Greater Connectivity Is Improving Efficiencies In Ground Operations
Airlines thrive on every measure of efficiencies in ground operations. The question is how to establish those efficiencies. Today’s technology and connectivity provide opportunities for enormous strides in forward-looking carriers’ efficiency of ground operations and resultant cost savings.
For every carrier, operational staff members at the airport represent critical points of customer contact, as well as efficient infrastructure in getting arriving passengers and luggage off the aircraft, putting departing passengers and luggage (as well as provisions) on the aircraft, and enabling the flight to take off for its next destination.
As a cost center, ground operations can make a huge difference in an airline’s profitability, or whether the airline can even be profitable. Therefore, any efficiency that can possibly be introduced into ground operations automatically becomes a major economic factor.
Automating staff instructions is an excellent move forward that has improved operations at many airlines. But huge inefficiencies in disseminating staff instructions have still deterred carriers from making quantum leaps in cost savings on the ground.
Greater connectivity of ground employees to their instructional source could be a key to really moving the needle on overall operational-performance efficiency, and therefore on cost savings that could truly prove significant.
The Basic Equation
It is fundamental in the airline industry that to properly and thoroughly address day-of-operations changes, effective and efficient staff management is vital. That means that effective and efficient individual task management is also critical.
For a carrier to effectively operate its day-to-day schedule, the staffing and task infrastructure must be fully functioning.
Among other things, flight schedules change throughout the day of operations, and disruptions either of short or long duration are inevitable. To have the capability to proactively respond to continual flight-schedule changes, airlines and their ground-based employees must have a method at hand to assign and reassign tasks, and to be able to most effectively communicate those assignments.
Furthermore, there’s increasing pressure to ramp up productivity using existing resources, thus minimizing costs, while also maintaining a satisfactory to superb customer experience.
Airport management also has a major role in the process. Daily operational employee communications must be streamlined, meaning task assignments and changes need to be provided through mobile technology in an ultimate effort to put the right people at the right place at the right time, and do it effectively and efficiently.
The overall objectives are both simple and logical:
- Achieve consistent and predictable turnaround times,
- Maintain and/or further improve the customer experience,
- Minimize costs through increased productivity.
In an intensely competitive era, carriers must satisfy these objectives, and thereby advance their opportunity to fulfill all other aspects of their business plans for profitability.
Staff Management Is Integral
When changes happen on the day of operations, all airport operations functions are affected, including departure control, the SOC, load management, gate management and maintenance. When changes in any of these areas occur, it affects where staff needs to be placed and which tasks need to be covered at which times. A slight change can mean that people are placed too early at a given location while another task somewhere else might need attention
Setting Performance Standards
One of the keys to operational excellence is a connected airport infrastructure with regard to communications, handling delays, assigning employee tasks and operating to the highest performance levels.
Highly competent staff management is absolutely critical to achieving effective and efficient operations. One of the most important moves forward for every airline is to automate day-of-operations task allocation.
That’s the basis and founding principle of Sabre AirCentre Staff Manager, which is a day-of-operations tool for allocating tasks to ground staff, including gate agents, check-in agents and ramp agents.
The tasks are created based on flight criteria. So the time and location of each task will always be dependent on the type of aircraft, when it’s scheduled to arrive, actual time of arrival, the arrival gate and other key operational factors.
Staff Manager is a management-dispatcher tool, performing all the allocation functions. The tool itself automatically allocates tasks, but tasks can also be allocated manually by a supervisor or manager.
The challenge, then, is being able to communicate the plan to the employees.
Airlines today perform that essential communication in numerous creative ways. Some carriers actually have a video screen positioned in the break room showing the Staff Manager task matrix, and each employee is required to go back and forth between the break room and the gate to work on and complete the task.
For example, an employee may be required to unload the bags from a flight that has landed and load the bags for the ongoing flight. Then the employee is required to go back to the break room and find out what the next directed task is, which could even be at the gate next to their previous task. That represents a lot of back-and-forth inefficiency.
Or some airlines use portable communications devices or cellphones, or any number of other ways to communicate tasks to employees.
But today, with the dynamic nature of flight changes, there tends to be a lot of time lost in the process of employees being assigned to their next task. Each employee is obligated to take time out to go look for the information, and find out what the next assignment is.
If the next assignment happens to be something really critical (or critically late or otherwise urgent), the manager has to call the employee. Or the manager otherwise tracks the employee down. Again, there’s a lot of inefficiency in that process.
However, new technology easily solves this problem.
Automate Day-Of-Operations Task Allocation
Advanced resource-management technology enables airlines to address operational challenges while achieving their business objectives and developing a level of confidence across the organization. The best resource-management solution will easily adjust based on changing flight schedules and ensure that resources are utilized optimally for lowest labor costs while covering demand for customer service needs.
Introducing Task Connect
This is the situation that Task Connect, representing new communications functionality offered as an add-on to Sabre AirCentre Staff Manager, has been designed to solve.
Task Connect puts the vital task information directly into an employee’s hands. It is a mobile application, and the employee receives the information on a communications device.
In turn, the employee doesn’t have to go anywhere to find the information. It’s already with the employee in the mobile device. The employee can just look at the device. There’s also the critical capability to “alert” the employee that there’s been a change.
This would come into play in the case of, for example, a change of gate for the arriving aircraft. Or perhaps the flight is delayed, and the employee is now assigned to another task in a short timeframe.
Under the previous circumstance, in which the employee had to go to the break room to find out what the next task is, by the time the employee arrived at the gate, the gate may have changed, or the flight may have been delayed or even come in early.
So the device can alert the employee that there’s been a change. If the arriving aircraft has now been changed to arrive at a gate that’s a considerable distance away, the employee may receive another flight assignment that’s closer at hand.
Without that level of seamless communication, what has often happened is that an employee has simply been left on the original assignment, because there’s been no way to contact the employee.
The Task Connect communications capability, then, represents an enormous logistical improvement.
Among the broader characteristics of the Task Connect communications capabilities, employees have a limited bidirectional communication opportunity.
After Staff Manager sends a task out to the employee, the employee then, in turn, looks at the task as listed on the communications device, and that task is marked as “acknowledged” in a message back to Staff Manager.
The employee can then start the task and complete the task. Again, the employee updates the status of the task back to Staff Manager at the stage of starting and at the stage of completing. As a result, the employee’s manager or supervisor can see who among the employees have seen their task, who has started their task and who has completed their task. The supervisor can also create alerts for employees.
So one of the big advantages for the supervisor is improved visibility into tasks, and how the tasks are progressing.
The supervisor can also send a note to the device. At this point, the employee cannot message back to Staff Manager, although the task status is marked along the way, helping the manager or supervisor keep an eye on how tasks are progressing.
Ground personnel are often required to make a trip to the break room to determine their next task. For instance, an employee may unload bags from one flight and load bags onto the same aircraft for the next flight. Then he or she must leave that location and go back to the break room just to find that the next assignment is at the gate right next to the gate he or she had just worked. Task Connect offers a much preferred method of communicating tasks to employees, eliminating the downtime caused by all the back-and-forth time spent trying to determine the next task.
It has become common practice for carriers to keep people assigned to the same task just to know where employees are at any given time. With Task Connect, that “extended-time-positioning” aspect is essentially going away. The opportunity to gain in efficiency can be properly described as exponential.
Any time people are sitting and waiting to be assigned their next task is an indicator of severe inefficiency. But in large operations such as those at Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport, it’s possible to maintain fairly efficient operations by simply assigning employees to certain gates, where the employees can essentially wait for a flight to come in (which will happen shortly in huge airport operations such as those in Atlanta).
On the other hand, in mid-size markets the inefficiencies of simply assigning employees to gates, where the employees may literally wait for an hour or more for the next flight to arrive and depart, are simply not worth the cost, especially when the logistical efficiencies of implementing Staff Manager and Task Connect are an option.
Among other considerations, an airline using Task Connect in conjunction with the overall functionality of Staff Manager would not necessarily find itself obligated to staff up to as great an extent. More tasks could be performed with much greater efficiency by a leaner staff, working hard but also working smart.
So staff planning is simplified, and an airline can go forward initiating increased and enhanced operations with confidence.
Vital To Airline Performance
Staff management is critical to airline performance.
Automating ground assignments has proven to be a major move in the right direction, and now communication of individual tasks to individual employees is being revolutionized.
The bottom-line results for all carriers promise to be improved, possibly even exponentially catapulting savvy airlines to leadership positions in an intensely competitive global transportation industry.