Point of View

How to tide over the challenges in airline operations post pandemic


With travel taking off globally, the airline industry has run into surprising problems. However, were these problems unexpected? What are airlines doing to ensure passengers do not pay for their shortcomings? Daniel Stecher, VP, Airline Operations, talks about the airline industry's most significant problems, and how to overcome them. 

Formula 1 racing teams can change four tires in under 2 seconds. On the other hand, airlines need even more than 15 minutes to decide about an aircraft change or a crewmember replacement. What can airlines learn from F1 teams?

Formula One (F1) is all about technology. Everything is tracked, traced, and measured. Every move of every member of the team is broadcast in real-time. The pit teams are equipped with the latest and best equipment, like wheel guns, that allow them to change four tires in 4 seconds. Every team member knows exactly what he or she need to do.

Airlines need to track the efficiency of its ops controllers and overall airline operations. Some of them are still using slow, manual processes that involve many people and consume a lot of time. This is where airline operations software solutions like iFlight become relevant. The algorithm does all the necessary checks and presents the ops controller with all the options available to them. It presents scenarios of how the performance will be affected by their choices. With this information, the ops controller can make the most profitable decision in the shortest possible time.

How can the airlines, airports, and all stakeholders be better prepared for the peak travel season, post Covid?

In 2020, many major airlines received bailouts from respective governments to save them from going bankrupt and help prevent layoffs. However, now that travel is picking up again, we see these airlines struggling with staffing issues. Very often, this money is not invested in upgrading the technology. The problem is that if you do not have technology in place, you need more people for handling a situation. Therefore, instead of having one or two people involved in the process, you need to invest on more head counts, driving up your cost.The general acceptance should be that the solution is not to invest on more people, but on better technology that helps make better decisions.

Airlines compete against other industries for young talents and a new workforce that asks for flexible working models, WFH, and competitive salaries. How do think this will shape out in the future?

The pandemic has thrown in to the fore some interesting developments in the job market. Most of the people who left the airline industry during the pandemic realized they could also work somewhere or start their own businesses. Most of the airlines are at this moment realizing it is not that easy to find people for jobs at an airline or an airport anymore.

Instead of offering more perks and decreasing employee costs to counterbalance other costs, airlines should focus on technological adoption. This will enable them to get more done with fewer resources, who can be paid fairly. This way, airlines can also attract better talent. It will also help them create a more attractive work environment enabled by technology. Airlines may even be able to let certain employees work from home, which has become a consideration for many job seekers these days.

The airline industry is under tremendous pressure from environmentalist groups and green governments to reach CO2 emission reduction targets. How can they achieve the balance between sustainability initiatives and staying in business with low-fare-marketing activities?

If you read about the CO2 emissions of airlines, everyone is focused on the emissions of a flight going from point A to B. This is short-sighted because if you really want to know the environmental footprint of an airline, you have to consider everything. That includes the CO2 emissions created from the headquarters of the airline, the emissions created because people drive their car, travel on a bus, or on a train to get to work, and much more. The technology employed by airlines is also a consideration, as outdated technology is not energy efficient.

I think airlines have to really look at how technology and operational models altogether contribute to CO2 emissions. They should also focus on making their service better and think of charging higher rates on tickets. People are willing to pay more for better services. 

The airline industry is trailing behind with legacy technology from 1960 to the 1990s and the result is daily disruptions and angry passengers. What is the outlook for the future?

In order to improve the state of the industry, technology is key. Assets used by airlines, like pilots, are expensive, and it is important to make sure they are being used as best as possible. Airlines need to adopt technologies like AI, ML, and deep learning that use data and derive useful insights. These, when combined with human intelligence can help them deliver better services. For instance, by considering maintenance data, weather data, and data inputs by pilots, airlines can create plans that help them react to emergencies without causing disruptions to their operations. 

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