Monday, 4 May 2020

Is It an Organisation or Organism You Work With?

I like Seth's blogs. He brings freshness and simplicity in explaining the complex things, just like in his latest post 'What kind of org?': "Maybe you work with an organization. They have systems and charts and boxes. But the very nature of an organization is that someone developed it, figured it out and has to approve its changes. After all, it’s organized. Perhaps you work with an organism instead. An organism constantly changes. The cells develop, die and are replaced. It adapts to the current environment or goes away. If you engage with a culture, if you’re part of an organism, you’ll do better understanding the system that it lives in. The org chart is insufficient. And of course, organisms tend to be more resilient than organizations." To better understand the system we are in, and make our organisation more resilient we need to change the way we see it, to understand the flow of work, and get the sense of connectedness between data, people, and processes. The process is not difficult to implement and will be the key to making progress once airlines restart the operations. Will blog more about it – stay tuned.

Tuesday, 7 April 2020

Preparing For The Next Step: Why Things Go Wrong?

I thought that the following quote from my book ‘Beyond Airline Disruptions – Thinking and Managing Anew’ can inspire existing and aspiring leaders, in the midst of immense difficulties, to start thinking anew and get better prepared for the fresh start in a less complex but more uncertain world. Before we find out more about the next steps, let’s first see why things go wrong and what needs to improve?
"When we make plans, we expect that most things will respond in a linear way, that more input will get us more output. If we want more passengers, we add more flights, fly to more airports (even if overcongested), squeeze more seats into the plane, pack more people in. We also want to be bigger and stronger than our competitors. The bigger we become, the more we are inclined to ignore the critical resource limitations and issues of quality.
In real life, however, most things don’t respond in a linear way (quality and cost in particular). This is why we fail to notice the critical point beyond which the quality of outcome turns downwards. From that point on, adding more flights or having more passengers only make things worse. This happens whenever the traditional way of thinking and doing makes us ignorant to what is happening now, when we are unable to understand early signals of this decline and are deluded by the occasional rise in profit. In this way, we unknowingly increase complexity and are later surprised by unexplainable losses, unforeseen disruptions and loss of reputation.
The chart below shows dependences between growth, quality of outcome, money and time. These relationships are essential for understanding the current state of business and its future prospects.
Why is it so easy to pass the turning point without noticing it? On the surface, it is about quality and connectedness of data and information which come from multiple sources with different measuring and reporting criteria. By the time they reach decision makers, these data are aggregated, then apportioned, freely interpreted and compared so that in the end, their value is reduced to the level that decision become risky but with unknown consequences.
At a deeper level, however, the problem with quality of data is related to fragmented organisation, top-down management where decisions don’t follow the natural flow of work, and measures of system performance that are detached from operational reality. It is also about legacy mindset, which sees the system as stable, boxed structure, that only trusts the official information that comes from the same sources year after year, packed in standardised reporting formats, no matter the quality. Analysing these data with unknown origins further distorts information, allowing for free interpretations.

By making decisions based on too many assumptions, we unknowingly create more problems elsewhere and are unable to measure their impact on the system due their complexity. When we compare the planned and actual results published in company reports, we cannot say what is beyond these figures, what really happened and why, and what we need to improve. Regardless of amount of data we collect and analyse, sometimes the impact of our decisions is minor, and sometimes it can have longer-term implications on the system performance that we wouldn’t be aware of. 
This is because the system we are in is not designed to manage things we are facing in real life. Complexity arises from interactions between people and processes that are the very nature of airline business, but existing information systems and management do not recognise it. Hence the detachment between strategy and operations, plans and reality."

This time the chances are that we may start below the turning point which may be painful in the beginning, but then it will be up to us to decide whether we want to know or not when things start to go downwards.

Tuesday, 4 February 2020

What an honour!

I feel honoured to be ranked among the Top 50 Global Thought Leaders and Influencers on culture by Thinkers360. Such a great inspiration for my further work.
There are many thought leaders and influencers that shaped the way I think and do things today. I somehow feel that this is our common achievement and am grateful to all of them for sharing their insightful thoughts and experiences.

I am also honoured to be among the Top 100 Women B2B Thought Leaders You Should Follow in 2020 ranked by Thinkers360.

#innovation #technology #culture

Sunday, 19 January 2020

What Does It Take to Make Airlines More Responsive to Introducing New Technology?

There are so many brilliant books and articles about the benefits of digitalisation and new technologies explained persuasively by technology experts and consultants. And yet, organisations supposed to gain from these benefits remain mostly unresponsive. Why? Because, in most cases, what is on offer is seen through the eyes of external providers of technology solutions. 

What is missing is to get into the shoes of those responsible for airline overall performance, those who need to understand the real benefits that new technology can bring to their organisation, and ultimately to figure out if the required investment can justify their decision. 

Things can significantly change if providers of new technology can demonstrate the benefits of their product seen through the eyes of C-level executives. In airline industry it can be done by introducing the simple human/machine interface that connects the disconnected parts of organisation and translates the consequences and true causes of critical operational disruptions to the C-suite.

#technology #strategy #disruptions #operations #reinventingorganizations #reinventingdecisionmaking #ai #investment

Saturday, 14 December 2019

Improving Collaborative Decision Making at Busiest Hub Airports Appears to Be The Last Resort To Minimise The Impact Of Growing Disruptions. Can Bridging The Gap Between Theory And Practice Speed Up This Process?

My interview with Sergio Martins, Director Air Traffic Management - Latin America, Saab Group

Major hub airports are running out of capacity needed to meet the growing demand for air travel, and many others are facing the same problem at their busiest times. And still, traffic growth at capacity constrained airports continues, accelerating the risks of disruptions with far reaching consequences on airlines, passengers, environment, and on the safety of air travel. In these circumstances, easing this problem means either limiting the volume of traffic to manageable levels (doesn’t seem feasible in the foreseeable future), waiting for strategic adjustments to take place, or freeing up some airport capacities by improving efficiency in decision making on the day of operations.

With the latest option in mind, I came across articles written by Sergio Martins, Director Air Traffic Management - Latin America, Saab Group, pointing to the opportunities for improvement on airports´ airside. What makes these articles stand out is that they provoke rethinking and refinement of current practices encompassing relationships between airports, airlines, ATC and ground handlers. And all that being expressed with passion and eagerness to contribute to so much needed improvement in efficiency of decision making in one of the most complex areas of airport and airline operations. His views are supported by his firsthand experience in multiple areas of air transport industry, including air traffic control, flight operations, air/ground communications and airport management systems, enabling him to see problems and solutions associated with airports’ airsides from the wider perspective.  

Sergio kindly accepted my invitation for an interview and felt enthusiastic about sharing his insightful knowledge related to overcoming existing obstacles that cross organisational and geographical boundaries. We will be covering the airside issues in general, as well as those faced by airports in Europe, US, and Latin America to show the diversity in approaches to improvement in efficiency and service quality of airport and airline operations.

So, here we are. I hope you are ready to embark on a journey of discovery of an area not so simple to grasp, but well worth understanding not only by operations specialists but by airline and airport leaders and strategists and also policy makers across the industry. 

JR: To start with, could you explain what are the main obstacles to improvement in airport operational efficiencies?

SM: Historically, private airport concessionaires have focused in optimising processes and procedures within passenger terminals, while failing to touch a critical, complex and high impact component of their business – the airport apron, commonly referred to as “airside”. The problem is that most resources currently involved in airside procedures are managed by numerous players (airlines, ground handlers, airport operator, air traffic controllers) performing a wide range of complexly interrelated tasks. Although all such those theoretically pursue a common objective - optimum on-time performance, clear leadership and ownership of airside operations are still to be established, under the framework of a commonly agreed modus operandi, which should account for local/regional aspects while sticking to a clear set of general principles.   

JR: This lack of coordination and collaboration has certainly contributed to growing airport and system inefficiencies which triggered actions for setting the standards and guidelines for collaborative decision making at industry level. The resulting concept - A-CDM (Airport Collaborative Decision Making) was initiated in Europe in 2004 and first deployed at Brussels Airport (2010) and Munich (2017). FAA has its own similar concept S-CDM (Surface Collaborative Decision Making), and ICAO adopted the concept and broaden it.

Let’s start with Eurocontol´s A-CDM born as a result of a joint venture between ACI Europe, Eurocontrol, International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation (CANSO). It is said that A-CDM basically aims to connect the airspace management optimization carried out by Air Traffic Flow and Capacity Management Centres (ATFCM) with ground-based services. Initial results have confirmed that when enhanced by combination of airspace and airport processes it can result in reduced delays, better predictability and optimum use of both airspace and airport resources, potentially increasing the capacity of participating airports. This all sounds very promising.  How well are these initiatives embraced by airports and airlines? 

SM: Over the last few years the whole air transport industry simply fell in love with the collaborative spirit promoted by A-CDM ‘culture’. It has become a buzz word. There is no single meeting, conference, seminar or trade show addressing the air transport industry where A-CDM is not glamorously welcomed as something being successfully implemented everywhere by everyone. However, few people actually understand the major cultural/behaviour paradigm shift demanded by actual implementation of A-CDM operating mode, way beyond sharing information and promoting enhanced global situational awareness.

What needs to be understood, sooner rather than later, is that fully transparent information sharing and optimum level of common situation awareness across the whole airport community are actually the foundation upon which a wholly new way of operating an airport must be introduced – the A-CDM Operating Mode. It is fair to say it makes little sense for an airport to start planning A-CDM introduction prior to engaging a major effort towards deployment of a robust information sharing platform which, in my personal view, must include surface surveillance technologies. I truly believe that the most important airside related information to be shared amongst all stakeholders, to enable all the beauty of A-CDM, is the real time visual monitoring of aircraft and vehicles over the airside. The whole set of collaborative applications developed by the industry to promote enhanced situation awareness at airports is drastically improved when industry standard surface surveillance technologies are implemented.

JR: Your approach to A-CDM obviously adds a practical value to the original theoretical model.

SM: Well, my proposed approach is not so much innovative bearing in mind that Eurocontrol clearly states in its A-CDM Implementation Manual the following:

“Information Sharing is the first Concept Element, which creates the foundation for all other functions, while being beneficial in its own right. Therefore, it is essential to implement this element, before other Airport CDM Concept Elements and functions, in order to achieve a smooth implementation of the succeeding Concept Elements.”

What it clearly suggests is that before any long term commitment with the enforcement of the so called “Best Planned, Best Served” paradigm, proposed by A-CDM Operating Mode, via TOBTs (Target off-Block Times) and TSATs (Target Start-up Approval Times), airports stakeholders do have a homework to do – to deploy solid information sharing/situation awareness foundation, which then, may or may not lead to full A-CDM implementation, which requires a complex and time-consuming cultural and behaviour change. That´s all about sacrificing individual flexibility on behalf of global availability, balancing on-time performance with predictability concerns.

In short, what I am particularly convinced is that some type of surface surveillance technology is a must whenever efficient airside management is to be pursued, no matter who is in charge of managing aircraft and vehicle movements within the airside, be it ATC or Apron Control Centre. Surface surveillance has widely demonstrated its ability to save hours of aircraft taxi time, reduce fuel consumption and cut CO2 emissions, not to manage improving passenger experience by drastically raising the level of airport and airlines´ predictability. 

All those benefits might be achieved with a combination of:

·       Common-use Database - known as ACISP (Airport CDM Common Information Sharing Platform)
·       Cooperative surface surveillance, continuously feeding ACISP with critical real time information on aircraft and vehicles´ movement within the airside

All the above may (and should) be done prior to enforcing TOBT/TSAT policy to airlines, as that´s most critical aspect of A-CDM implementation – the reduction of airline´s flexibility in exchange for higher global availability of airside resources.

Another interesting way to support my statement is to focus on ICAO´s Global Air Navigation Plan (GANP), with emphasis on two specific Aviation System Block Upgrades (ASBU) - Block 0 (reference date 2013) 
  •  SURF - Basic Advanced Surface Movement Guidance and Control Systems (A-SMGCS) provides surveillance and alerting of movements of both aircraft and vehicles at the aerodrome, thus improving runway/aerodrome safety. Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) information is used when available (ADS-B APT).
  •  A-CDM - Implements collaborative applications that will allow the sharing of surface operations data among the different stakeholders on the airport. This will improve surface traffic management reducing delays on movement and manoeuvring areas and enhance safety, efficiency and situational awareness.
It is an obvious conclusion that, for any airports raising runway/aerodrome safety concerns, due to the complexity of its operation, real time position information should be a part of the ‘surface operations data’ to be shared amongst stakeholders, as a means to reduce delays on movement and manoeuvring areas.   

JR: Can this be illustrated by some examples?

SM: To illustrate how it works in real world, we can mention the results achieved in the US, in particular at Atlanta International Airport back in 2010, after implementation of a common-use surface surveillance platform (no formal CDM Operating mode, implemented):

With the deployment of Saab´s Aerobahn Surface Management System, fed by a ground based multilateration network in 2010, Atlanta has created a collaborative environment where all stakeholders (airport, airlines and the FAA) have a common platform to improve overall airport operations. In 2012, Atlanta saved 36,400 hours in taxi time and 64,400 hours in schedule delay per year, saving airlines $97 million annually with delays at their lowest level since measurement began in 1990 (10.1 per thousand operations).  This reflects a 21% improvement in addition to a 54.7% delay reduction achieved in 2011. Furthermore, Saab´s surface surveillance platform, with its advanced event alerting functionality, prevented long on-board delays saving 300,000 passenger days during those years.

Other deployments include: Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Minneapolis, New York-JFK, New York-LaGuardia, New Newark, Philadelphia and Phoenix. Major airlines as American Airlines, Delta and United are also prominent customers/users.

JR: The US approach seems to be more effective which must be associated with conceptual differences between A-CDM and S-CDM. If so, what prevents Europeans from following these steps?

SM: Air Traffic Management in US and Europe have a number of differences which cause their CDM initiatives, not to be so easily interchangeable, although both initiatives seek for the same results and require from airlines and ground handlers, high level of predictability with regards to flights´ readiness time. The one thing which remains valid for any and all CDM initiatives is that higher global availability of resources is achieved as a result of tighter flexibility levels enforced to stakeholders.

One of such major differences is that while in Europe, airside management is undertaken by Control Tower, through the Air Traffic Controller at the “ground” operational position (although no “control” service is actually provided within the Apron), in US, aircraft and vehicles within the Apron are monitored and supported by the “Apron/Ramp Control Centres” – normally operated by the airport operator itself or third parties hired for the provision of the service (quite often major carriers undertake such role at their main hubs.           

JR: Let’s talk about Latin America. How much is it opened for implementation of A-CDM? 

SM: Two main aspects are to be addressed, with the aim of understanding the challenge of airside management improve in Latin America:

Historically, airports in Latin America, were operated by state owned entities, as part of their “mission” (a pretty military concept). Under such scenario, things as profitability and competitiveness were not so relevant, as airports existed to provide the community with safe airport operations.

Airport privatization wave raised a new scenario, where private/profit driven concessionaries are challenged to efficiently serve private airlines, which are supported by private ground handling agents. All of this takes place within a fairly competitive environment, where airports compete with each other for airlines´ preference. Now, airport service efficiency directly impacts on airports/airlines´ profitability, which is their ultimate goal, as private entities.   

Under the new scenario, the need to tear down the frontier between airport and air traffic control is a must and airside lies right in the centre of the challenge to be faced by airport stakeholders. It´s important to acknowledge that aircraft operation within the apron area and around the gates involve the use of multiple resources – trucks, buses, cars, personnel, gates, etc., in a physical space not owned by anyone - air traffic controllers provide only information outside manoeuvring area. In short, Air Traffic Control manages runways and taxiways and airport concessionaire manages passenger terminal. The one-million-dollar question is, how to join all stakeholders into a single coordinated effort to improve the efficiency of airside procedures and that´s what A-CDM (Airport Collaborative Decision Making) and all other CDM driven initiatives are all about.  

Unfortunately, a number of regional issues have been dramatically affecting Latin American stakeholders´ ability to properly assess A-CDM related opportunities and requirements.

It is widely recognized that any A-CDM initiatives, including preliminary gap analysis, should engage all stakeholders as of day one. This basic concept has been recognized by all guiding documents of associations and organizations including ICAO, IATA, ACI, etc. However, that´s not how things have happened in Latin America, where individual stakeholders (typically Airport Operator or ANSP) unilaterally decide to develop an A-CDM program. As a rule, little engagement of those expected to be the main potential beneficiaries of A-CDM - airlines and ground handlers and that is precisely in this contradiction which lies the major risk of A-CDM deployment processes, characterized by unbalanced participation of different stakeholders.

To make it even worse, as previously highlighted, A-CDM, as well as any other CDM related operating model is based upon reduction of stakeholders’ flexibility in the booking of resources, as the means to generate higher global availability levels.

Another point of concern is the fact that, unlike United States and Europe, where meteorological conditions have led ANSPs (Air Navigation Service Providers) to deploy ATC Surface Surveillance (A-SMGCS) platforms for safety reasons at most medium/large airports, Latin American airports have virtually assumed blind airside operation as a standard, once no surface surveillance information is available. That dramatically affects stakeholders´ situation awareness, which makes it even harder for airlines and ground handlers to reach the level of predictability they need to seriously candidate for A-CDM implementation.

JR: From airlines’ perspective, planning block times on routes operating through congested airports and airspace includes complex tradeoffs. Enforcing such changes at one airport without understanding the consequences on other parts of airline route network has already been met by their resistance. Could you explain in more details in which way A-CDM affects this process.

SM: In traditional pre-A-CDM operation, airport resources are allocated based upon a “first called, first served” policy. That means airlines (and their ground handling agents) do their best to eliminate/minimize possible delays with no information exchanged with airport and ATC, with regards to imminent delays. That causes poor allocation of airport resources, due to the lack of visibility on predicted readiness time of each flight.

What A-CDM and its Target Off-Block Time (TOBT) and Target Start-Up Approval Time (TSAT) policy enforces is the continuous information exchange between airlines and airport operators with regards to each flight´s estimated readiness times. That allows airport operator and ATC to build a realistic start-up/push-back/taxi/take-off sequence, which proves supported by airport infrastructure and airspace availability. This is all about operating as fast as realistically possible while ensuring maximum predictability. The operation paradigm than changes to “best planned, best served”.

JR: Unhappy with some of A-CDM rules, European airlines have decided to form an Airline Airport Collaborative Decision Making Group ('AACG') in 2015 (supported by IATA) to tackle many unharmonized European A-CDM processes and procedures that added complexity, and in some cases inefficiencies and delays within airline operations. This signals that the whole process is still far from being fully harmonised and implemented in Europe. How long do you think the full implementation of A-CDM operating model can take? 

SM: If we assume that stakeholders are going to make a well-informed, joint decision to collaborate (for duly understood and acknowledged reasons), and accept the flexibility reduction imposed by A-CDM operating model and it´s actual implementation, quite optimistically, we are talking about two years; not to mention radically changing culture and behaviour of hundreds of thousands of people within the whole airport community... and beyond (regulatory agents, customs & immigration, etc.).

JR: There are so many valuable information related to these processes that can help with better planning and management of airline resources, adjustment of strategies, and also improve the visibility of reasons for disruptions caused by service providers. Can it be adjusted for decision making outside of operational environment? Is such information already available?

SM: This information can be provided. In the case of Aerobahn platform, apart from supporting immediate decision making, it can also provide number of tools required for post-operational analysis at various organisational levels, from operations through scheduling, network and strategic planning. This can help with:

• Improving schedule efficiencies and block time planning
• Maximizing runway, taxiway and gate/stand utilization
• Decreasing delays & heightening performance during irregular operations
• Reducing emissions
• Identifying trends and recurring operational problems
• Better forecasting of the impact of future operational events
• Understanding of usage of airport resources, enabling verification of related fees
• Improving post-operational analysis leading to automation or process improvements
• Facilitating long-term planning

JR: To wrap it up, what would be your message to those unsure about the benefits that new approach to collaborative decision making at airports can bring to the industry?

SM: Worldwide, privatization of airlines and airports is leading the profit driven entities to an obvious challenge - how to achieve the best cost/benefit ratio out of limited infrastructures. It is not a coincidence that A-CDM related discussions are flourishing everywhere, quite often ahead of time and lacking technical expertise. This seems to be the 21st century stakeholders´ intuitive strive to go for maximum profitability.

Under the light of such scenario, it becomes evident that, no matter which specific concept of operations stakeholders agree to adopt at a given airport, predictability is going to be the key for success! That is critical for the governance amongst airlines and ground handlers. As time goes by, airlines will be challenged to share more accurate information on their readiness times, with the owners of airside and airspace, at the risk of not counting on essential resources for their operations when they actually need them. Let's see where it all goes, as time goes by. At least, I remain absolutely convinced that collaboration is the way to travel… not the destination!      

I would like to thank Sergio for his insightful views on regulatory and technical aspects of airport collaborative decision making. The biggest challenge will continue to be the improvement in communication between people at frontline and between those responsible for strategic adjustments. These are the places where merging the best of human and technology capabilities can help with disrupting disruptions while waiting for the next leap in industry development.  

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

What Colour is Your Organisation?

In his fascinating book ‘Reinventing Organizations’ Frederic Laloux says that every time humanity has shifted to a new stage of consciousness in the past, it has invented a whole new way to structure and run organizations, each time bringing collaboration to a new level. These colour codes represent evolutionary breakthrough in collaboration. Southwest Airlines epitomises the green model. What colour is your organisation?hashtag

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Why Do Airlines Burn Money Every Day? What They Can Learn From Formula 1 Racing Teams

If you are an existing or aspiring leader regardless of your hierarchical rank, this is a rare opportunity to understand what happens when airline strategies and plans meet reality on the day of operations. You will be taken on a journey by Daniel Stecher, your fellow leader and influencer, with deep knowledge of the past and present relationships between operations and technology and new opportunities for improvement.
You will get a clear understanding of the role of technology in extending human ability to deal with operational complexity, especially in OCCs where speed, scope, and relevance of information is crucial for delivering the best possible outcome including cost and service quality. Also, it may help you see the role of OCC from a new perspective - as an active participant in providing feedback to planners and strategists, becoming part of the plan-do-check-adjust strategic loop. I hope that this unconventional, spontaneous interview will inspire you to take a more active role in making this evolutionary process possible, and with it the long-term success of your airline.

Interview with Daniel Stecher, VP Airline Operations, IBS Software

Aviation has always been a tricky business and these days it seems to be trickier than ever. One after another, airlines are disappearing from the industry landscape, either by losing identity or in an old-fashioned way – running out of money.

Numerous attempts have been made to explain the reasons for these systemic failures and, deep down, they all have something in common: the way airlines interact with the randomness of their operations does not correspond to what strategists and decision makers expect.

​The disconnect between strategy and operations has become the main (still unrecognized) cause of growing operational disruptions, work inefficiencies, uncontrollable rise in costs and passenger dissatisfaction. Flight disruptions are still considered as purely operational issue, despite the fact that the majority of their underlying causes have strategic and cross-functional origins, invisibly shaping the quality of day-to-day operational decisions.

​This means that, for example, every time an airline decides to expand its operation to congested airports, increase aircraft utilization by reducing schedule buffers or shorten the turn-around times, it puts lots of additional pressure on operations control centre. This risks an exponential increase in changes to planned schedule, with all of the (unreported) consequences this can have on overall results. ​

As things stand, OCC’s are not adequately equipped to cope with high influx of changes that make their work even more complex, exceeding human capacities to handle them. Outdated technologies restrict the scope and speed of this process making improvements hard, perhaps impossible to achieve.

Most airlines have become too slow to respond and adapt, and this needs to change. And change includes adjustments where the interplay between human abilities to cope with complexity, and benefits offered by new technology are recognized and skilfully managed. How can this be achieved?

In search for answers I couldn’t think of anyone better able to answer this question than Daniel Stecher, a leading-edge operations and technology expert, fresh thinker, and enthusiastic leader who inspires change and is willing to share his insights.Daniel’s all-round knowledge and deep understanding of operations and technology comes from his first-hand experience at a major European airline and at a leading provider of airline software. He gets his messages across in many ways by visiting airlines, speaking at conferences, writing, blogging, tweeting, all this with rare ability to explain complex problems in a way that can be easily understood.

I asked Daniel to explain what it takes to bring together the best of what interactions between people and technology can provide.

I hope you will be inspired by this spontaneous and insightful interview with Daniel.

(JR-Jasenka Rapajic, Astute Aviation; DS-Daniel Stecher, IBS Software)

JR: Flight disruptions continue to grow faster than what airlines can perceive, and have ability to control. Still, they keep expanding even to most disruption-prone areas, unaware of the full consequences of this strategy on operations, cost, and revenue. They expect that, in the end, operations centres will somehow make it all work.
Being at the crossroad between disruptive strategies, disrupted schedules and disrupted passengers, the question is how do people in Operations Control Centre (aka IOC, OCC, SOC, NOC) cope with complexity arising from this situation which is not going to change in a foreseeable future?

DS: There is a nice quote from an industry friend who told me: people working in OCC’s don’t know what they don’t know’. That I think puts in one sentence the main issue and challenge for OCC’s because everything is pretty much reactionary and based on gut feelings and what has been planned based on a picture of future optimized weeks or months ago is suddenly not coming through. It is no longer relevant because the people who built the schedule, and the people who made the roster are unaware of the sources of disruption including technical problems, sick crew members, congestion at airports, and so on. The consequences are that, compared with the original plan, only 70-80 % flights on average operate as scheduled.

The first question is why don’t airlines make more realistic plans? This is because they are planning with forecasting models based on the past, whereas with predictive analytical models they could have a better understanding as to what is happening in operations and end up with fewer disruptions. Also, every year deviation from plans becomes the norm and every new annual plan becomes a fresh start. This is how problems accumulate and remain unnoticed in year on year company reports.

Secondly, more and more people are traveling and are affected by disruptions which have an impact on their personal lives, their business lives, their vacations, and, in the end, costs us all a lot of money. These disruptions also have environmental consequences because there is a lot of unnecessary fuel burnt which together with traffic expansion further increases CO2 emissions.

The question is how long will airlines be able to sustain this situation? I would say they are not working in a rational manner and I foresee some real changes in the industry.

JR: Airlines spend lots of time and effort on optimizing individual departmental functions. This frequently does not benefit the entire organization, and can even cause additional disruptions. The problem is that the dynamic, non-linear nature of disruptions doesn’t fit into the rigid structures of airline information systems and management reports. This leaves strategists and planners deprived of real-life feedback, hence an opportunity to spot and remove bottlenecks in workflow. In these circumstances, optimising disruptions as they happen seems like a daunting task. How does all this look from an OCC perspective?

DS: There is a lot of emphasis on the optimization of the various planning processes but very, very few airlines focus on the optimization of disruption management. Even though industry estimates vary, some figures indicate that cost of disruptions worldwide has reached a $60bn figure. There are some disruption related figures like compensation to passengers experiencing disruptions, especially in Europe. It has been estimated that over the last three to four years trillions would have been owed to passengers if each qualifying passenger had claimed compensation. If airlines had been forced to pay it by law, some of these airlines would have gone bankrupt based on the previous disruptions for which they were responsible.

And yet despite all this, very, very few airlines have changed the way they operate, the way they plan, and the way they attack disruptions. Everything is pretty reactionary, depending on the person who is on shift. When Jo is on shift, the decision making is completely different compared with when Angela is on shift. And the next day, Diana is on shift, so the best decision making is not always visible. This makes it difficult to avoid the effect of disruptions on passengers, aircraft, crew, airports and other stakeholders.

JR: How well are OCC equipped with tools that can support these complex decisions?

DS: You need good technology. The bottleneck for airlines is that they don’t have technology in place which follows the concept of smartphones.  So, we need to bring the concept of smartphones into OCC. Smartphones are highly integrated. You don't have to look for the data. The data is already there. There are plenty of apps which provide you with the relevant data. In the airline business it's the other way around.

When somebody needs the information, they try to find the source of this information using paper-based booklets where something is explained or have to call somebody, or whatever, and that's why things are very slow. A lot of information is not available in real time – which is why decision making is suboptimal - some data are missing some data are out of date.

My little smartphone is a good example of how complexity can be managed. Twelve years ago, while traveling to the US I had four devices: a camera for photo taking, a navigation system to get me from A to B, a cell phone to communicate, and a portable PSP to play some games. And then, if I took a picture and wanted to send it to somebody, I had to download it from the camera to the computer, connecting to it with a cable, and if it was not charged, then that was delayed, and then I couldn't send it via email to somebody. If I wanted to send my location - that was very complicated!

Today, all these things are done automatically. The software is developed in such a way that the device is thinking for the human being. We humans are not capable of grasping more complex problems. We can keep in mind up to seven items at one time. We are not made for multitasking, especially when we are under stress, so a tool such as a smartphone is very helpful because it can manage our entire lives. It allows me to connect with every airline system in the world, I can organize my finances, and it helps me with managing plenty of pictures. I've taken more pictures than I have ever taken in the past. So, it is not two Daniels or three Daniels required to manage the multitude of pictures I'm taking, it's the device which is helping me to manage the complexity and this is what I can see as the future for OCC.  

In a smartphone environment everything is in real time, everything is connected. If I take a picture of this meeting in London, I don't have to call my wife, it's in the family folder because that's how iOS does it. But if I take a picture of a naked person, and maybe don't want that picture to be visible to my wife, that means that I need to understand the consequences of integration. Using This concept is very powerful and will allow airlines to manage higher levels of complexity. 

The following are links to white papers written by Daniel where you can learn more about topics related to our conversation: