Demand-Driven, Airline Operations-Integrated Schedule Planning

COVID-19 has fundamentally disrupted schedule planning.

  • Are the days for seasonal planning and slot management over?
  • Are your work processes and software tools adaptive to today's demands and accelerated timeframe?

Given the high degree of demand uncertainty in the market, having better data closer to the day of operation drives the desire to shorten the airline schedule planning cycle to a few weeks or even days instead of months.  However, planners need more flexibility and speed in their processes and tools to adapt to last minute changes.  They also need closer integration of information and decision-making with other groups (maintenance, operations, airports, etc.). Planners do not have the time or people to go through the "normal" iterative scheduling process or to rely on a rigid seasonal schedule done months ago.  They need a faster process with sophisticated tools that keep up with the speed of change in the market.

Inefficiencies of Manual Workarounds

Workarounds outside the system and manual processes may have been tolerable before 2020.  Schedule changes were smaller and less frequent, and most teams had more people.  Manual workarounds for things their legacy systems could not accomplish had become part of the status quo.

The world has really changed now.  More is demanded of schedulers at the same time as their teams are smaller.  Previous workarounds do not adapt very easily and cannot keep up with the speed of today's changes.  To help airlines adapt and thrive, airline planners will need to modernize their technology and bring in the capabilities they need to do their work.

Complex Optimization vs. Practical Decision Support

Using a "clean sheet" optimization model sounds conceptually attractive, but that approach has limited value for airlines with multiple aircraft types, codeshare agreements, slot constraints, etc..  Dealing with limited data and the complicated set up of "clean sheet" models is far too time consuming and expensive for most airlines.

The practical alternative for making better decisions and understanding how best to react to new information is to create and analyze multiple scenarios to be ready for whatever the market may throw at you. An easy-to-use system that provides quick analytic comparison and assures the operational feasibility of each scenario is a key for generating viable options and to support making critical decisions.

Comparing Scenarios

A flexible business intelligence (BI) tool will be critical for comparing scenarios.  Analyzing the schedules and reporting out the changes to the rest of the airline must be quick and accurate.  Downloading large reports and manipulating them in Excel will waste precious time and increase the likelihood of errors.  Having an integrated BI capability saves multiple man-days each month compared to using legacy systems or Excel.

Historical data used by traditional models has little value

Flight forecasting systems will be mostly useless for the near future and perhaps for a few years.  Route forecasts uncertainty is a real weakness of forecasting systems that work best with mature markets.  Instead, capacity decisions will move much closer to the date of departure.  The combination of recently flown and future bookings for each flight will be the best predictor of demand.  The schedule planning system needs to display and use this demand data in its decision support tools.  It also needs an easy-to-use integrated fleet assignment model to optimize capacity allocation and schedule profitability.

Redesigning Work Processes

Airline scheduling processes are changing along with the software tools.  The old business processes and limited integration between departments are less flexible or adaptive to today's uncertainty. How processes change is up to each airline’s unique situation.  However, the new business processes will require organizational integrations and software that is flexible from vendors who can adapt more quickly to the changing requirements.  New capabilities need to be ready in weeks, not months.  The environment will be changing too quickly for the legacy software models to keep up.

Where will Users get Support?

When processes change and new schedule designs are created, issues arise for planners in how to use their software tools most effectively.  Each issue needs a quick response from the vendor to help with a solution.  Having support people who are experts in scheduling to work closely with airline planners assures best practices and streamlined workflows.  Gone are the days when vendors provide training on the software and you are on your own for how to use it.

Best of Breed vs Contract Bundling

More and more airline procurement groups are seeing the risks of having all or most of their systems from a single vendor, especially when many of the legacy vendors are experiencing significant financial struggles.  Should their single vendor cut back on support or fail to innovate their products, it could create quite a bit of chaos for the airline, undoing any perceived benefits of a bundled contract arrangement.  There is much more openness now to work with a “best of breed” strategy that selects the best capabilities, usually from smaller, more nimble vendors with lower overhead, sustainable financial situations.

Going into the pandemic, the legacy software vendors had very high debt levels and over-reliance on ticket volume-based revenue which are now a small fraction of what they were.  The legacy software companies are not receiving the same scale of government support as did the airlines, so they are having to choose short-term survival instead of making investments in their product or in customer support.  While most vendors will emerge in some form from this crisis, chan ces are that the old market leaders will emerge smaller and weaker.

Zulu is becoming the logical choice for many airlines who see the current industry situation as an opportunity to create new competitive advantages. Contact us for a conversation about your plans.