Friday, December 10, 2010

Effective use of information

The difference in how airports are able to deal with their complexity is directly related to how well they manage and use information. In the words of the head of IT of a major European airport "It is not about measuring, it is about the use of information."

This reminds me of a discussion with an executive of an airport retailer. I had thought that they differentiate themselves from competitors by their shop concepts, by the range of products or in its collaboration with its brand and airport partners. Yet, he told me that the way they collect and use data about airport customers made the difference. Based on business intelligence they would know what to offer, when and where. Their key asset was not logistics but information about their customers.

What about airports and their knowledge about their customers? How well do airports use their information?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The problems with early flight arrival

My flight recently arrived early at an airport which completely surprised the place with no-one around to operate the air-bridge.

Does Collaborative Decision Making (CDM) address this problem? I would expect the ground handler to know what the estimated arrival time (ETA) of my flight will be. And, they should be ready when it does. With or without CDM.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Useless application of video walls

There is an increase in the application of large screen presentations of process information in airport operations control rooms. In addition to the standard screens on the operators' station, the control rooms are equipped with one or more video walls or large sized screens, displaying a summary of the process being supervised.

Often these overview displays look impressive and sophisticated. They surely contribute to a high tech appearance of the control room. However, further consideration may reveal that an overview display is a costly, often quite useless addition to the standard desktop work stations. See the following example where the center video wall continuously shows a Windows error message.

To be fair, there are a few applications of video walls in airport operation control centers, like to provide a common situational awareness to both controllers and visiting public or to highlight an area to focus on an issue for a specific group. One of the key success factors will be the layout design and the information design on the video wall, both derived from what the control center is aimed at achieving.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Does aircraft boarding impact on-time performance?

I think that the actual boarding process does not really impact on-time performance. However, the boarding process seems to be fastest if the cabin crew stands in the front rows and helps passengers stowing their hand bags. This is aimed at reducing congestion. At the same time, they can send passengers further down the aisle if their seats are there. This could be done by a team that moves from aircraft to aircraft. Yet, this is a costly alternative.

Experience shows that on-time performance related to the ground process is mostly dependent on
  • On-time boarding start and end.
  • Performance of cleaning process which defines the length of the ground time (critical path).
  • Cooperation of cockpit crew. The captain is eventually responsible for the OTP of his flight.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

airBaltic offers delayed arrival warranty

For a fee of EUR 19 (non-refundable) per passenger per one-way journey, passengers can purchase a guaranteed double refund of the ticket price (including fare and fuel surcharge) if airBaltic delivers their passenger to their final destination more than 1 hour later than promised on the ticket. This gift voucher can be used to purchase the next flight at the airBaltic website.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The real potential of Airport Collaborative Decision Making

The current scope of Airport Collaborative Decision Making (A-CDM) is focused on Air Traffic Management (ATM) problems, i.e. the turnaround process and departure sequencing process. In the words of a CDM project manager: "I do not care if a flight is delayed for one hour, as long as I have a predictable and accurate departure sequence."

This is limiting the full exploitation of the CDM philosophy.

To fully unleash the potential we should include ALL processes at the airport which include aircraft, passenger, baggage and cargo. Furthermore, CDM is not about information sharing only but also about communication and objective critique. Before making a decision in a silo, for instance a short term change of baggage belt, that functional area should consult immigration and the ground handler. And, if things go wrong in a process consistently (based on facts), we should work together on an action plan to improve.

Because, in the end, isn't CDM about excellence in the way we operate and perform, together and as individual stakeholders?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Revealed - five secrets of airlines to hide delays

Travel Inside, a Swiss travel magazine, reported beginning of September that Easyjet could improve its performance in August in Switzerland (Basel and Geneva) remarkably. More than 90% of all departures were on-time within 1 hour. What? ONE HOUR DELAY is still on-time? Would you consider your flight to be on-time with a delay of one hour? IATA thinks differently and defines a threshold of 15 minutes.

Airlines only cheat themselves with this policy. They waste their own very costly resource, their aircraft fleet, and even forget about knock-on effects.

There are many tricks of airlines (and airports) to hide real delays. Here are five of them:

1) Reschedule a flight; just publish a new scheduled time of departure, inform every passenger and you are done. It is a bit of a cancellation, but nicer done. A practice not really standard, but seems to work.

2) Compare off-chocks to estimated time of departure; instead of scheduled time of departure (STD), compare off-chocks with estimated time of departure (ETD) in your statistics. Saves you quite some delays.

3) Use your own standard to define when a flight is delayed; like Easyjet did with counting a flight as on-time when it is delayed for up to one hour.

4) Cancel a flight (or just not operate it); this is a very neat one. You can cancel delayed flights because of technical issues or weather conditions. Always works.

5) Change off-blocks time after take-off; some airlines use that, in particular internally, if not being monitored. Being very obvious, this magic is used with care, sometimes with the explanation that the time was not correct in ACARS.

Do you know more tricks? Happy to hear them.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Do you spend more when your flight is delayed?

When retail spending at an airport is stronger than passenger growth, it is a sign that the airport is encouraging travelers to spend more. The duty free revenue at Abu Dhabi International Airport outpaced passenger growth in the first half of 2010. According to Abu Dhabi Airports Company (ADAC), this is because consumer confidence is returning, and ADAC’s investment program and upgraded retail offerings.

Zurich Airport Shopping

From discussions with airport commercial managers I understand that there are a number of factors which influence the passenger spend rate. Some of them are mentioned above. One important factor seems to be dwell time which is the time, passengers spend at the airport. Obviously, waiting in a queue reduces the dwell time and hence reduces airport retail revenue. There is consent between retail and operations that the passenger flow should efficient (but not too efficient).

We wanted to know the impact of delays on passenger spend. There is a general perception in the industry that more delays mean more passenger spend. We wanted to prove them differently hoping to additionally support the case to improve on-time performance.

We compared passenger spend with delays at Zurich airport. Here is what we found:
  • There is a trend towards lower revenue with better departure punctuality. At the same time the passenger spend rate declines with more delays.
  • With more delays, delay cost offset additional retail revenue.
  • Passenger spend rate fluctuates, irrespective of delays, in particular depending on passenger categories. For instance, during holiday season they are lower than year average. Should be considered in further analysis.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Top performance with collaboration and leadership

Top performance in airport operation is not just a matter of chance. It is a combination of expertise and commitment in the front line, collaboration amongst various organizations and a leader who coordinates the efforts.

Every day a number of companies with disparate interests work together on one product, 'the airport'. How can this diversity of interests, tools, and processes build a unit? This is where airport operators can put efficient management and conflict resolution strategies, organizations, tools and processes in place, not only airside but also landside.

Friday, August 27, 2010

How to fix airport delays

Airport operators sometimes tell me that because of the interconnected structure of air travel, any real solution to resolve delays needs to be system-wide. What they mean is that government and airlines need to come up with long-term plans and actions to increase capacity and remove congestion. The industry legitimately applauds NextGen, A-CDM, and other national/international airspace programs.

What can and will airport operators do now to improve the situation? They will certainly act as soon as they are being fined over delays. For instance, Dublin airport  has been fined for delays to passengers passing through security and consumer dissatisfaction. Yet, this a fine for delays processing passengers through the terminals but not for flight delays. In fact, flights can still be delayed without queues.

Just like tackling any other problem, let's first start to believe we can resolve it. Maybe the problem requires innovation to surmount. Maybe we need first to understand the impact of the problem which is, for instance, the cost of delay rather than on-time performance in percent. And, maybe we can use that data to convince our partners in joining improvement programs and recognize that the airport itself is a system which can resolve issues.

Monday, August 23, 2010

From world class airport facility to world class airport operation

Hi-tech multibillion facilities shall place airports in the elite category of world-class airports. An exciting number of check-in counters, immigration desks, elevators, airbridges, and state-of-the-art baggage sorting systems are designed to provide a level of world-class sophistication for air travel.

However, does all this automatically deliver world class travel experience? My observation is that issues from the 'old' operating model might be covered by new facilities for a while but they will pop up at least in peaks and disruptions.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Changing role of airport operators

Airports used to be less complicated. There were less specialized functions, and they neither faced major cost problems nor significant infrastructure capacity constraints. They were managed from a regulatory and authority perspective rather than operations. The focus was on construction and being a landlord. Management processes were not too complex.

Since then traditional operational performance indicators and their relevance have not been reviewed. One example, I already covered, is the punctuality. It measures the percentage of flights departed/arrived on time with a certain tolerance e.g. 15 minutes delay. However, cancellations are not considered, there is no distinction between long and short delays, the number of passengers affected is not included and reasons for delays are not clear.

Whatever the airport's strategic position, being a premium airport or a commodity airport (same applies to terminals), there is a case to manage the operational processes and to manage the performance of all airport users - the airlines and service providers (e.g. handlers, ATC). The aim is to reduce the risk of complexity and the risk that organizations optimize their business at the expense of other stakeholders.

Let me give you an example, suppose that an airline 'runs' an airport or terminal. Which stands would they allocate to their competition? The easy accessible, nice and convenient one's?

Sure, for an airport operator to change its role is easier said then done. The airport operator will need to have the capability and tools. But from what I observe internationally, this is the direction airport's are driving towards to.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Airports grow in peaks

During the economic downturn passenger numbers fell remarkably. However, we noticed two interesting trends. Firstly, the record slump was mostly with local passengers, best in class airports were stable or increased their transfer passengers. Secondly, the peaks grew! Traffic grew where there is most value added which is obviously in the peaks. Difficult times for airport operation managers who ask for more resources while passenger figures are going down.

I spoke to a head of operations recently who was struggling with consultants who were trying to convince him that over time his airport would grow in off-peak. Definitely worth thinking about when you do your planning. Our experience shows that airports grow in peaks.

See this example: At this airport, the number of days with peak traffic increased dramatically. You will notice that year to date 2010 there were already 9 days with more than 75'000 passengers and 7 days with more than 80'000 passengers.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Six excuses for airports why punctuality cannot be improved

In a recent post I talked about the need to improve punctuality. I illustrated that the infamous metric 'percent on-time departures' is insufficient and inaccurately measuring the airport's or airline's performance. So if SAS claims to be the most punctual airline this summer then I salute them but I wonder what their actual on-time performance was. Wasn't there some airport closures? This is the first reason why there is no need to improve your on-time performance. You already seem to operate at a high level and the press and the public is happy.

The second reason not to bother is what an airport official from Sheremetyevo International said to Forbes, that in most cases, delayed departures are simply caused by flights arriving late from other airports.

As a third reason there is to mention that low-cost airlines frequently plan for short turnaround times on the ground. This can mean there is a higher likelihood of an aircraft possibly running late.

Let us not forget the capacity of airspace at many busy airports, air traffic also plays a role, as a fourth reason why we can't improve.

At the same time we can rely on Eurocontrol's delay analysis which says that more than 50% of all delays are caused by the airlines themselves. So, as a fifth argument, who should start to improve?

Last but not least we can disagree with the statistics, with the definition of punctuality (which flights to consider?) and the data source. Because airlines and airports do not want to provide flight information and share their on-time performance, there are some platforms like FlightStats that use any available data. We can argue, as a sixth point, that those figures are simply not correct.

Maybe you will find more of them and would like to share them with me.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Stay on top of the game

The Swiss Victor Röthlin won marathon gold on Swiss national day. His career seemed finished after a series of health problems, but he completely dominated the field of 65 men who competed in the 20th European Championships Marathon. This got me thinking about what it really takes to be a winner in business.

As I watched him run I realized that I, like so many others, had no clue of the training regimen required to compete at this level. Most people cannot imagine what it is like to train for a single race. Athletes at that level make it look easy. Sure, without talent they would never have made it that far. But talent alone is not enough. To be successful at anything, whether sport or business, requires a combination of talent, skill, and desire.

True success in business leads to high incomes, a flexible lifestyle, and the attainment of goals that most people only dream of. If you look around you, top business professionals make it look easy. But we can’t imagine the effort that top performers put into training. But top performers do. To be great in business we must invest in ourselves– mind, body, and spirit. We must train like an athlete. We must stay on top of our game.

How does this relate to Airport Operation? I’ve overheard operations managers describe the consistent high performance of top airports as “magical.” They can’t imagine the effort that top performers put into continuous improvement. They don’t understand that success in always paid for in advance. World class airport professionals listen and learn constantly. They strive for improvement potentials in their business constantly. The average and poor performers don’t have time to listen or to look for new answers, think that this is a waste of time. Or, they have more important issues to resolve right now. Some are only open for change when they are in trouble.

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Monday, July 26, 2010

Understanding airport passenger experience - information and communication

After a few bad experiences where the information about a flight delay was very poor I was looking for similar experiences of peers and came across this research for the UK Department of Transport about understanding airport passenger experience. It hits the bull's eye.

It says "Respondents wanted good, accurate and real‐time information flows to help them plan their journey and feel more in control, especially in departures, at boarding gates and in baggage areas. But information at airports – flight information especially ‐ was often perceived to be limited, unreliable and poorly displayed."

Looking at the delay information which is, for insiders, the (Public) Expected Time of Departure, or ETD, I simplified the categories of airports I experienced:

Unknown or wrong ETD
Know and control ETD
Display delay/ETD2
Do not display delay/ETD4
  • Airports in the first category are doing a great job. They work together with their partners, in particular ground handlers, monitor the ETD setting process and keep the passengers up to date about delays. Example would be a delay because the airport knows that the inbound flight is already delayed.
  • Airports in the second category do display a delay but they just say "flight delayed" or they show an ETD which is ever changing. This can be really bad when updates only happen after it has become clear to everybody that the flight will be delayed.
  • Airports of the third category do not publish delay information which sounds strange but it could be because of technical limitations or because they are in fact category two airports or because the airlines do not want them to publish any delays.
  • Last but not least there are those airports in category four that may stem from the ancient times where airports only felt responsible for infrastructure and neither for operation nor for quality.
In fact, all of the above about delay information applies for any flight information which is displayed to the public. And, when I am talking about publishing reliable and up to date information I also trust that the staff should have the same level of information and attitude.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The need to improve punctuality

UK budget airline easyJet was given just 90 days to ensure more flights run on time - or it will be forced to change its name. Background being that the carrier only performed at around 50% punctuality at Gatwick airport.

At the same time and airport (Gatwick) British Airways was the most punctual major carrier in June 2010, with 87 per cent of short haul and domestic flights departing on time and 86 per cent of international flights on time.

Can you really compare this? What can easyJet do to improve?

In previous posts I was highlighting some flaws of punctuality (on-time performance in percent) as a metric.
  • Cancellations improve punctuality
  • Indicator ignores size of aircraft and number of passengers affected
  • No assessment about the financial loss possible
  • Responsibilities not allocated
  • Difficult to determine improvement measures
It would be interesting to analyse the actual delay cost of both carriers, allocate responsibilities and then discuss differences and actions to improve. Certainly involving discussions around delay code assignment, reactionary delays and ownership.

It is great that punctuality is on top of the agenda. I am afraid, however, that the problem will be pushed around again because it is a bit more complicated than just punctuality in percent.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Dashboards versus Scorecards

There have been ongoing discussions about the difference between scorecards and dashboards.

In the book Drive Business Performance the authors refer to Wayne Eckerson (Deploying Dashboards and Scorecards, July 2006) with a nice overview.

PurposeMeasures performanceCharts progress
UsersManagers, staffExecutives, managers, staff
UpdatesReal-time to right timePeriodic snapshots
Top-level displayCharts and tablesSymbols and icons

Is it important to differentiate? Not really, both present a structured view of the goals and objectives for the organization. Key is to drive efficiency and help them focus on what matters.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Only good news make it to the top

Every manager knows that there are processes of selective filtration which occur in information transmission in organizational hierarchies. In other words, good news travel in lightning speed, bad news are filtered out. In fact, in my experience, they are filtered out only until an underlying problem eventually escalates.

I am not an expert on organizational behavior. Research indicates that interpersonal factors like subordinate's trust in his superior, subordinate's perception of his superior's influence on his career and subordinate's career aspirations are factors influencing the upward communication. The first one seems to be most important.

I am sure we need to work on the trust thing. At the same time we need to make sure that management has access to action-relevant operational information in due time in a simple and straight-forward format. You will now shout 'dashboard' but be aware, dashboards tend to be either over-simplistic or too complicated. The trick might be a good mix of relevant performance indicators in a dashboard format with a filter on what is important and drill-down possibility.

In a later post I plan to write about dashboards, the difference of dashboards to scorecards and why you should not ask managers i.e. users what they should look like. Well, at least not in the beginning.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Get rid of long airport lines

I like the idea of either measuring queues or tracking passengers throughout the airport to monitor and respond to queues in real time, manage service levels and improve management of the terminals. This is to ensure that passengers have more time to spend in restaurants, bars and shops, as well as improve the overall passenger experience.

Let's take an example. You can check the queues and queuing times at security checkpoints or immigration in real time and allocate extra staff if queues are growing and reducing those working if the numbers of passengers waiting are low.

A few thoughts here. What if the staff at security checkpoints or immigration is not yours to control? Having read my blog you will know that I believe in the power of transparency. How can we make sure that passengers do not queue up in the first place? What about the static and dynamic information you provide to the passengers; they will always have an impact on passenger flows.

My point is, managing queues is (again) not about technology only. It is also about a cunning concept, smooth processes, engaged stakeholders and last but not least performance and responsibility again.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Untapped revenue source for airports: information services

Nearly every airport has grown to depend upon the income generated from non-aeronautical means. With the sector in recovery mode, this is the perfect timing to revise the current strategies and help the airport business improve its revenue sources.

What about selling airport information? I understand that if an airport does not have such a business model as part of the concession with its airport users (airlines, ground handlers, etc.), it will be difficult to provide such a chargeable service.

However, it might be of great benefit for airlines, for instance, for them to control/monitor the service levels of their ground handlers (e.g. bag delivery times). They might be willing to pay a premium for access to such operational information without having to force them as part of the concession.

In my observation, an integrated Staff Information System (SIS) with flexible and scalable features can be can be sold to airport users at remarkable fees.
Yet, its client deployment must be simple and access must be secure. No specific hardware or software must be required to access. All content must be filtered and easily adapted to users and roles by authorized users. The data must always up to date without the need to refresh them, even be available offline. The communication between server and client must be very lean and secure and not to require a lot of bandwidth.

You would be astonished how much revenue can be generated from selling access to such a SIS, to airport information in fact.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Johannesburg airport handles biggest ever swell of visitors

Most football fans visiting South Africa for the 2010 FIFA World Cup are expected to use OR Tambo International Airport (ORTIA). In less than 50 days, the airport will serve as the gateway to South Africa for hundreds of thousands of 2010 FIFA World Cup fans and millions of future tourists. ACSA has upgraded facilities but has also invested in organisation and technologies to ensure great passenger experience.

I believe that an airport shows its competence in handling irregularities and events like the 2010 FIFA World Cup. A short glimpse at the current performance at ORTIA shows that the airport has managed to keep their on-time departures at a constant high level event though they currently serve about double the passengers per day compared to normal operation. A true mastery.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Measurable benefits of airport CDM

I came across a discussion in LinkedIn about issues you might face when implementing airport collaborative decision making (CDM). One of the issues mentioned was: "Airport stakeholders are not always fully aware of the costs and benefits that CDM brings. These benefits are hard to be proven at airports which operate below their maximum capacity levels."

I am convinced the benefits can be proven, even if airside (apron, taxi, runway, airspace) is not a bottleneck to an airport.

Firstly, it depends on what the objectives of CDM are and whether they are tangible. A target which says that TOBT and EOBT should be more accurate and reliable does not, in my opinion, add value to the operation but to the ANSP. Secondly, you will have operational peaks with capacity issues and which must be managed well, because that is where most value is added (or destroyed). Thirdly, there are metrics available which measure the benefit of less delays and more efficient processes for every stakeholder. How open is the industry and governmental organizations ready to adopt best practice?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Who should manage the airport operation?

I thought about starting a poll to ask who should be responsible for the airport operation. Suppose at a hub airport, should it be the airport operator or the hub carrier? Irrespective of the fact that a strong hub carrier will insist on being number one at the airport, operational decisions should not only be driven by the hub carrier. There are other airlines with interests which need to be catered, just look at stand allocation, for instance. And, decisions should be made value-based, creating the most value for the entire operation.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Accuracy of delay codes

Some airports call delay codes "lie codes". It is obvious that ground handlers will, in doubt, blame anybody else for delays because they may have service level agreements with their airlines. I have even come across airport where airlines insist on adjusting the off-blocks time so that they do not have to report a bad on-time performance to their headquarter.

How can this be changed i.e. improved? My little plan would include
- Accountability
- Transparency
- Standardization
- Governance
- System Integration

Accountability: Each delay code (with subcode) has an owner or responsible organization and the delay code assignment process is clear and in place (assign, accept, reject, handling of disputes, final call).

Transparency: The assignment and the on-time performance of each organization is transparent to everybody.

Standardization: There is only one definition of delay codes and delays across the airport based on IATA standard, incorporated in the Airport Handling Manual (AHM). Any non-conformance e.g. different reporting from an airline to its head office will be brought forward to the Governance Forum.

Governance: The Punctuality Board, chaired by the Airport's Punctuality Manager, with delegates from handling agents and airlines proposes and tracks action plans on punctuality. They define punctuality targets broken down to each stakeholder.

System Integration: Delay codes and delays are captured or integrated into one system. That system should also allow to automatically track issues of a flight which could have caused the delay in case of disputes.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Attract more transfer passengers

What is the secret to attract more transfer passengers from an airport point of view? The answer depends on whom you ask. Retailers they will tell you how important a great shopping, food&drinks, and entertainment experience is. Architects will insist on great terminals. Operations will tell you that it is about minimum connection time, short walks, and in particular bag processing. The latter being important because frequent travelers have blacklists of airports they avoid if they can.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Get passenger figures from airlines

You come across airports which say they are happy that they get the passenger numbers the next day. One airport thought this was real time. Another airport said they would have that data only up to 6 days after departure. This might be sufficient for billing purposes, but is it for operation?

I was not sure whether I should write about this in a blog. It is a delicate topic. Many airports strive for accurate passenger figures for billing purposes. And nowadays they would like to have booked and expected passenger numbers in order to plan and schedule resources accordingly.

You can imagine how tricky it is to get booked passenger figures from airlines when they are not even willing to share actual passenger numbers. There are a few options to get those data which are different for each airport. But, in my experience, even though it may take some time, you can get them.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

When boarding starts late

I am sure it happened to you. You are waiting at the gate and nothing happens after the time indicated on your boarding pass has passed by, meaning, boarding has not started yet. You ask yourself, am I at the right gate, will the flight leave on time, should I ask the staff at the gate, does anybody care about this at all?

Even though you might say that it is the Ground Handler's responsibility, contracted by your airline, an Airport Operator should be highly interested in measuring this because it is an important part of the Passenger Experience and step for on-time departures.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Why I don't listen to final calls anymore

A 'final call' is a powerful instrument to motivate passengers to go to the gate. Not so long ago I was having a beer with a business partner at a bar at a 20m passengers airport. When we read the 'go to gate' information on the FIDS screen we swung down the beer and moved to the gate. Upon arriving at the gate they announced the final call for our flight. We were glad we had made it in time.

However, looking outside the windows we saw that our aircraft only just arrived. Even with zero turnaround time, the departure would be late. The only options we really were left off was to sit/stand at the gate and wait until boarding started or walk back all the way to the bars where you would not get further information because there had already been the last call.

Would you trust any information displayed at that airport?

Friday, May 28, 2010

Imported Airport Delays

Airports having a hub function are dependent on delays which are "imported" from other airports. An airport is to be considered an efficient airport when the departing flights are less delayed than the arriving flights. Compare your arrival punctuality with your departure punctuality and you have a first indicator on how efficient an airport is.

Note that airports without a hub function will perform better than hubs. They can compensate delays easier. But the operational efficiency is a good indicator for discussions where there is a general perception that delays are only "imported".

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Baggage Delivery - A Crucial Element of the Travel Experience

Zurich Airport recently won the award for best airport baggage delivery in the 2010 Skytrax World Airport Awards. Skytrax Chairman, Mr Edward Plaisted said "The prompt delivery of customer's baggage is a crucial element of an enjoyable travel process, and Zurich Airport is clearly providing not only high standards of efficiency in this area, but most importantly doing so on a consistent basis."

I recall when we started to dive into that matter. We observed that airport and airlines cound not verify the service level though Zurich airport received a number of passenger complaints. When we asked the ground handlers, they would claim that their baggage delivery performance was brilliant. In fact, when we started to measure and monitor it, we discovered that out of 120 of 360 flights the bags were delivered too late.

Nowadays, the baggage delivery is monitored and the performance is visible to everybody. Passengers are informed at the carousel about the time when their bags should be delivered. The number of late deliveries went down from 120 to 10-15 per day. For the past two years, Zurich airport has not received any passenger complaint in this area anymore. Well, sometimes they receive complaints that it was delivered earlier than indicated on the information screen at the carousel ...

The importance of ETD

ETD is the date and time which an aircraft is expected to depart from an airport. It is also called expected time of departure or Estimated Off-Blocks Time (EOBT) in the 'airside world'.

Every flight has a Scheduled Time of Departure (STD), the date and time when an aircraft is planned to depart. All aircraft related processes (loading, catering, pax transport, boarding, push-back, ...) depend on that STD and plan their resources and equipment accordingly. Suppose there is a delay and no ETD is set. All related processes dispatch their resources wrongly. The STD time passes by and the push-back tractor is still waiting.

Who should set an ETD and when? In my opinion it should be the ground handler responsible for the flight. They should set an ETD as soon as they become aware of a potential delay. Which, in fact, could already be when an aircraft is arriving too late.

Obviously you can differentiate between a Staff ETD and a Public ETD to communicate expected delays more frequently to staff.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

About the exploitation of data

The means to capture data are well established. They are a requirement of doing business. However, data capture and processing and putting the information into the hands of the business users is not providing a competitive advantage. Everybody does this.

The advantage undoubtedly lies with your ability to exploit what the data is telling you. It’s about acting on it in a time frame that can make a difference; it’s about making day to day operations smarter. But current Business Intelligence (BI) systems are found wanting.

The traditional data warehouse has enabled significant advances in our use of information, but its underlying architectural approach limits our ability to optimize every business process by embedding BI capabilities within. We need to look to event driven, continuous in-process analytics to replace batch driven reporting on processes after the fact.

The goal of Operational Intelligence (OI) is to reduce latencies from a business event to the action taken. It is to make sure that opportunities are not missed, nor an expense, nor a risk that has to grow large enough to be spotted manually.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Resolve reactionary delays

Nearly half of all flight delays in Europe are actually "reactionary" or "knock-on" delays caused by previous late departures or arrivals, according to a new study of Eurocontrol. Unfortunately the study is an analysis and does not, despite some suggestions on adjusting the framework for reporting delays and improving the quality of the delay data captures, provide any means to tackle this issue.

We have come up with an approach to resolve reactionary delays. We found that we can attribute the delay cost to the original causer of the delay. That causer may still be within the airline (e.g. aircraft maintenance) but it is a much better decision tool than just 'reactionary delays'. It is still about responsibility here ... nobody feels responsible for reactionary delays.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Prediction and responsibility

Weather, astrology, champions league final ... a number of areas call for predictions. When it comes to airport operation it is about air traffic demand/capacity and surface demand/capacity with runways, taxiways, ramp areas and parking bays. Same applies for passenger flows with car parking, check-in, security checks, and gates.

We would like computers to forecast operations. But how far should they determine plans and schedules for operations, in fact allocate resources? How much can or should we delegate to the computer? It depends on who is held responsible for the outcome of a decision. In theory, with the decision right you should also delegate the responsibility attribution (blame, praise).

In my observation, users use complex predictive models as an excuse for bad performance i.e. decision making. They will tell you that this and that factor has not been considered in the model. So, give them some prediction which can be easily understood and still make them responsible for their actions.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The good, bad and ugly about transparency

We tend to broadcast positive news about us and our business immediately, in lightning speed, while we filter negative information. Anyone who has ever had a management position will be aware of this and the recurring escalations.

Full transparency about the production, the status and performance at an airport raises opportunities and threats. Transparency does, however, not mean to provide all data available. An understanding of the end-to-end process may actually provide more useful insight than numerous reports. And the transparency required by a duty manager may be different from that required by a baggage handler.

Good.Transparency exposes weaknesses and leads to rapid improvements in quality and efficiency driven by the managers in charge. It leads to more impartial discussions (forget about "always" and "never", we talk about facts). With more insight into the professionalism of the process owners, problems are better understood by others.There is less need for centralized command and control, because managers do it already for their part. The new culture of transparency ultimately saves money.

Bad. Transparency creates resistance. Some of the reasons mentioned against are "others could misunderstand it", "others don't need to know", "it provides us a competitive advantage", which is a good one, or, what I liked most, "it could show that we are not performing well". My argument against the latter is usually that it gives staff at all levels the opportunity to highlight what is going on, so that their management cannot stand back and wait anymore.

Ugly. Some managers still refuse to disclose information. While this stance precludes any degree of transparency, it may not be considered a showstopper. The motto to apply here is start with early adopters and then wait and see. They will come.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Culture of intelligent execution

I found this expression 'intelligent execution' in a book from Bruno Aziza and Joey Fitts. The title of the book is 'Drive Business Performance' and it is about the importance of business performance. It addresses organisation-wide cultural transformation as it relates to the adoption of performance management. This book illustrates that empowering individuals and holding them accountable is an absolute must.

Without going into the conceptual part of the book (there's a six phases approach), what I like about 'intelligent execution' is that individuals must have the capability and tools that they can make well-informed decisions where and when it matters. So, all great scorecards and dashboards with flashy graphs and charts are only as great as they deliver actionable information.

From a solo to symphony

Even frequent travelers cannot believe that the different organizations at an airport do not work together to provide one common "airport product" as part of their journey. For instance, when they have to wait for their bags at the bag carousel they would blame the lousy airport or maybe their airline. Insiders will tell them that it is a bit more complex and many parties are involved in processing a bag.

Now, should we educate passengers to better understand the complexity of an airport operation? Or, should we make sure that somebody is responsible for the overall quality and efficiency? And, who should that be? There are different models to handle the responsibility for the overall performance of an airport. The one that has not really worked is not to define it at all. Result is, problems are pushed around, there is a blame culture where anybody else is responsible and there are no action plans and unclear responsibilities in irregular situations.

I think that airport operators have a great opportunity to move from a landlord to a more active role driving operational performance. They can make sure that the solo played by individual organizations using their infrastructure becomes a symphony of great passenger experience.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Close an airport and you have 100% punctuality

I recently called an airport operation manager and congratulated him for his 100% punctuality during the closure of his airport due to volcanic ash. In fact, canceled flights improve an airline's and airport's on-time performance though passengers are stranded causing additional cost and lost revenue. This is one of the reasons why I believe that punctuality is an imperfect measure, even though the aviation industry uses it as a benchmark.

I would suggest to use delay cost per passenger as a benchmark. The total delay cost is the sum of passenger goodwill loss (measured in money terms), cash out, lost revenue, unproductive resource usage (aircraft, gates, stands, etc.). Then put this into relation to the number of departing passengers and you eventually know where you are compared to your benchmark airports. And, you can use this metric to set targets and to evaluate investments into on-time performance.

Retail versus Airport Operations

One responsibility is taking care of the operations side of the business. You know, making sure the passengers flow smoothly through the airport, bags are sorted well and travel with the passenger, the aircraft is departing on time, etc. Then there is the responsibility of collecting car parking fees, generating sales at the airport shops, etc.

The primary reason for conflicts between retail and operations is because they have conflicting objectives. Retailers aim for larger shopping areas and more dwell time, whilst operations wants to provide short transfer times, fast and direct passenger flows and on-time departures.

There are a few ideas which actually address both businesses. Suppose the policy at an airport is to announce gates at fixed times and as early as possible. This makes sure that passenger flows can be anticipated and passengers are at the gate. On the other hand, retail would like to have the gate announced as late as possible to increase the dwell time.

Why must the gate be announced at fixed times? Maybe because it is a standard operating procedure, maybe IT systems are set up like that, maybe operations do not know what the best time to announce would be. Experience shows that given operations has the capability and tools to decide on when to announce the gate, they can direct passengers through the airport, in fact reducing queue times at bottlenecks. At the same time, additional dwell time increases passenger spend rate, mostly on high street stores. Hence, both, operations and retail win.