Friday, 16 September 2016

What Kind Of Surveys Do We Really Need?

Surveys have become very popular in aviation industry when needed to fill up the information gaps (those related to passenger experience being the most popular) and sometimes to prove unprovable.  

What kind of surveys do we really need? In his blogpost Survey Questions Seth Godin explains:

Is this a survey or a census? A survey is statistically based, extracting insight from a few and being able to assert its truth across a wider population. A census involves asking everyone, and usually, matching up the answers with the person so you can take further action. 
If it's a survey, you probably don't need to reach as many people as you think you do. And if it's a survey, you are almost certainly going to get skewed answers, because surveying the people who answer surveys is truly different from surveying a statistically valid sample of your audience. SurveyMonkey doesn't actually run surveys of your total audience. It runs a poll of people who are willing to answer the questions.
It's pretty easy to survey everyone, ask every customer a question on checkout. In fact, online, it's easier to run something more like a census than a survey, because you merely turn it on and let it run. This is not a smart way to get a statistically accurate insight, but worse, if you run a census, you're wasting an opportunity if you treat it like a survey. If you ask every customer a question, you better be prepared to follow up on every customer who's not happy.
Are you looking for correlations? Causation is almost impossible to find in a survey. But if you're smart, you can learn a lot if you're able to determine that people who said "B" in answer to question 3 are also likely to believe "E" in answer to question 6. This is a huge step in your ability to determine worldviews and to ultimately treat different people differently.
It doesn't matter if 40% of your customers believe something about price and 39% believe something about features, but if you discover that 98% of the customers who believe this about price also believe that about quality, you just found something useful.
Is this worth my customer's time? It's super easy to commission a survey. Pay your money and you're done. But then what? Fedex sent Ipsos after me and thousands of other people by phone, wasted more than ten minutes of my time with a survey that never ended, and then they never followed up. Those ten minutes cost Fedex a huge amount of trust and goodwill.
Asking someone to answer a survey has a very real cost. Is the survey worth it?
Are you asking questions capable of making change happen? After the survey is over, can you say to the bosses, "83% of our customer base agrees with answer A, which means we should change our policy on this issue."
It feels like it's cheap to add one more question, easy to make the question a bit banal, simple to cover one more issue. But, if the answers aren't going to make a difference internally, what is the question for?
Are you push polling? The questions you ask actually end up changing the person who is responding. Ask me if I'm unhappy and I'm a lot more likely to become unhappy. Ask me who my favorite customer service person is and I'm more likely to look for good customer service people.
This is a challenge that most census-structured customer service surveys have to deal with. If you ask someone if they're satisfied and then don't follow up later, you've just made the problem a lot worse. If you ask your best customers for insight and then ignore it, you've not only wasted the insight, you've wasted goodwill as well.
Here's a simple test I do, something that has never once led to action: In the last question of a sloppy, census-style customer service survey, when they ask, "anything else?" I put my name and phone number and ask them to call me. They haven't, never once, not in more than fifty brand experiences.
If you're not going to read the answers and take action, why are you asking?
Best question to ask about a survey: Do we actually have to run this?

Monday, 22 August 2016

Airport Congestion Zoomed In

Heathrow, the most congested European airport, has been operating at 98+% of its maximum capacity for over a decade, unable to absorb even the smallest change in airline schedules without spreading the knock-on effects across the network. This, however, didn’t stop it from accommodating more flights into its schedule and even crossing the capacity limits by overselling the slots and keeping the overbooked flights circling in holding stacks before landing. The following are some of the consequences (based on 2010 figures): 
  • 54% of 224,497 incoming flights at Heathrow were held in holding stacks 
  • By comparison, 14% of Gatwick’s incoming flights were held in stacks and 5% at Stansted (NATS)
  • 18 million arriving passengers were kept circling in holding patterns for up to 20 minutes on a normal day and 45 minutes in bad weather (NATS)
  • Airlines wasted around £65 million in fuel while stack in the holding queues
  • Airborne holding at Heathrow amounted to the equivalent of having approximately 10 aircraft grounded at airport each day. By comparison, in 2004 the equivalent of 5 British Airways aircraft a day were circling in airborne stacks above Heathrow (BA)
  • Heathrow was responsible for 91.4% of the carbon emissions from stacking aircraft in Britain as a whole, with a total of 277,900 tonnes (NATS)
(Additional cost of crew, maintenance, passengers and ripples across international and domestic networks and reduced revenue are not included)

Five years on, and the increase in Heathrow traffic continues. In 2015, compared to the previous year, aircraft movements were up by further 5% and passenger numbers by 14%, indicating the use of bigger aircraft, more fuel burned, more unproductive aircraft time, more resources, more delayed flights and lost connections for passengers and an increase in noise and air pollution. On airline side this has resulted in an unreported increase in inefficiencies, rise in costs and disruptions, and for Heathrow Airport – a rise in related aeronautical and retail revenue.

Beyond these figures are unresolved differences in the way those involved in decision making perceive congestion and make their plans, and also declarations made by policy makers and regulators that doesn’t seem to match reality:

National Air Traffic Services (NATS) ‘From an operational point of view the reality is that holding is not actually a symptom of inefficiency. In fact, Heathrow Airport schedules holding into the system. This might sound crazy but holding is actually a very efficient way of ensuring an airport with constrained runway capacity, like Heathrow, makes maximum use of the landing slots it has available.’ (
Association of European Airlines (AEA) ‘Stacking delays are anathema. They have a substantial environmental cost and they play havoc with the airlines' schedule integrity. They also severely impact our customers, when an on-time departure turns into a significantly delayed arrival.’

British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) ‘The amount of stacking at Heathrow is clearly a problem and is a symptom of the capacity constraints we have. One thing that may not be figured into official holding statistics is extended flight paths pilots have to sometimes fly after leaving the stack which can add another 30 miles of flying and additional time onto the approach.’
EU framework for slot coordination ‘The aim of the EU framework is to ensure the fullest and most efficient use of existing capacity at congested EU airports while maximizing consumers' benefits and promoting the competition.’
Eurocontrol ‘Despite the prospects of slower traffic growth, Europe continues to face a severe airport capacity crunch (by 2035), which will cost airports and airlines in excess of €40 billion in lost revenues and €5 billion in congestion related disruption costs annually. ‘
McKinsey - Management Consulting ‘Increased congestion makes connecting flights more difficult to schedule and maintain—another problem for airlines as connection-heavy airports get even busier, leaving less and less room during peak connection times.' 
'Is a congested home airport a good thing for airlines? The answer is yes, at least in the short term; congested airports may give airlines an opportunity to increase revenues.’ (Excerpts from Gridlock on the ground: How airlines can respond to airport congestion)

On the improvement side, NATS is leading the way in organised actions on reducing airborne delays and increasing operational resilience at Heathrow. The problem is that whatever the expected results (which usually look bigger from local perspectives) they appear to be modest in real terms compared to the consequences of airborne stuck delays. Among the ongoing actions is the XMAN project launched by NATS in April 2014 with reported reduction of up to one minute in holding times with annual savings of 8,000t of CO2 and £1.65m in fuel - respectable but not sufficient to avoid being wiped out by even a small increase in traffic.
Similarly, the benefits of the introduction of linear holding stacks will be seriously challenged by a further increase of traffic in congested areas. “If a modern system isn’t adopted in the next decade”, said Martin Rolfe, Chief Executive of NATS, 'the average delay to each plane caught in congested airspace will increase to 15 or 20 minutes, coinciding with an increase in air traffic”.
And, in the same way, continuous expansion in congested areas reduced the expected benefits of Operational Freedoms Trial project finalised in 2013. As explained by Chief Executives of CAA and NATS during Government inquiry on aviation strategy, the focus was on the creation of more space for resilience at Heathrow rather than adding more aircraft to it – something that airports and airlines are still not ready to accept.

Will other airports follow Heathrow example? Hopefully not. The holding stacks example demonstrates how much harm the decision to force extension of capacity constrained airport in the air brings to the system. It gives glimpses of insights into what the true problems really are and some indications on how they can be tackled and resolved. 

There is no shortage of good proposals and general guidance for better utilisation of available airport capacities in Europe and UK during the next couple of decades. Most of them, however, will take time to implement and may not remain as efficient in the environment that is constantly changing. What is really missing are practical solutions for reducing the impact of congestion related disruptions on ongoing basis, making gradual adjustments of planned traffic, and measure the progress at system level. 

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

The Disruptive Nature of Regulation EU/261

Can responsibility for passenger compensation be more equally shared among those responsible for flight delays?
Interview with Sean Gates, CEO Gates Aviation

It's been eleven years since introduction of controversial regulation EU261 which holds airlines solely responsible for compensating passengers for delays caused not only by reasons within their control, but also for errors made by airports and service providers. And indirectly, they are paying for oversights of decision makers at industry level (including regulators and politicians), who failed to synchronise growing traffic with infrastructural resources thus causing continuous increase in airport congestion and consequently flight disruptions.

To make things even worse for airlines, interim rulings ratified by the Supreme Court are further increasing airlines responsibility for delays. A 2014 ruling says that airlines can no longer claim technical faults as extraordinary circumstances. They now must pay out compensation for flight delays caused by technical reasons even when aircraft becomes unserviceable due to a damage caused by a third party.

Some of the rules are determined by the laws in respective EU countries so that in the UK, for example, passengers can now back-claim their delay compensation within the period of six years. According to CAPA, this decision opens the door to more than two million compensation claims every year in the UK alone, worth an estimated £876 million. Historic claims dating back six years could potentially add another £4 billion.

The issue is getting hotter as a new breed of airline losses starts to accumulate.
Who else can better explain the regulatory side of this problem than Sean Gates, recognised as one of the best aviation lawyers worldwide and a professional with exceptional understanding of wider industry issues (Sean's Bio).

It was my pleasure to meet Sean and talk to him about this topic that, as he said, has been close to his heart for a long time.

JR: There are so many undeniable facts about short-sightedness of EU261. What is it that keeps airline complaints ignored by regulators for such a long time?
SG: The pernicious growth of EU261 continues unabated – fuelled by successive decisions of the European Court of Justice constructed on the illogical premise that airlines can continue to pay ever-increasing compensation for matters over which they have no control, all at no cost to the consumer. Knowing this to be untrue, various representatives of the Commission have, nevertheless, responded that a fundamental reversal of EU261 is impossible given the mind-set of the politicians in the European Parliament. For the politicians, the regulation can be portrayed as a nil cost consumer benefit to enhance their reputations, regardless of the impact on consumer costs and benefits; and ignoring the potential safety implications.

JR:  What is the role of IATA in protecting their airline members from cost burdens caused by third parties?
SG: A significant proportion of aircraft delays are attributable to the actions of third parties operating at the airport including ground handlers and others. With the increasing cost of EU261 claims, airlines are understandably reviewing, yet again, their rights to recover the amounts they are obliged to pay. If the damage is caused by third parties with whom the airline is not in contract that should cause little difficulty, but where the damage is caused by a ground handler with whom the airline is in contract – as is usually the case – the claims are abandoned and shoulders are shrugged at the prospect of the application of Article 8 of the ubiquitous IATA Ground Handling Agreement. There are various iterations of this agreement in existence; but in broad terms the agreement seeks to limit an airline’s right to compensation for its losses to direct repair costs capped at a limited figure with an exclusion of what are described as consequential losses, except where the damage was caused by recklessness with knowledge that damage would probably result.

JR: It seems that ambiguities of IATA Article 8/SGHA and new recommendations in Chapter 660/AHM regarding consequential losses (opposed by handlers) only add additional burden to airlines?
SG: To many, these provisions seem an insuperable bar to recovering losses sustained by an airline as a consequence of the operation of EU261 since it is assumed such losses are to be regarded as consequential. And since it is also believed that proving recklessness, let alone knowledge of the probability of damage, represents an excessively onerous burden; the costs would probably exceed the recovery.

JR: Why is the agreement so harsh on carriers when it is supposedly the result of measured deliberation between airlines and ground handlers within the auspices of IATA?
SG: The answer is, largely, ignorance and misrepresentation. Ground handlers (and even some airlines who also handle) pedal the view that if ground handlers were responsible for consequential damages, handling costs would skyrocket because of the concomitant increase in their insurance costs and, therefore, their charges to the airlines. Those propositions are untenable – if no damage is done, insurance costs do not increase. If an inferior handler repeatedly causes damage then its cost of insurance may increase compared to those of efficient handlers. All this means is that competition would weed out incompetence. In today’s insurance market it is, in any event, highly unlikely that premiums would increases a consequence of a few losses. They would certainly not increase until loss experience justified it.

JR: Ironically, it seems that the consequence of the current regime is effectively that airlines are the insurers of ground handlers with regard to consequential losses?
SG: Yes, as those losses are not recoverable from the airline’s own insurers (other than in a modest way with regard to business interruption) so the subsidiary argument of handlers that the agreement reduces industry costs by eliminating double insurance is also palpably untrue.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

What is the type of organisation you work for - Machine, Professional, Entrepreneurial, or Project oriented?

In his latest post 'Species of Organisation' Henry Mintzberg's shares his unorthodox and insightful views on the way we understand and 'discuss' organisations often unaware about how much the interplay between structures, management style, power relationships, and culture affects the company's output.

There are species of organizations just as there are species of animals. Don’t mix them up. A bear is not a beaver; one winters in caves, the other in wooden structures they build for themselves. Hospitals are not factories; advertising agencies are not fast food companies.

This may seem obvious, but while we recognize the different species of animals, we often mix up the different species of organizations. How often have management consultants come into one kind of organization and treated it like another—say tried to deal with a hospital the way they have just dealt with an automobile factory. (It might work in the cafeteria, but how about geriatrics?) Of course, we do use these kinds of words—hospitals, advertising agencies—but they designate industries, not the nature of their organizations.

Years ago I set out to address this problem, in a book called The Structuring of Organizations (later issued in shorter form called Structure in Fives). It has proved to be my most successful book, for many years widely used in schools around the world. But not successful enough: the way we discuss organizations remains primitive. So let me offer my framework of four basic species of organizations.

The Machine Organization  Many organizations function like well-oiled machines. They are about efficiency, namely getting the greatest quantitative bang for the quantitative buck. Accordingly, everything is programmed, to the finest detail—for example how many seconds before a McDonald’s cook turns over a hamburger patty. This makes it easy to train the workers, but not to keep these workers: their jobs can be boring and the controls stifling. The machine organization is great at what it does well—we want that wake-up call in the hotel at 8:00, not 8:01—but not outside its own context. (Would you like to lift the pillow in your hotel room and have a Jack-in-the-box jump up and say “Surprise!” You are not there to be amused. But you are in a movie theatre, so beware of films made by machine-like film companies.)
The Professional Organization This second species is programmed too, but in an entirely different way. It is about proficiency more than efficiency. In hospitals, accounting firms, and many engineering offices, the critical work is highly skilled—it takes years of training—yet most of the time it can be surprisingly routine. (Imagine being wheeled into an operating room as a nurse says: “You have nothing to worry about: this is a highly creative surgeon!”) In the professional organization, sometimes people seem to work in teams, but in fact they are usually working largely on their own. Everyone in that operating room is carrying out his or her own procedures according to the predetermined protocols. More to the point, each of the musicians in an orchestra is playing to the notes written for his or her own instrument by Beethoven, more than responding to the conductor.
The Entrepreneurial Organization  Yet we venerate the orchestra conductor as if this is the epitome of leadership. Again, we are mixing up species. In the entrepreneurial organization, central leadership dominates, while in orchestras there is more going on than this, as suggested above (and as will be discussed in the next two TWOGs).  The best examples of this species are often found in entrepreneurial firms created by visionaries—as in the case of a Steve Jobs at Apple. Sometimes older organizations in crisis take on this form as they centralize power around their leadership to deal with the problem. And let’s not forget totalitarian political regimes, like Putin’s Russia. When the boss of an entrepreneurial organization says “Jump!” the response is “How high sir?” (When the executive director of a hospital says “Jump”, the doctors ask “Why?” In an orchestra, some of the musicians might have a tantrum.
The Project Organization  This fourth species is different again. Here the work is also highly skilled, but the experts have to work in teams, to combine their efforts for the sake of innovation. Think about film companies, advertising agencies, research laboratories: this is found in many kinds of high tech industries. Here the experts work on projects, to create novel outputs—a film, an ad campaign, a new product. (Over the years I have called this species the Innovative Organization, and Adhocracy.) To understand the project organization, and if you are one of its managers not screw it up entirely, you have to appreciate that it gets its effectiveness by being inefficient. Without some slack, innovation dies.

Each of these species requires its own kind of structure, its own style of management, very different power relationships, and so on. I have no space to go into all of this here—an accessible reference, mentioned at the end, does that. Let me just add that these forms don’t just HAVE different cultures; they ARE different cultures. Walk into different ones and you can almost smell the differences.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Why Airlines Cannot Recover Disruption Losses Caused By Outsourced Handlers Who Damaged Their Aircraft, And What Needs To Be Done To Make Their Claims Successful

Interview with Ivar Busk

Airlines pay a high price for their ignorance about origins and true value of disruption costs. This increases their business vulnerability including unexpected events caused by external service providers. Among the most costly ones are ground handling incidents resulting in aircraft damage which cost major airlines over $10 billion annually. The majority of these costs are disruption related and impossible to recover using the existing, oversimplified methodologies. 

Instead of introducing the effective disruption cost/cause tracking methodologies as an integral part of airline decision making and applying them when needed, like in the case of recovering costs of aircraft damage, airlines either do nothing (and pay a high price when incidents happen), or opt for insurance protection with high premiums, high deductibles, and high legal charges when involved in long, hard to win disputes. This doesn't mean that carriers should not be insured against this kind of losses, but relaying exclusively on insurance protection they miss to understand their true exposure to risk of aircraft damage and work on its prevention and better protection. In this way airlines let this kind of ground handling incidents grow unnoticed and, apart from the financial impact, contribute to slow but inevitable deterioration of system performance and safety, especially at congested airports.

How do airlines cope with these problems in real life? What are the challenges faced by people directly involved in recovering consequential costs of aircraft damage?

I asked Ivar Busk, a veteran of 34 years in this field to share with us his insightful views about this 'niche' industry problem with the not so 'niche' consequences on airline cost, revenue, reputation and ramp safety. Ivar's impressive career as an ex SAS Manager Insurance, Head of Airside Safety, Aircraft Accident Investigator, Aircraft Engineer, and member of IATA Airside Safety Group, combined with his commercial business degree from Copenhagen Business School, and education at USC and FAA makes him a respectable contributor to the discussions related to the improvement in this sidelined area of airline business.

JR: According to handlers, 'carriers have been asked to provide quantifiable evidence of their damages ('loss of aircraft use') and they found it difficult if not impossible'. What are the main reasons behind airlines' inability to provide the evidence of consequential losses resulting from aircraft damage caused by ground handlers?
IB: Aircraft damage incidents are sporadic and unpredictable events so their assessment and claim recovery has not always had a high priority, and therefore no specific development and practice for aircraft damage assessment and claim recovery really exists. The aim for an airline is to minimize both direct and indirect losses following the aircraft damage and at the same time try to establish preventive measures to prevent reoccurrences in conjunction with the line operation.
And also, because of relatively small number of cases on a yearly basis, it is difficult to gain experience in dealing with claim recoveries which then require external expertise to help resolve the case. The problem is that there are not many companies with sufficient expertise. In order to minimize losses some airlines have established an extensive network of insurance companies and surveyors that can help them with reducing bureaucracy, ensuring quicker and more expedient resolution, and increasing the chances to win the maximum possible compensation.
Nobody expects losses related to aircraft damage on ground to be completely eliminated, but they can certainly be kept at minimum possible levels. This can be achieved first by raising awareness about the full scale of costs involved in aircraft damage incidents and by organising the process in an efficient way. This assumes continuous monitoring of operational risks, particularly at critically congested airports. It also requires preventive system measures and guidelines for dynamic approach to identifying event specific indirect costs of aircraft damage without which claims cannot be recovered. Many external influences including the latest economic crises have forced airlines (operating at low profit margins) to take actions to increase the claim recovery. As a result, they have started to make claims even for minor damages.

JR: Are there any estimates on how big the costs associated with 'loss of aircraft use' are?
IB: Consequential loss ("loss of use") is the big item and is on average approximately four to ten times higher than the direct costs. A special development of a model for calculation of “Loss of use” is therefore essential, for achieving the optimal results. Airlines are well equipped with figures representing structured information concerning, crew, maintenance, passenger interruption cost, ground operation, sales cost etc., however the knowledge of how to put them together and present them, has been hard to come by.

JR: The content of ground handling contract can increase or decrease chances for loss recovery. How difficult it is to reach the agreement on consequential losses? 
IB: Agreeing on contract is always a big challenge and it is hard and often impossible to agree about consequential losses related to disrupted operations...

Friday, 18 March 2016

Applying Practical Wisdom to Solve Real-World Problems

Aristotle told us "practical  wisdom is the combination of moral will and moral skill."

Real-world problems are often ambiguous and ill-defined and the context is always changing. 

A wise person is like a jazz musician - using the notes on the page, but dancing around them, inventing combinations that are appropriate for the situation and the people at hand.

A wise person knows how to use these moral skills in the service of the right aims - to serve other people, not to manipulate other people. And finally, perhaps most important, a wise person is made, not born.

Wisdom depends on experience, and not just any experience. You need the time to get to know the people that you're serving.

You need permission to be allowed to improvise, try new things, occasionally to fail and to learn from your failures. And you need to be mentored by wise teachers.

(Barry Schwartz, Our Loss of  Wisdom, TED Talk)

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

What Stands in the Way of Reducing ATC Driven Delays and Their Negative Impact on Airlines and Passengers?

Interview with Capt. Michael Baiada, President ATH Group Inc

I was first introduced to Michael's work while writing "Beyond Airline Disruptions" and recognised the value of his out-of-the-box thinking based on his immense knowledge and experience. He tirelessly challenges old paradigms and pushes through inherited system boundaries which are slowing down so much needed improvement in airline operational efficiency.

In Michael's 35 years of flying as a commercial B747 Captain (now retired), he has also been actively working on improving the efficiency of the ATC system, so as to reduce airline delays. During that time, he developed RNAV/MLS approaches to land and hold short at DCA (early 1980s), represented Regional Airline Association at Air Traffic Procedures Advisory Committee (also early 1980s), worked on implementing TCAS (late 1980s), introduced the Free Flight concept with his Blueprint to FreeFlight articles (1994), testified at Congress, met and briefed 2 FAA Administrators, numerous FAA Associate Administrators, many, many FAA middle managers, top DOT personnel and attended 100s of RTCA, MITRE, FAA, ATPAC, ALPA, etc., meetings, as well as wrote and published numerous articles on this subject.

JR: Your years’ long efforts to improve ATC related operational efficiency and reduce airline delays are impressive. Can you take us briefly through the history of your involvement and how it changed over time?
MB: For the first 20 years of my efforts to improve ATC efficiency, I would have agreed 100% with those that believe that working collectively with the ANSPs (ATC providers such as Eurocontrol, NATS, FAA, etc.) was the way to go. But after 35 years, with no discernable system wide benefit, and, in fact, system wide degradation (IAH NextGen efforts), I just don’t believe that any ANSP can lead us to a solution for airline delays.
JR: Can you tell us a bit more about the reasons behind this belief?
MB: Clearly, everyone wants to see improvement, but I see the problem differently because I am asking a different question. I am guessing that the question most ask, is, "What can ANSPs do to make the ATC system better"? This question is so open ended, with no clear, discernible goal, and technology is moving so rapidly, while the ANSPs move so slowly, we will never significantly improve the efficiency of the ATC system. Further, this question incorrectly assumes that the ANSP can fix airline delays, which are 80% internal to each airline.

JR: Have any improvements been made over all those years?
MB: Of course, FAA has had local, but delayed successes. For example, closely spaced parallels (which I worked on as an Air Traffic Procedures Advisory Committee member in the early 1980s), the billion dollar ADS-B ground system (which has produced no reduction in airline delays) and FAAs En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM) equipment upgrade (although long delayed and way over budget, since the original program to do this was the 1980s Advanced Automation System or AAS), and, of course, they continue to operate the current system (albeit, safely, but inefficiently).

JR: What is at the core of the problem?
MB: As I said, it is about how you approach the problem. For example, the question I ask is, “What is stopping the aircraft from consistently doing an idle descent to a 5 NM final and landing when I want it to land”? Given that the pilot and most commercial aircraft have been able to do this for upwards of 30 years, the problem is not the aircraft, but the ATC structure put in place in the US since 1958 (advent of Positive Control Airspace), layer by layer, year after year, and continuing today.

JR: What needs to be done to speed up the improvement?
MB: Airlines must take more responsibility for their aircraft and customers. Once off the gate, airlines unnecessarily abdicate control of their aircraft to the ATC system, telling ATC to work harder, do better, and spend billions of taxpayer dollars to manage the airline’s aircraft and customers.
Also, as I realized in 2000, after the 5 year FreeFlight debacle and described in my 2000 It's the Structure article, until we find a way to remove the structure required today by the ATC controller to linearize and distance sequence the arrival flow, i.e., an alternative sequencing process to the current linear, distance based, aircraft flow sequencing, there will be no significant improvement in the efficiency of the ATC system. And, in fact, ATC inefficiency will continue to get worse.

JR: What do you think about ongoing industry initiatives including SESAR, Next Gen, ADS-B, Eurocontrol, FAA, privatisation?
None of these will make a significant difference. Only clear airline leadership, with well-defined goals will change this.
Hence my push to move from distance based linear sequencing to time based sequencing, i.e. Airline Business Based Flow Management (BBFM). Airline driven BBFM is the only way to change this, by providing the sequencing alternative that allows the removal of the current linear, distance based sequencing structure (RTA Path to NextGen).To make this change requires strong leadership and the vision that airlines can, and must move beyond what they do today.

JR: Do you think that improvement can be made in foreseeable future?
MB: Sadly, no. Airlines are unwilling to rethink their operations and move into the 21st century by embracing Operational Excellence (85% on time zero or A0, 8 to 10 minute reduction in scheduled block/gate time within 5 years). The concept of Operational Excellence based on Big Data and well understood logistics/Supply Chain tools, while well understood in other industries, is still not a concept within the airlines, who deliver 35% of their customers late. 

The simple fact is that Operational Excellence is eminently doable, highly profitable and is not constrained by ATC or weather. Operational Excellence would benefit everyone - shareholders, employees, the environment, ANSPs, but mostly passengers who would end up being where they want, when they want, at a much higher rate of success.
But Operational Excellence requires a change in thinking, where the airline takes responsibility for their aircraft and customers. This requires the airline to track and manage their aircraft, in real time, 24/7, 365. While this can be easily done, as validated by 2 Universities at 3 airports through Airline Business Based Flow Management (BBFM), airlines are not interested.

That said, the ATC system must remain responsible for aircraft separation, but, as well accepted logistics/Supply Chain tools dictate, sequencing is a task only the airlines can do efficiently, starting before take-off, continuously monitored and managed throughout the flight, on a flight by flight basis, to determine what airlines want each of their aircraft to do. 

In other words, most airlines have no interest in BBFM or real time, tactical control of their aircraft and other assets as they want the ATC provider to lead them out of their current operational morass.For example, when I speak with FAA about airline driven time sequencing, their answer is that no one is asking for it. Given the complete lack of interest by airlines, ANSPs are more interested in improving the current ATC structure, when they should be working on removing the structure.

Little will change until airlines decide what they want, set a specific goal, and then lead ANSPs to that answer. From what I can tell, not A4A, not the NextGen Integration Working Group and, in fact, not any working group anywhere in the world is doing this, and hasn’t done this for the last 35 years that I have been in the game.

JR: Why are airlines unwilling to do this, when their customers would benefit and the airlines could make significant cost savings?
MB: The reason stems from the current, widely held assumptions that:
  1. Operational Excellence is not possible.
  2. Operational Excellence is not profitable.
  3. ATC will not allow Operational Excellence.
Until these flawed assumptions are pushed aside, and airlines lead instead of follow, the airline delay problems will get worse.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

The Pike Syndrome

Our personal boundaries governed by our experiences, beliefs, and habits can sometimes obscure our vision of reality and become harmful. This state was named the pike syndrome after the results of the following experiment carried out by Dr Mobius.

In 1873 a German zoologist Dr Karl Mobius conducted a famous experiment with a pike – an aggressive fish predator. Dr Mobius put a glass divider in the middle of a tank. On one side he dropped small prey fish, and put a pike into another. The pike started to charge the minnows. It charged over and over, and each time it would crash violently into the glass wall. Sometimes the impact was so strong that it would float upside down for some time before recovering. Finally, after three months the pike gave up. After six months the glass wall was removed and the pike roamed freely among the minnows, peacefully sharing the tank. The pike survived by eating the food given by Dr Mobius. Other researchers have repeated Mobius’s experiment and results were the same. Some have actually allowed the pike to starve to death while minnows swam safely around.

To free ourselves from the pike syndrome we need to recognise and question routines that no longer serve us. The same applies to organisations when their core business values are being unknowingly eroded by actions driven by inherited, ineffective habits and practices.

Monday, 11 January 2016

How to Boost Airline Revenue, Reduce Costs, and Survive The Age of Disruptions

Being and staying profitable and competitive is going to be more and more difficult as we are approaching the age of growing disruptiveness and travel discomfort. According to EU officials, by 2035 20 airports in Europe will face the congestion that Heathrow has today. This will cause a further ripple effect across the airport network and potential capacity crunch that will cost airports and airlines more than €40 billion in lost revenues and €5 billion in congestion costs, annually. Airport capacity crunch will have severe repercussions throughout Europe. In particular, delays and congestion will be skyrocketing throughout the airport network, with average delay per flight increasing fivefold. The fact that these airports currently handle over a half of the total number of passengers raises serious concerns about the future of the industry. 

In this situation doing short term profit fixes at the expense of quality will no longer be a workable option. Nor will the rise in auxiliary revenue ever be enough to compensate for disruption losses in quality and reputation. 

The key to success will more than ever be in airline ability to control disruptions and there lies a big opportunity for improvement. This will be the decisive factor in ensuring competitiveness. Knowing how to reduce avoidable disruptions opens up an invaluable opportunity for reduction in cost and internal inefficiencies while improving passenger loyalty, revenue, and competitiveness all at the same time. 

The effect of even the smallest increase in passenger loyalty on the increase in revenue could be staggering, as shown in the following example:

Let's say that reduction in number and length of disruptions on the route A-B carrying 1000 passengers resulted in 10% increase in number of passengers, 10% increase in number of return passengers, and allowed for the increase of revenue per passenger for 10%. This will result in 33% rise in revenue - the work of geometric progression.

Add to this the cost saving made by reduced disruptions and you will fully understand the benefits of improved quality of operational performance. The sooner you realise this and apply the right methods for disruption control , the better your chances to be more successful than your competitors will be. See for guidance.   

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Astute Aviation - my next step

As many readers of this blog know, I am passionate about making sense of airline data that don't say much about the intricacies of things that shaped them, unknowingly contributing to undesired changes in planned operations and hard-to-identify operational losses. My work is focused on bridging this information gap by using disruptions as change messengers to access and address the origins of hidden but avoidable losses. Methods and tools designed to support these activities have evolved over time, bringing new insights into this still insufficiently explored area of airline management. My consultancy Astute Aviation is taking the next step in that direction.

What drew me into this work in the first place were the many years of involvement in complex decision making, especially while being responsible for managing commercial planning and scheduling departments - the crossroads of conflicting requirements between strategic and corporate side, and front-line decision-makers. My later involvement in strategic and operational management and also information and data modelling helped me get an insider’s view of these conflicting interests created by organisational detachments. At the same time these helped me to understand the interactions between data, people and process seemingly impossible to identify and control but essential for shaping the airline future.

The decisive moment that influenced my decision to do what I do today happened after finalising the disruption cost evaluation for a major airline. In order to calculate authentic cost of a single, but complex disruption event and identify its full operational consequences (including long knock-on effects), loss of revenue, and impact on passengers I was driven from one department to another, ending up with meeting 40 people across the organisation to finalise the project. The number of independent legacy applications was counted in hundreds and people were not aware about who is exactly doing what and where the information I was looking for could be found. The project ended up with astonishing results - the real losses were three times higher than the original estimates of £285,000.

This was an eye-opening experience. I learned widely and deeply about problems faced by almost every airline. I learned more about the ongoing issues than one could ever learn from all existing management reports put together. It has become clear that disruption loss analysis, supported by the right tools, can be applied much more widely to improve operational and cost efficiency and quality of service. A number of subsequent work engagements I undertook contributed to validate these observations further, and subsequently the concepts that underpin what I do today.

Bringing more authenticity and agility into decision making that cuts across organisations and domains has been central to my activities over the last ten years, including consulting, software modelling, articles and book writing, speeches, lectures, and blogging. My quest for contributing to better cross-functional decision making continues with introduction of the latest approach to managing complex contexts in complex organisations which is successfully applied in other industries. Applying some of these principles to airline industry has been a challenging task. It resulted in the development of enhanced methods and techniques to support collaborative approach to complex decision making in constantly changing airline environment. It brings together evidence-based and otherwise unavailable pieces of information essential for answering tough business questions like strategic trade-offs between growth, profit, and quality, problem oriented cross-functional cost reduction, and effectiveness of schedule buffers. Follow this link to learn more about practical benefits of Astute methods and tools. 

Apart from consultancy, Astute Aviation also offers courses and talks on the above subjects. For more information visit

Thursday, 26 November 2015

A Powerful Lesson in Simplifying Complexity

"When there are too many layers people are too far from the action, therefore they need KPIs, metrics, they need poor proxies for reality. They don't understand reality and they add the complicatedness of metrics"

"Complicatedness: this is your battle, business leaders. The real battle is not against competitors. This is very abstract. Where do we meet competitors to fight them? The real battle is against ourselves, against our bureaucracy, our complicatedness."

This are the quotes from Yves Morieux TED talk 'As Work Gets More Complex, Six Rules To Simplify'.  Hope you'll find it inspiring.

Monday, 5 October 2015

When Doing More Starts Making Things Worse

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, run more ads. 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 in particular). This is why we fail to notice the critical point from 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 wilfully 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. By letting physical limitations and wasteful practices go unnoticed, we unknowingly increase complexity and are later surprised by unexplainable losses, unforeseen disruptions, and loss of reputation.

The following chart 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.

I suggest that you draw your own inverted-U curve and mark the point that best describes your company’s position now. Then find out how to do more without giving up on quality.