained to a desk with a standalone system with very limited (or no) connectivity to the rest of the ecosystem. The alternative, fortunately, is a system that provides access via mobile devices such as a tablets, allowing each and every member of the OCC to be well connected with changes and anomalies visible to them in real-time. It is the picture of efficiency in an industry that grew up on chaos!  

Conclusion: Technology collaborates with the human element

In all of the above cases, there are major limitations to what technology can achieve on its own without depending on the human element to guide it. But there are far greater limitations to what pure human action can achieve without the support of technology to provide the inputs for its process.

Hence, there is a rather clear division of roles – technology provides the data, with sufficient processing power, providing a platform enabling an improved human decision making process. This includes presenting the data in a distilled form so as to prevent its quantity from overwhelming the staff member, as well as offering the assurance that all other aspects of the decision are already taken care of and will not distract their attention.

 The evolving dynamics of factors that contribute towards effective management of disruption and recovery is evidence enough that the solution lies in empowering and assisting users with timely information and intelligent tools, rather than providing a press-of-the-button universal solution. The goal is a digital IT solution that is designed to help the crew and operations controllers in making decisions during severe disruptions, rather than trying to create a tool designed to totally replace their expertise.

In other words, there is no reason for the technology platform to attempt to totally replace the human element. There is so much to be gained from the system learning the kind of decisions to be made from the specific data points presented to it and the architectural objective of the platform should be to support the human staff members and supplement their abilities with the fuel required for effective execution.


Daniel Stecher is Vice President of Airline Operations at IBS, and has more than 20 years of experience in the aviation and logistics industries. Prior to joining the IBS family, he was product manager and consultant for the schedule management, operations control and crew management product at Lufthansa Systems. Daniel is perpetually on the move, having raked up literally over a million miles of business travel in his career. He enjoys delicious home cooked food, reading books and the odd round of golf in his spare time.

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Tuesday, 16 October 2018

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