The aviation industry is rebounding from the pandemic with flights having resumed and passenger confidence rising. There still, however, remain many challenges for airlines, airports and ground handlers stemming from the coronavirus and its latest variants – be it due to labor shortage, ever-changing governmental regulations or highly volatile air traffic. Therefore, from continued unexpected contingencies to labor-related issues, effective planning and resource management has never been more important. That is where optimization software, driven by advanced technologies such as hybrid Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning and proprietary algorithms, has proven an essential solution.
Addressing the “What Ifs” with Staff & Equipment Planning Software
For airlines maintaining on-time arrivals and departures is critical. Managing multiple resources from staff to equipment and planning for their effective utilization requires sound planning. Similarly, ground handlers must content with various operational disruptions, intercepting and resolving them quickly. For airports to function optimally, both airlines and ground handlers too must operate efficiently. Without this, there is a domino effect which has negative consequences across all areas. Helping to drive better planning is feature-rich optimization software. It supports optimum workload and shift demand planning, infrastructure utilization. For example, an airline leveraging AI-driven planning software can be applied to develop long-term, mid-term and short-term resource planning scenarios for staff and equipment. It can improve the assessment of flight schedule changes using “what if” analyses. It can drive significant improvements across many areas. They range from customer service, gate services and passenger bus services, to aircraft services, aircraft movements, loading/unloading, baggage services, cargo line maintenance, crew transport and turnaround supervision.
By applying staff and planning software, many benefits can be derived. They include:
- Better adherence to Service Level Agreements (SLAs) with SLA-based planning
- Maximization of resource revenues
- Optimal balancing of airport, airline and passenger demands
- Improved service times and safety performance
- Reduced capacity-related delays
- Enhanced customer service achieved by more consistent, reliable operations
Flexible Shift Schedules
When it comes to supporting optimal flight schedules, managing staffing fluctuations is critical. Employee illness, family needs, workers being detained due to a major traffic jam, or other contingencies can arise at any time, causing a last-minute disruption to a shift schedule. The pandemic has only increased these circumstances. Robust planning software facilitates the automatic planning of rosters with built-in flexible shift times so that fluctuations in staff requirements can be managed. The software provides precise demand forecasts and target staffing level capabilities that reflect flight schedules.
Optimized Workforce Planning
Pre-pandemic labor shortages have been further exacerbated by increasing staff absenteeism due to individuals contracting COVID-19 and forced to endure quarantine periods. In addition, we have seen many staff members fired due to their failure to comply with vaccine mandates and others who have resigned from their jobs because of these mandates. Leveraging advanced workforce planning solutions, airlines, airports and ground handlers gain agile decision-making support to achieve appropriate staff levels, improve management of work volumes and related staffing capacities, support work process guidelines and improve forecasting of future human resource demands. These solutions facilitate the development of optimized staff schedules, which not only help management meet critical staffing demands, but also enables staff to secure schedules that best address their preferences. This, in turn, helps promote increased staff satisfaction, productivity and retention.
Today’s most advanced software solutions incorporate extended monthly planning features that enable planners to perform their role covering periods of six weeks instead of having to develop plans to address four to six individual scenarios to cover this timeframe.
User-Friendly, Feature-Rich Solutions
Color-coded weekly visualizations, enhanced Gantt chart, user-friendly navigation and other features support ease of use and convenience. As a result, planners can optimize their time, planning and decision-making to develop effective schedules to a high degree of precision and detail. They can easily create alternate plans, schedules and what if scenarios that maximize efficiency and resource utilization. When accompanied by robust employee portals, optimization software enables workers to easily log in to view their work schedules and any schedule changes. This is in contrast to tedious paper schedules having to be distributed to employees and changes communicated verbally. Mobile apps further support online workflows, quick roster assignments, workload adjustments and the easy, digital communications of this information.
Pertaining to COVID-19 status, a digital tracking capability of the most advanced workforce management solutions allows for COVID-19 positive cases or those deemed suspect to be entered into the system to mark infected or potentially infected employees for quarantine and blocking from work assignments.
Among the projections planners can now achieve with AI-driven staff planning software are:
- Workload demand by qualification
- Impact of using part-time staff
- Workload characteristics such as work volume and peak periods
The software also helps planners in answering key question such as:
- How can we maintain or increase service levels?
- What are the relevant flight and workload key performance indicators (KPIs) for internal communications?
Workforce Management Solutions
In addition to advanced planning solutions, workforce management software solutions empower planners with the ability to address a myriad of criteria ranging from an organization’s corporate culture and governance requirements, to its service level agreements (SLAs) and government and industry regulations. These solutions deliver critical performance features, including:
- Daily working time demand planning that accommodates an airline’s, airport’s and/or ground handler’s needs in updated real-time
- Staff vacation planning functionality which captures, verifies and automatically approves vacation requests, while balancing them with minimum staffing requirements
- Automated schedule creation and publication that supports various planning strategies (i.e., fixed shift patters, free rosters, working time flexibility, use of external service providers, etc.)
- Categorization and management of staff absences, while automatically checking them against SLAs
- Informing employees regarding schedule changes, while continually monitoring planned and actual deviations
- Communication of each employee’s deployment status via an employee portal
- Classification and aggregation of working time, payroll, accounting, timesheet data processing and corrections, and working time evaluations
- Creation of reports and dashboards
- Easy changing of business requirements without the need for programming.
Supporting the Recovery
While the industry has a long way to go to return to its pre-pandemic levels of operation, a recovery is clearly underway. Challenges, however, have persisted. For example, the new year started off with a rash of flight cancellations. In the United States alone, over 8,000 flights were cancelled from January 1st through January 3rd, impacting more than one in ten scheduled flights based on data from the tracking service, FlightAware. Many of these cancellations came as a result of the surge in coronavirus infections among staff members. Major weather events have also wreaked havoc on airline operations. These and other disruptions will always be factors the industry must address. What is helping the industry better address the “what if” challenges are optimization software solutions that facilitate greatly improved resource planning.
Dr. Wolfgang Vermöhlen, Product Manager Aviation Division, INFORM GmbH