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The four core principles for planning holistic airport operations

Posted: 3 December 2020 | | 1 comment

Airport operations have always been a complex, finely-tuned balance between capacity and demand, passenger experience and cost of service, the predictable and the unexpected.

airport operations

Airport operations have always been a complex, finely-tuned balance between capacity and demand, passenger experience and cost of service, the predictable and the unexpected. Then came the pandemic, and predictability was suddenly turned on its head.

In a volatile world, the coronavirus has taught us that operational planning based on last year’s approach will not help us rise to today’s challenges – or those of tomorrow.

Truthfully, using stagnant and generalised data for planning has always been a flawed method. Digital transformation strategies that brought landside and airside processes together were already topping most airports’ investment lists well before the pandemic.

Now, gaining that holistic view of operations may well be the lifeline airports need to successfully emerge from the current crisis. Rather than being hostages of the volatility caused by COVID-19, airports can use improved operational visibility to take control and make timely, proactive, precautionary decisions.

If we get it right, the impact on the future customer experience is likely to be profound. With the ability to gain real-time data and insight per flight, operators can consistently and accurately match the demand for a seamless, safe, and stress-free journey.

So how do airports achieve this level of agility and predictability with their operational planning?

Create robust plans around flows

Instead of siloed operations by team or by terminal, consider structuring your Airport Operating Plan around the end-to-end flow of the passenger and the aircraft.

In many ways, we are already doing this with A-CDM, where multiple stakeholders collaborate on the turnaround. However, the opportunity exists to extend the A-CDM concept to the whole airport, to collaborate on baggage and aircraft flows, and plan for performance.

Principle #1. Create robust plans that reflect the flow of passengers and aircraft. Then, simulate and test scenarios to ensure you are continually working to the best operation plan focused on optimal outcomes.

Plan for delivery

Many airports are fairly mature in their planning discipline. Still, gaps between what is sought and eventually delivered, are now being amplified by the volatility and uncertainty, caused by the pandemic.

Planning for delivery means gaining as much insight as possible, as we move closer to the day of operation.

Principle #2. Explore tapping into new sources and the latest data available, be it weather information from the met service, airline load factors or ground handler operations, so you’re as ready as possible.

Flex with confidence

A robust plan is an essential foundation but being able to make tactical adjustments on-the-go is key to delivering efficiency and excellent customer experiences. Advanced data science and live data sources are vital tools to help you improve your day-of-operations performance.

For example: as the pandemic emerged in Europe, Keflavik Airport (KEF) rolled out a live forecasting solution to predict passenger behaviour in the hours ahead. By forecasting show-up profiles and occupancy by flight for arriving and departing travellers, KEF can optimise resource allocations, lane openings and passenger communications to match the new situation. As a result, they were able to improve security throughput, reduce immigration and baggage collection crowding, and boost traveller wellbeing and experience.

Real-time terminal-wide passenger flow data and integration with A-CDM then enables “closing the feedback loop” to monitor the effectiveness of the operating plan, and how decisions made have impacted the performance of the plan.

Principle #3. Use live forecasting driven by real per flight information to improve your agility and remember to review the outcomes – what you did, how it compared to what you set out to do, and how to make it better next time.

Adjust to the operating context

While robust plans and performance are usually measured against static Key Performance Indicators (KPI). The next step is to make those KPIs dynamic, based on what is essential that day.

No two days are ever the same. How do you make the best local decision to improve the whole local operating plan, and against changing priorities?

For example, today, a security supervisor may develop a plan for security staffing and lane opening, which is cost-effective and meets minimum KPI. However, as only local outcomes are considered, the supervisor does not realise the negative impact on non-aeronautical revenue, nor the impact at gate arrival time, if queuing passengers have a late gate change to a remote stand.

Similarly, a stand allocation planner could develop a plan that supports airline preferences for adjacent gates, optimises turnaround times and reduces towing costs. However, without a holistic picture, they do not realise that this creates crowding issues in adjacent gates, nor that the occupancy of arrival halls threshold is likely to be breached.

Similarly, a stand allocation planner could develop a plan that supports airline preferences for adjacent gates, optimises turnaround times and reduces towing costs. However, without a holistic picture, they do not realise that this creates crowding issues in adjacent gates, nor that the occupancy of arrival halls threshold is likely to be breached.

Principle #4. Use a scoring framework to empower decision making that reflects broader airport priorities and the specific operating context.

Predictability

A catalyst for a better future

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused us to reflect on the current limitations of operational decision making in the airport. And yet, we are encouraged by the opportunities presented by real data and joined-up thinking across the terminal.

By working together through shared technology built on advanced science, airports and their partners can simulate, forecast, and stress test plans holistically. Self-learning scoring models that adjust to real-time dynamics and data will further help optimise decision making against evolving priorities – improving operational readiness, whatever the situation.

The question is not when passengers will return. It is when they do, whether the operational foundations are in place to help airports take off again, with the agility to thrive in the new travel future.

In case you missed it…

International Airport Review’s recent webinar supported by Veovo showcased the key principles that airports should concentrate on in post-pandemic planning, including the ingredients for better decision making and the role real data plays in bringing agility and intelligence to airport operations. You can view the full webinar on demand via this link.

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