ManufacturingSeptember 24, 2020

Crew Planning & Scheduling: Rebalance, Retrain, Recover

The Covid-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on the aviation industry.
Avatar Aurelie Germain
Airplane crew planning and scheduling.

The Covid-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on the aviation industry, resulting in a near standstill of global passenger air traffic at the beginning of the crisis. The situation has marginally improved since then, but the optimism is cautious as fluctuations in demand recovery are expected and the airlines will face a long road to full recovery. Now more than ever, aviation executives are making difficult decisions about right sizing and rebalancing their operations while maintaining the ability to quickly adjust their operational size and scale to align with the changing market conditions.

Air travel during pandemic.

The Covid-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on the aviation industry, resulting in a near standstill of global passenger air traffic at the beginning of the crisis.

Agility is key for success. Almost all have announced staff reductions across the board, including pilots, who require a high level of initial and recurrent training in order to operate commercial jets. As demand forecasts indicate that 2019 levels might only be achieved by 2024, airlines have been working to significantly reduce costs to match their now-smaller operations. Meanwhile, they must ensure they don’t completely choke off the pipeline of pilot and crew candidates later. This is a very delicate balancing act. Most technology solutions for airlines were built for “sunny days” and were never engineered with the flexibility to address such a sudden and drastic change in the market, as well as the continued uncertainty towards recovery. The flexibility to assess and evaluate a wide range of operational scenarios is just one of the crucial capabilities necessary to navigate these unprecedented times.

Airlines will need much more flexibility to plan schedules around these changing consumer trends. Financial and operational flexibility equals survival.

Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO

Rebalancing Aerospace Operations

Although some governments are providing financial aid to support airlines in their recovery plan, it is helpful in the short term, but not sustainable. A continuation of low passenger demand in the near future has left airlines with no other option than to downsize their operations. The decision to furlough pilots is necessary to reduce cash burn, which would have been unthinkable last year, as the industry had been experiencing a pilot shortage. The industry was unprepared for such a cataclysmic change and found their systems and processes were not designed to cope with such scenarios.

Next to right-sizing their overall workforce, rebalancing the cockpit and cabin crews are especially challenging, considering fleet type, ranks and domicile, to meet the challenges of a turbulent demand pattern. Many airlines still rely on homegrown or legacy tools to manage their planning and scheduling for tens of thousands of pilots and crew. Some of the existing systems at major airlines used today were developed decades ago. Although they have been enhanced over the years, they do not provide the necessary flexibility and configurability airlines require today.

Flexibility and configurability are crucial to create strategic plans that in turn will drive better down-line scheduling and execution. Rapidly generating what-if scenarios to address dynamically changing demand patterns provides airlines the necessary agility to quickly adapt to changing conditions and see the detailed consequences of various decisions. Combined with the power of optimization, it provides a distinct and sustainable competitive advantage.

Retraining and Recovery

The next challenge facing airlines after rebalancing their crew workforce is containing the costs to ensure all the necessary training requirements are met. This is a complicated puzzle even during good times. Given the furloughs, fleet retirements and costly training resources, this becomes a herculean task. There are too many changing variables to take into consideration to execute this feat manually or with sub-par technology. Like with crew rebalancing, retraining becomes an opportunity to leverage more flexible, configurable solutions to automate and optimize the scheduling of these events.

End-to-end digital continuity across all phases of crew planning and scheduling is the ultimate goal and we will address that in an upcoming blog. However, given the current crisis, rebalancing and retraining of the workforce are vital and more achievable challenges in the short term. It is understood in today’s cost containment environment, that a full rip-and-replace to transition to full digital continuity is not practical or feasible. However, a solution that would enable better rebalancing and retraining is achievable without disrupting the entire technology landscape. Challenging times call for creative approaches that focus on operational expenses rather than capital investment, such as software rental or even a service bureau approach.

Dassault Systèmes has provided configurable and flexible solutions powering the aviation industry for decades. Full end-to-end digital continuity for airline operations is achievable today. Contact us to discuss ways we can work together to help your airline not only recover from this crisis, but ultimately thrive.

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