Teamwork at its best

posted on 12th December 2018

When it comes to improving operational efficiencies, many airlines still tend to focus on optimising flight-related aspects, such as fuel consumption, crew and aircraft resources. But punctual turnarounds have become a critical success factor for airline operations – and of course, ground handlers are very often a vital part of that process. Michael Muzik, a consultant for Lufthansa Systems Airline Consulting, shares his thoughts

During the time an aircraft spends between parking on the stand and starting pushback for its next departure, multiple cross-functional processes are executed by a large number of service providers.
Five big task groups constitute a turnaround: (de-)boarding, (un-)loading, servicing, security checks, and parking/pushback. Each task group features multiple sub-tasks. For example, servicing includes cleaning, catering, fuelling, and so on.
An optimised turnaround is teamwork at its best, comparable to a pit stop: a seamless interplay between airline, airport, and ground handlers. Turnaround management supports this complex interplay, as the time window for a turnaround is short – especially for short-haul flights that may require the entire process to be completed within 25 minutes.
When implementing turnaround management five areas are important:
• Definition and setup of a reference model
• Real-time monitoring (target versus actual times)
• Setup of service level agreements between airline and ground handlers
• Real-time/post-flight monitoring and analysis
• Optimising the turnaround mid-term

Values and benefits
Improved turnarounds provide multiple benefits. The airport may use its gates more efficiently. The ground handling provider benefits from better utilisation of personnel and incentives. Airlines increase their on-time performance by 3-9% and reduce costs due to 35% less ground handling-related delays.

IT support is one prerequisite for proper turnaround management. Most software solutions permit users to monitor turnarounds in real time. Alerting mechanisms will inform the user in case of process delays. This allows the turnaround manager to actively manage these delays.

Alternative improvement concepts
IT solutions usually only reflect the current quality of the turnaround operations. There may be, therefore, a need for additional strategies such as different processes, innovative equipment or new technology – as five minutes saved means a lot within this context.
Selected best practice strategies are listed here.

General cross-sectional approaches
Mobile turnaround solution: By replacing clipboards, pen and paper with mobile solutions, instant access to visualised turnaround operations and alerts is possible, as well as the reception of allocated tasks and immediate status updates if a task is not evolving as planned.

Communication: Phone lines might be busy. Communication can be problematic because of bad timing or noise. Going along with the use of mobility solutions, a group chat functionality enables immediate exchange of information between all parties. The use of text templates for recurrent topics boosts the efficiency of communication and therefore reduces wasted time.

Workflow support: The daily business of the turnaround manager is to request services from different service providers. Digital workflows offering ‘request–approve/deny’ mechanisms give all parties involved the option for fast exchange of decisions with just one fingertip.

Resource allocation: Real-time information about all involved turnaround management participants and turnaround tasks will improve task force assignments (for instance, an ‘enhanced cleaning crew’) in case of deviations.

Turnaround process improvement strategies
(De-)boarding: Some airlines have implemented measures to close the boarding process up to 10 minutes before the scheduled departure time. This allows sufficient buffers for dealing with irregularities (such as the need to offload luggage, or belated hand-luggage check-in) that might occur after boarding closure.
In order to avoid wasting those 10 minutes, two-door boarding announcements and boarding while fuelling are common strategies. Delays can also be prevented if interim cabin crews temporarily take over boarding until the crew on duty arrives. The seat plan can be retrieved immediately by the ramp agent on a mobile device in case of double seating.
Often, punctuality breakers are the laborious standby passenger handling, excessive hand luggage on board, and passengers with special care needs. New and more flexible concepts are therefore a solution.

Servicing: The use of enlarged cleaning or catering crews, a defined ‘quick cleaning’ procedure, and interim cabin crews for service preparation (similar to the cabin crew substitution during boarding outlined above) save precious time.

(De-)Loading: Typical accelerators are the use of both cargo doors, an enlarged loading crew and the display of real-time booking, check-in and boarding figures and baggage connections. The use of a load control mobile solution showing the status of the physical loading process (‘XY% loaded’) and allowing paperless updates of load control information results in better time management.
Punctuality breakers are usually last-minute cargo or baggage as well as offload baggage handling, which need revised approaches.

Security: A mandatory cabin security check might be executed by an interim cabin crew, in cases where the inbound on-duty crew is delayed. This strategy also helps if external companies have to do security checks, but need a cabin crew to be on board.

Pushback: Different angles during pushback have turned out to reduce pushback times and improve taxi-outs. Wireless remote-controlled tug vehicles provide quicker pushbacks than conventional tugs.

Mid-term strategies
Monitoring aircraft turnarounds on the day of operations is not enough. What if the same bunch of flights always causes problems? The root cause has to be identified: Is cleaning or catering always late? Or does the delay affect only one certain sub-fleet? Quality and performance management is therefore the prerequisite for optimising turnarounds mid-term.

The punctuality and profitability of airlines, airports and ground handlers depend to a great extent on turnaround management efficiency. IT, mobile devices, and accompanying strategies can all improve turnaround performance. The current development of the ground operations-related high-tech industry, based on biometrics, virtual and augmented reality, autonomous vehicles and artificial intelligence also provide great potential for improvements in ground handling – and we are only just beginning. Future ground operations will see tremendous changes. |