Airline Operations

How a new approach to airline crew tracking helps optimize costs

How a new approach to airline crew tracking helps optimize costs

With the advent of Low-Cost Carriers, new business models emerged that fundamentally changed the way airlines operate. Increased pressure on cost reduction and optimized spending is now firmly on the agenda. Yet, a fine line exists between controlling costs and delivering quality service that drives customer satisfaction. Crew management sits between both.

In our recent "Applying scenario-based planning in airline operations for crew pairing optimization"white paper, we looked at how "what-if" models help build cost-effective pairing. So let´s dig a little deeper into optimized spending during crew tracking.

Historically, when a flight was short of crew, the priority was to find an immediate replacement irrespective of its cost. Controllers would use their expertise and experience to find a qualified substitute, a manual process that also relied on "gut feel." While individuals that responded favorably to previous last-minute roster changes were given a positive weightage, few controllers would ever consider overall crew replacement costs. While this may have been a marginally acceptable practice in a less competitive environment, cost consideration must be an integral part of decision-making moving forward.

When searching for a substitute crew, airline controllers need to be aware of the costs associated with overtime, logistics, and many other factors. These need to be taken into account, and their costs weighed out before deciding on a replacement. As a baseline, every roster needs to comply with legal guidelines, but for efficient operations almost equal importance must be given to costs. Automated tools can provide controllers with cost-based crew replacement suggestions and overall cost implications of planning adjustments. With airlines struggling to generate positive margins, any incremental costs, such as overtime, need to be restricted or undergo a second approval.

As airlines become more cost-centric, every decision needs to weigh both safety and impact to the bottom line. Cost-driven decision-making related to crew management system is critical to ensuring operational efficiency and controlling airline spend. Meticulously planned and optimized rosters can fall apart in the build-up to departure, with unexpected changes leading to additional costs. Airlines need to be aware of the reasons behind these changes. Analyzing past rosters to understand the patterns behind cost spikes helps establish best practices to manage roster changes on the day of departure. And this is a game-changer.

Currently, crew swaps are legal if they fulfill specific parameters, yet airlines hardly consider their cost implications. Crews commonly wait for their rosters to be published and then immediately start swapping them. These swaps can affect an entire trip or individual flights within an itinerary, leading to drastic roster changes. Effectively, this means that a crew pairing judged too costly at the planning stage can still end up operating a flight on the day of departure through roster swapping. And this needs to be analyzed more rigorously moving forward. Automated tools can instantly reveal the cost impact of crew swaps on planned rosters.

Interestingly, while airlines invest significantly in tools that generate optimized rosters, little to no analysis is performed on why rosters change and how they impact the airline and its crew. This underscores the importance of having the right tools to analyze changes to published rosters, the reasons behind them, and identify associated costs.

Author Info 

Gayathri has 14 years of experience driving major digital transformation projects in the airline industry. With deep experience in crew management and operations, she currently oversees the Crew Tracking solution and roadmap of IBS Software´s industry-leading iFlight product. During her career, Gayathri has been closely involved in the replacement of legacy systems for major airlines in Europe including British Airways and KLM. In her spare time, Gayathri is an avid reader of fiction and mystery novels, and also loves light-hearted comedy flics.

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