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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