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.