Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Empower your Airport Duty Managers

Most often, operational problems are not caused by the airport infrastructure, but lie in the organization. You may find situations where daily operation is focused on airside and on troubleshooting only. Processes are hardly perceived as such and infrastructure and maintenance deficiences are considered to be issues of specialized services. Work is primarily reactive. Airport Duty Managers wait until a problem is reported and then try to resolve it or refer the caller to another department (maintenance & engineering, IT, cleaning, etc.). They do not feel responsible. The obvious reaction of the affected is to call senior airport executives instead to make things happen.

How can we empower our staff, intensify the dialogue with the airport partners and in particular implement a process focus?
  1. Assign responsibility for each core process to an Airport Duty Manager which covers infrastructure and quality of that process.
  2. Make sure that process weaknesses and infrastructure issues are continuously addressed in a structured manner.
  3. Define, implement and monitor service levels with internal and external partners.
  4. Discuss and implement contingency plans together with the partners.
  5. Establish a dialogue with partners on each management level with a discussion about quality and performance.
  6. Make partners aware of the issues and how you address them.
 And we may achieve
  • Better cooperation with partners.
  • Mutual understanding about each other's business and its issues.
  • Partners become more aware of what the airport actually delivers, day by day.
  • Airport users percieve the improvements in quality and performance and the image will improve.
  • More airlines are attracted.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

10 characteristics of Airport CDM culture

In their implementation manual Eurocontrol defines the requirements for an 'Airport CDM culture':
  • Agreed relevant data should be shared between all partners involved
    at the right time.
  • Data shared should be of sufficient quality to facilitate improved traffic
    predictability and planning capabilities for all partners involved.
  • Decisions should be made by the partner best placed to make them.
  • Decisions made should be shared with all other partners.
This sounds good, in theory. But how do we know? Here are 10 characteristics on how you can evaluate whether you have a CDM culture or not:

  1. Complete openness (well, I understand if you want to keep your financial data privately, but airlines: what is the problem with sharing your pax figures?)
  2. Admit your mistakes and errors (airport, please lead by example)
  3. No finger pointing
  4. Common and shared database (e.g. AODB as a central hub for flight information)
  5. Mixed working groups and task forces, so everybody participates in finding a solution
  6. Goodwill of all partners to find solutions
  7. Joint design of measures for improvement
  8. Experimental approach / test runs (do not underestimate the power of trials!)
  9. Free discussion of findings (the goal is always the same: we want to improve)
  10. Unbureaucratic implementation of measures

Friday, November 11, 2011

How can CDM help to get off the list of the 10 of the world's most hated airports?

Some of the international airports' reputation has been shaken with a world-leading news website ranking them as the most hated airports in the world. CNNGO.com published a report this week titled “10 of the world’s most hated airports”.

According to the journalist the most hated airports in the world are not the worst airports in the world. However, "the worst part may be this airport’s aura of indifference to it all."

Shouldn't Airport CDM also deal with passenger experience? Or, do we just hope that by exchanging information between stakeholders the performance and they way we deal with disruptions will improve automatically?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

CDM lesson from the movie 'Men in Black 2'

We all agree on the expected benefits from Collaborative Decision Making (CDM), but not necessarily about what it really means and how to implement it. What I like about it is that people start thinking out of (their) box. CDM illustrates the benefits from avoiding silo thinking and silo decision making. The silos that still exist at many airports.

Rembember the movie 'Men in Black 2'? There is a race of minuscule extraterrestrials inside a storage locker at Grand Central Station, the locker encasing their whole world. At the end of the film, there is even a much larger locker in an enormous alien version of Grand Central Terminal which seems to contain the human world. What about the lockers at the airport?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Airlines, tell us your punctuality

The Association of European Airlines (AEA) used to publish the on-time performance (punctuality) of their associated airlines. It seems that their airline members would not allow this anymore. Certainly you can use Flightstats, however, the information may prove inaccurate and incomplete. Wolfram search has a nice feature to learn more about airlines (US only) delays. Just enter the search term 'causes of delay of delta airline' and you will find a nice summary of Delta's performance as an example.

In a bold new move, South African domestic carriers have agreed with Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) to publish their punctuality on the ACSA web site. Passengers can take this into consideration upon choosing their carrier and the Airport makes a clear statement about the strategic value of on-time performance.

I'd rather have this continuous level of transparency than campaigns of carriers or airports which coincidentially happened to be the most punctual recently - irrespective of their size, number of cancellations, and number of passengers affected.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Airport retailers part of Airport CDM?

In a recent meeting I was told that a retailer had approached the airport operator to become part of Airport Collaborative Decision Making (A-CDM). They found this rather strange and wanted to find out more.

The retailer had done some research on the passengers waiting in the gate area. They discovered that passengers waiting for the boarding of their delayed flight would not give up their seat - even though they might be hungry or thirsty. The retailer would take this opportunity and approach those passengers to take their orders. In order to be ready for those situations the retailer would like to have early information about delays.
What a great example of opportunities created by information sharing! However, this will require reliable and accurate information about an expected delay and most probably the retailer will not be happy by just providing a FIDS screen to monitor himself all the time.

Just another thought. Suppose that the delay is rather long? Why not changing the gate to keep passengers moving through the restaurants and shops?

Monday, October 3, 2011

There is no such thing as 'Collaborative Decision Making'

Group Decision Making or Collaborative Decision Making (CDM) is about bringing people together to solve problems with the idea that they are more effective than individuals. But how are collaborative decisions actually made? By vote? By secret ballot?

When was the last time we actually made a 'collaborative decision'? Sure, we may have listened to arguments, we may have taken every possible information into account, we may have thought about all possible impacts of a decision. But in the end, for what is considered as my responsibilty and accountability, the decision will be mine. There is no such thing as 'Collaborative Decision Making'. There is information sharing, collaboration, decision making and performance.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

When to publish the gate information?

How many hours before departure should the gate information be published? Airports would usually publish this information at fixed times, maybe when the operational day starts, maybe a few hours prior to departure, depending on whether it is an international, regional or domestic flight.
I am sure airlines will want the airport to publish the gate information as early as possible because they want the passengers at the gate to make sure that there is no delay because of late passengers. Now here comes retail and tells operation to publish the gate as late as possible in order to keep the passengers shopping. In other words, to increase the dwell time.

I  had a rather bad experience as a passenger last year in a shiny new terminal which seemed to be run by retail. There was no gate info available, neither on my boarding pass nor on the FIDS screens. This was not a problem, I was sure, I would get that information in due time. I used the time before the indicated boarding time to stroll around, maybe actually do some shopping. When the expected boarding time came closer, I noticed that I had changed my behaviour. I had started sneaking around a FIDS screen, hoping to get some update. Nothing. The expected boarding time passed by and we were getting towards the scheduled departure time. Now my comfort level dropped immediately. I started to check on other screens. The same. Then, right before the scheduled departure time, the gate was published and I was rushing to the gate. Upon arrival at the gate, the latest information there told me that the flight would be delayed by 20 minutes. Now, apart from this experience, do you think that the delay would only be 20 minutes without the boarding having started?

So, you have both extremes where the passenger already knows the gate upon check-in, and the other end where the airport waits until the latest possible moment which includes possible gate changes. Maybe the answer is something in the middle, where the gate is published based on the best information available, actually known as dynamic gate publication. In such an 'intelligent airport' the passenger will actually be steered through the terminal, i.e. the airport operation can direct the passenger flow. There is evidence that this works and even increases retail spend. See also this older post.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Free Wi-Fi At The Airport?

There is no such thing as free airport wi-fi. It is just a question of who pays to cover the cost of providing the service. You may have come across this site where they list airports that provide free Wi-Fi. Advertising and sponsorship may be a way on how airports can afford to provide it for free.

At an airport I visited recently, however, they changed back from free wi-fi to chargeable; even though they pay a substantial penalty to government for not providing the service for free. Obviously the revenue offsets the penalty by factors. In fact, at this airport, despite the passenger, everybody wins from this approach, including government.

As a passenger, I would expect this service to be free of charge. Yet, how to argue against additional revenue? What could be arguments for free wi-fi?
ASQ Rating

ASQ Survey results show that  airports that charge for the use of wi-fi achieve lower satisfaction levels than airports which provide the service free of charge. This most likely reflects the fact that passengers are used to free wi-fi in other public spaces and do not appreciate the need to pay while at the airport.

Passenger Tracking

Using the existing wi-fi receivers at the airport, passenger locations can be determined. This allows to see where passengers congregate, how much time they spend in stores and restaurants and where there may be bottlenecks. With a more accurate picture of where passengers are and what they are doing in the airport, the retail spending could increase.

Do you have more arguments so that we convince airports in providing wi-fi for free?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Who is afraid of EC Regulation 691/2010?

The EUROCONTROL Performance Review Commission (PRC) has been analyzing the performance of the European Air Traffic Management System since 1998. Initially, the focus was on en-route ATM performance. Some indicators from this framework were selected in 2010 for regular monitoring of operational airport ANS operational performance. Three of the flight efficiency indicators have been adopted as airport capacity indicators for Reference Period 1 (2012-2014) in the SES II performance scheme:
  • Air Traffic Flow Management (ATFM) Arrival Delay
  • Taxi-Out Additional Time
  • Arrival Sequencing and Metering Area (ASMA) Additional Time
So this is all about ANS and EUROCONTROL.Why, despite delivering data to EUROCONTROL, should an Airport Operator bother about it? Well, it may fall back on them.

Let us take the Taxi-Out Additional Time as an example. The indicator measures the delta between the Actual Off-Block Time (AOBT) and the Actual Take-Off Time (ATOT). Now if you us airline data, they may report very long taxi times. Longer times than the Airport Operator. Why? Firstly, they may measure the AOBT differently because they use a different source than the airport, for instance ACARS. Secondly, since stations are evaluated against outbound delays, they will try to 'optimize' the AOBT to remain within the 15 minutes IATA threshold and report accordingly to their headquarters. You know what I mean.

Now here comes the problem. Whoever will get the blame (and potentially penalties) about long taxi times will have to demonstrate that it was not them causing it. As an Airport Operator, would you like to engage with the parties about this sort of questions when the performance regime has been implemented and the results have been published? Maybe the Airport Operator will already want to engage in the process to make sure that  questions about data quality, measuring standards, including reasons and impact of delays, is being addressed now.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Let us grow off-peaks

Many airports continuously operate at or above capacity. Not necessarily throughout the day, but during peak hours. The most obvious solution to this problem is to make the airport infrastructure match the demand. However, there may be economical, political, environmental, space, time or other constraints preventing this. What about other approaches which are feasible without major investments and in a shorter timeframe?

Obviously, you can improve your current operational performance. You will find posts here about efficiency and effectivity, basically doing the right things right. There is, however, an area I have not explored yet, why not grow off-peaks? Let me explore two out of many textbook solutions to this problem.

Peak Pricing

One straight forward approach would be to differentiate the price of airport slots between different periods. There are often significant variations in the demand for slots at different times of day, on different days of the week and during different months of the year which can result in airports operating at full capacity at peak periods, whilst many slots may remain unused at off-peak periods. If the price of a peak period slot was higher than the price of an off-peak slot the demand for slots may be rescheduled.

Aviation Marketing

Aviation/airline marketing teams work together with airlines to explore market opportunities, support start-up operations and to help maintain a positive long-term partnership between the airline and the airport. Now this sounds great and simple to attract airlines for peak times. It may be hard though to attract them for off-peak periods, but let me give you an example on how this could be achieved. There may be this legacy carrier which is the only airline flying a specific route. Suppose you can convince an airline, e.g. a no frill airline, to operate to the same destination during off-peak times. How? Maybe you offer them a kick-back for every additional passenger on this route, including additional passengers flying on the legacy carrier. Winners? The airport, the new airline and ground handlers. Loosers? The legacy carrier which looses some yield, but do you care as an airport?

I am not sure whether this works at every airport, it has worked at least at one. Why not give it a try?

Friday, July 8, 2011

Hidden Issues Behind 99.9% Service Level

Your IT Director is surely proud to constantly deliver 99.9 and more percentage of availability of systems and network. Though it is probably the most commonly used metrics, it is not necessarily the best metrics to use. It does not, for instance, tell you anything about the impact of a downtime or outage. What we usually would be presented are great uptime graphs like this one:

What does this tell us really?

Imagine this, due to a network or system issue, check-in is not possible for an hour. The check-in agents will have to fall back to manual check-in. In addition to cost of additional staff, this may result in flight delays. Again, what is your plan to address this? Buy more technology? What is the ROI?

What if you knew the delay cost of the affected flights and could relate this to the responsible IT department? You then could trade an investment off against the cost of downtimes.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

We Need To Know When Something Does Not Happen

An event is anything that happens. A business event is an event that has a meaning to conduct commercial activities. Examples at the airport include a passenger checking in, a runway closure, a change in the ATC acceptance rate, an aircraft touchdown, aircraft doors closing, and a failure in the baggage sorting system. Events small and large take place all day, every day in every corner of a company and its environment.

A fundamental characteristics of events is that they cannot be entirley foreseen. Some events require actions as a direct response, for instance when the runway visibilty drops under a specific threshold. Other events are opportunities that can be exploited. For example, when a flight is cancelled, the stranded passengers could be directed to a desk which requires walking through a shopping area.

Now, an event is "something that happens" which is fine but raises the question of what to do when something which is expected to happen does not happen. For example, aircraft boarding should start 35 minutes prior to off-blocks. For this we need to know the expected boarding time based on standards, we need the latest departure time (planned or estimated) and we need to know the current status of the flight. We need to monitor this all the time. And, we must make sure that we are not getting an alert every second in the event, that boarding has not started on time. Why do we need to know this information at all? Because a late boarding is a very good indicator for a late departure.

This is just one example of time-based or timed-out events. You may want to build this and other features on top of legacy operational systems or you may want to use our brilliant and proven real-time processing system to handle this for you for all systems, every day, all the time.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

3 Reasons Why Airport Operators Are Not Customer Oriented

All what passengers want is good service, including less delays and less lost bags. They do not care who owns or runs the airport. Though there is a lot of discussion about passenger experience there are a few reasons why airports are not customer focussed.

Here are the top three:

1. Airport Operators do not know who their customer is. There was this Airport Operator who had an executive meeting to kick-off their Balanced Scorecard process. The goal of the first workshop was to define the Balanced Scorecard. After a day's discussion they had to abort the meeting, because they could not agree on who their customer was. Airline or passenger? Or even retailer, or visitor? They all deliver revenue.

2. Airport Operators lack competition. In another post I was highlighting the fact that for local passengers there is no real competition between airports. Suppose you live and work in Zurich. Would you choose Munich or Geneva as your home airport because you encountered bad service at Zurich Airport? Not really.

3. Airport Operators do not think short-term. Airport Operators are a different species if you look at all the other stakeholders at the airport. Airlines, ground handlers, retailers, they all have to move quickly to consistently win their customers. They face high variable cost while Airport Operators are investment driven with high fix cost. Airport Operators think in master plans and capex and do not look at current customer (who is it?) needs. Not in the short term.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Refresh Rates for Visualization of Real-Time Data

What's your expectation of refresh rate for "real time" data visualization? One could argue that the refresh rate depends on the time when such real-time information is still actionable, i.e. you can still take an action to avoid an issue or to ensure an expected result. This goes beyond traditional dashboards which are being refreshed in intervals. You will have to be notified immediately when something goes wrong or when something did not happen in due time.

That may be a reason why the demand for refresh rates ranges from zero latency to hourly refresh. I would aim for zero latency. Because, as a user, I do not want to ask myself whether this information is up to date. Nor will I want to know when it is being refreshed. In a real-time / operational environment it must be up to date.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Why we wait for bags to arrive at the carousel

I received an e-mail from a colleague who recently experienced Zurich Airport. He said that the baggage was amazingly fast on the carousel and wished we could do something at his home airport.

My response was that there were a number of hurdles which were hard to overcome first:

1. Lack of competition: This is the biggest hurdle. Airports are usually monopolists for local passengers. If you need to wait a few more minutes at the baggage carousel, how would that influence your decision on choosing your destination airport?

2. Lack of awareness: How big is the problem? If the airport the asks the ground handlers about the bag delivery performance, guess what answer you will get? It must be truly excellent. What all partners are not aware of, that they are in the same boat, because the passenger will rate the overall quality. Maybe immigration could help with longer queues before we get into the arrival hall ...

3. Lack of accountability: As an airport you can always respond to a complaint that you are terribly sorry and claim that it is not your responsibility but the ground handler's or airline's. In fact, I have seen such letters. Well, some airports start to include service levels into their ground handler license. But, wait, isn't the airline (in fact the passenger) paying for that service?

4. Lack of transparency: The ground handler will not share their performance provided that the bag delivery times are even measured. Now, how can we motivate the ground handler to capture the first bag / last bag information and share it with you?

5. Lack of cooperation: Standards can only be defined and reviewed together. If they are not being met, then there can be a fact based discussion, where the airport is only interested in the output (result) and not the input.

There is light at the end of the tunnel because more and more airport operators become aware that passenger experience is important, in particular for arriving passengers. Even though some of them have no choice, this is part of the first experiences when you arrive at a city, region or country.

How to resolve this, how to overcome the hurdles? Well, true CDM (airside, terminal and landside), incorporated into the organisations, processes, systems and governance is a great enabler to achieve this. Why not ask the airport who was awarded with the best airport baggage delivery award in 2010?

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Cost of delays in Europe 2010

Eurocontrol is publishing delay statistics of airports participating in the ECAC (European Civil Aviation Conference). In their recent report they provide an overview of the delay situation in 2010. This report was used by a number of news agencies (in German only, apologies) to list the worst airports in 2010.

I used the report to assess the total delay cost of ECAC in 2010. According to the information I retrieved from the report, adding a few assumptions on the average size of aircraft and seat load factor, I came up with impressive figures about departure delay cost:

In 2010 there were more than 7 billion Euros opportunity cost to passengers, more than 2 billion Euros operating cost to airlines and more than 400 million Euros operating cost to airports.

And I did not even include the cost of cancellations which were estimated at more than 100,000 flights at the April peak of the volcanic ashes crisis.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Change happens in nanoseconds

This morning I was sitting in the train from Zurich to Frankfurt listening to Tom Peters’ audiobook "The Pursuit of Wow". After a while he talked about change and that change would only take nanoseconds, but to maintain it would take years.

It took me also a while (fortunately the trip from Zurich to Frankfurt by train is long), but then I thought he was right. A decision to change happens immediately. After that, it is developing the correct habits and putting them into play.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Disney uses a command center to shorten lines at rides

Does this problem and approach somehow sound familiar?

According to an article in the New York Times, Disney has spent the last year outfitting the Disney Operational Command Center to address that most low-tech of problems, the wait. Located under Cinderella Castle, the new nerve center uses video cameras, computer programs, digital park maps and other high-tech tools to spot gridlock before it forms and deploy countermeasures.

In recent years, according to Disney research, the average Magic Kingdom visitor has had time for only 9 rides — out of more than 40 — because of lengthy waits and crowded walkways and restaurants. In the last few months, however, the operations center has managed to make enough nips and tucks to lift that average to 10.

So this April, when we (my family) are spending some of our holidays in Disney World I will not only look out for improvements but also ask whether I can visit their nerve center. Actually, I am going to ask right now.