Airline Operations

Managing weather-driven disruptions to airline operations


Force Majeure – an act of God or a natural calamity which is beyond the control of mankind – is considered a valid reason in the airline industry for delay or cancellation of flights. Any other reason may result in massive losses, heavy penalties (based on the specific contract clauses) and damage to customer goodwill in a heavily competitive industry. Can your airline afford a long downtime in business, especially if the disruption stems from human error or technical failures?

Some parts of the Indian subcontinent – one of the fastest growing markets for aviation in recent times – are being lashed by torrential rainfall which has flooded one of the key airports in the region. The official website of the airport cites an average of over 170 flights per day, serving close to 25,000 passengers – imagine the cost of having a week long downtime, as the estimates currently suggest. 

Despite some predictability in the weather in recent times due to advances in big data, there is almost nothing controllable about such natural disasters. But the next best thing is rapid mitigation of the disruption, and the best friend of airlines in this scenario is undoubtedly the availability of accurate and accessible information. The only "planning" possible in this scenario is to have a reliable IT infrastructure in place that provides reliable and complete data to your airline operations, as well as the ability to seamlessly integrate all the key systems together for rapid deployment of any strategic responses.  

CDM – Working together for collective relief

In my earlier blog post on how to solving staff shortage issues for airlines, I had written about how Collaborative Disruption Management is enabled through the use of an integrated system across a group of airline companies which are amenable to sharing their resources for optimizing efficiency of operation at a macroscopic level. 

However, in this weather-related scenario there isn't a bias towards or against any airlines. A flooded runway is non-negotiable and agnostic to the airline brand. The solution is to avoid this airport and land the planes at an alternative airport; but even that can be optimized with the right kind of platform in place to facilitate Collaborative Decision Making, as well as Collaborative Disruption Management.  

Clearly, there are many questions to be answered in such a case.

  1. Which is the nearest alternative airport?
  2. What is the capacity of this alternative? Can it handle the additional flights?
  3. What is the best scheduling option to handle the number of rerouted flights?
  4. What is the cost of rerouting each flight? Will collaboration with partners cut costs?
  5. What are the follow up costs involved based on the location of the airport?
  6. Do the economics change when all factors are considered, rather than distance alone?

It is of vital importance to have accurate data to feed into the decision making system, but sometimes that isn't all that is required.  

The need for predictive modelling and what-if analysis  

There are some airlines which still rely on operations control systems, some parts of which were deployed as early as the 1960s. Therefore it is unreasonable to conclude that all systems are capable of making good decisions when they are presented with good data. But the real problem is, how much actual data do we really possess to plug into even a reasonably modern system for it to compute an acceptable solution? In other words, how comprehensive should a decision maker's experience have to be if he/she is always finding solutions directly based on what has worked well in the past?

A good deal of disruption management related calculations make use of estimates of data – derived from predictive algorithms. The what-if analysis is often what provides airlines the rationale to make good decisions which are most likely to work well in a certain scenario. All the questions associated with Collaborative Disruption Management efforts are fairly complex, because they deal with the future. The weather forecast, for instance, is a key aspect for choosing an alternative airport.

While an experienced airline operations professional always has the option of making an educated guess, the availability of intelligent systems allows the airline to draw more reliable conclusions. Especially in an industry where excessive reliance of legacy systems can wipe off up to $25 billion every year from the aggregated balance sheet, the risk is far too great. 


Let's keep this simple, in case your airline is not able to handle complex questions with its primitive systems:

Question 1: What's worse than an airline losing money to disruptions?

Answer: Losing money to disruptions they have absolutely no control over.

Question 2: And what's even worse than losing money on uncontrollable disruptions?

Answer: Losing money to disruptions which could have been managed with intelligent, timely action! 

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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Monday, 27 May 2024

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