Ops Warriors

Flight Tracking Evolution: Intuitive Monitoring With Flight Explorer

As airlines continue their evolution toward a more collaborative and proactive approach to flight management and operations, they need a comprehensive flight monitoring tool that takes decision support to the next level.

While operations planning is, for the most part, a fine art, a day of operations may require a martial arts-type of skill in decision making. The most skilled “warrior” (such as operations controllers, flight followers and flight planners) is the one who can accurately judge the situation and make a proactive or reactive decision at the best possible time.

The ability to see what is happening outside the operations control center at the airport and in the air in real time empowers operations controllers, crew schedulers, flight planners and flight followers alike to make the most efficient decisions, minimize the impact of delays and return the operation to its original schedule. However, they can’t perform at optimal levels without the latest technology.

As such, Sabre AirCentre Flight Explorer is the first solution that extends the flight follower’s vision into what is happening in the air by making actual aircraft position data available on the screen. It provides streamlined real-time aircraft data relating to airport and en route weather, flight hazards and dynamic restricted airspace. It also alerts the operations warrior to any deviations from the norm.

For example, if a plane goes off route or doesn’t report its position within a few minutes, the flight follower will be alerted and escalation can begin instantly. If weather conditions at an airline’s hub are drastically changing and stand to impact inbound and outbound flights, the operations controller can proactively evaluate what-if scenarios to minimize potential delay-related costs and apply them at the right time.

Tracking Actual Taxi Times

Five Delta Air Lines flights are in line for take off. The ability to track actual taxi times provides users a more accurate estimated time for take off. A visibility of a taxi queue after landing gives users a better timeframe when their monitored plane will be parked at the gate.

Flight Explorer enables operations controllers and crew schedulers to optimally monitor their flights at the airport through surface tracking, as well as monitor taxi times, estimated times of arrival and estimated times of departure. Moreover, in the case of tarmac delays, an airline can avoid the crew going illegal, as well as U.S. Department of Transportation fines.

Even beyond advanced flight monitoring capabilities, Flight Explorer is truly unique in its integration with the flight-planning function. This level of integration supports collaboration and joint decision making, as well as increased productivity. For instance, a flight planner can change the route graphically in Flight Explorer and send it to the flight-planning system for recalculation.

How It Works

Flight Explorer has comprehensive and streamlined data access through its ability to include and ingest all available industry data sources, including:

  • Air traffic control,
  • ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast),
  • ACARS (Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System) ,
  • Weather,
  • Flight hazards,
  • Dynamic restricted airspace information.

In addition to merged data in a single display with a powerful monitoring engine, Flight Explorer is known for its exceptional software quality. It also has a superior up-time rate, with 10 years of uninterrupted service to customers. The system is highly configurable, allowing customization of the graphical user interface to a user’s preferences. It also enables users to define monitoring thresholds for both flights and airports.

“With its user-friendly interface, our crewmembers use Flight Explorer to maintain situational awareness at all times with en route weather, ATC constraints, flight performance information and more all layered seamlessly on one screen,” said Emir Radoncic, manager of dispatch support for JetBlue Airways. “To date, we are very pleased with the reliability of Flight Explorer.”

Minimizing Delay Impact

Here, the departure delay is 30 minutes over the acceptable threshold that has been identified by the user in Airport Monitor. Ground delay is also exceeding the allowed limits. The user responsible for flights coming into the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport will be notified by Flight Explorer instantly. With this information, he/she can proactively evaluate a potential aircraft swap for the next flight at DFW, therefore minimizing the impact of a delay.

What It Does

The evolution of flight tracking takes place in the operations center, where Flight Explorer provides the right information at the right time. And its monitoring engine is a critical aspect of the overall solution.

In November 2014, the first part of the system’s monitoring engine, Airport Monitor, was introduced. While a user is monitoring his or her flights, Airport Monitor sends alerts about real-time and future weather-changing conditions at the airports from which flights are arriving or departing. As Flight Explorer is processing METAR and TAF weather reports along with U.S. Federal Aviation Administration delay information, Airport Monitor will change the status of each monitored airport. The result is a streamlined workflow, which reduces workload and provides accurate, real-time data in a single tool for enhanced situational awareness.

In June, the second half of the monitoring engine, Fleet Monitor, was released. Fleet Monitor integrates existing airport thresholds from the airport monitor, and it displays changes in airport conditions based on real-time data.

For example, if the destination airport for a flight is experiencing severe weather, the flight changes color on the Fleet Monitor dashboard and alerts the user.

Previously, if a flight was out of contact and hadn’t provided a position report in a timely manner, a flight follower would not be aware unless he or she investigated the specific flight. With Flight Explorer, flight followers set up thresholds and are alerted when a flight doesn’t report its position within the threshold. This capability enables management by exception and ensures that the entire fleet is well monitored. A user can also configure alerting thresholds for:

  • Taxi times;
  • Deviations from estimated time of arrival, estimated time of departure and planned route;
  • Diversion;
  • Holding;
  • Emergency beacon codes;
  • Expected departure clearance time (EDCTs),
  • Flight plan filed timeframes;
  • Distance from destination.
Configurable Airport List

A detachable, dynamically updated view represents a single view of all monitored airports by the user. When open, it will dynamically update airport information, alerting the user on the severity of the conditions at each airport. Information displayed in the airport list can be configured by the user.

In addition, earlier this year, Flight Explorer Surface Manager was launched, providing visibility into the current status on the surface of the airport. With the combination of ASDE-X and ADS-B data available for surface movement, Flight Explorer became a truly gate-to-gate flight tracking solution, bringing shared situational awareness across the entire airline operation to the next level.

Many airlines have been struggling with airport congestion. Planes leave the gate on time but then spend sometimes hours on the taxiway, waiting for weather to clear or for their place in line to come. Surface Manager gives users a view into this situation and, at a quick glance, they can determine exactly where their plane is on the surface and when it will take off.

“Flight Explorer allows seamless monitoring of flights and the NAS through all stages of planning and flight following,” said Jon Weaver, director of operations control center for Virgin America. “Highly customizable alerts support our operations team in proactive planning to better serve our guests. Dynamic rerouting through integration with our flight planning system saves dispatchers valuable time. The integration of Surface Manager has also vastly improved situational awareness of our aircraft on the ground. Flight Explorer has proven to be an essential tool for Virgin America operations.”

Comprehensive Flight Tracking

Surface Manager is a gate-to-gate tracking solution. A user can track a monitored flight all the way to the gate. Flight DAL2, as assigned, is parked at gate B25, Terminal 4, John F Kennedy International Airport.

Lean, Intuitive Decision Making

With advanced monitoring capabilities, Flight Explorer simultaneously enhances situational awareness while reducing distractions when having to look for additional information, thereby increasing efficiency in decision making and helping minimize the impact of disruptions. Using Flight Explorer, airlines have found that their flight followers are able to effectively manage up to 50 percent more flights per shift.

Flight planners, crew schedulers and operations controllers take action based on reliable actual data versus estimates, therefore increasing the quality of their decisions. They also no longer have to look for information for each flight. Flight Explorer provides a truly intuitive flight-monitoring experience through obtaining comprehensive decision data and streamlining it into an easily viewable format. There are no longer vast amounts of information for operations warriors to intake before making the call.

Flight Explorer, and its many supporting modules, provides game-changing solutions to some of the aviation industry’s biggest operations problems. From the ground to the air and back down again, airlines can identify, at all times, where their aircraft are, as well as how to keep their aircraft and customers safe using real-time data to track their entire fleet.

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