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Operational Planning and Preparation
With some understanding of the nature of an IOC, this chapter considers the extensiveness of planning and preparatory stages prior to the day of operation. For the IOC to achieve its objectives, sections engaged with pre-operational functions need to get a lot right. Subject to the specific function, preparatory stages may imply time-frames of many years in advance, as in the case, for example, of the airline’s choice of business and network model, development of route and port selection, and selection and acquisition of aircraft. With these all in place, of course, shorter time-frames apply to many other functions as the operating day looms. This chapter explains the business, commercial and operational factors that determine the direction and ways in which airlines prepare for the operating day.
The business model adopted by airlines plays a significant part in the manner in which airlines develop their network and their operating philosophy. Besides the obvious commercial and marketing needs, determining the desired model will have implications for schedule generation, aircraft equipment selection, service levels, contractual arrangements with third parties, especially for ground resources, and so forth. Adopting a modus operandi of continuous improvement, the focus of senior management is on external factors such as regulatory requirements, changes to competition, alliances and partnerships, ownership arrangements, and industry opportunities and threats, and internal factors such as cost control, productivity, and the need to meet operational and commercial objectives, for example. Differences between (genericallv termed) legacy or full fare carriers, and low-cost carriers determine the methods by which the airline will address these factors.
Network Design: hub and spoke vs point-to-point
A hub and spoke network design is typified by a central airport (hub), or a number of key hubs if the airline is of considerable size, through which passenger traffic is distributed often to several other destination ports (spokes). This type of network design facilitates intense waves or banks of flights1 several times a day, which generates considerable activity at the hub airports during these occurrences. The principle underlying this level of activity is the extensive levels of connectivity for passengers with the aim of a carrier fully retaining the travel itineraries through the customer journey. In contrast, a point-to-point model emphasises individual markets2 such that customers can fly directly from one airport to another airport, so long as the airline provides such a direct operation.
The hub and spoke design adopted by an airline at its creation (or recreation) determines the types of schedules that are produced to enable the banks to function as efficiently as possible and, as a consequence, the aircraft types needed to service each market. For instance, an international or large domestic hub and spoke carrier will typically operate wide-bodied aircraft as the spokes generate considerable traffic not only to and from the hub per se, but also with each other, due to the high degree of connectivity that defines the model. Point-to-point carriers operate over less dense routes as demand is more representative of the traffic serving the origin and destination only. Hence, aircraft choice usually (but not always) focuses on narrow-bodied types.
Each of these models characterises the ways in which an IOC needs to manage disruptions. Resolving problems that occur with several large aircraft (having numerous crew numbers), with high pay- load in comparison with more frequent but smaller aircraft with lower payloads requires quite different strategies and solutions. Airlines operating with a hub and spoke model may become highly exposed with the occurrence of severe disruptions to the major hubs, as a significant proportion of their networks may be affected. In contrast, point-to-point operators may be able to isolate operational problems to specific routes or geographical regions, and thus limit greater network disruption. These strategies are explained more fully in Part II of the text.
Aircraft operating across international boundaries must hold a route licence permitting the operation. The airline’s Scheduling Department, or an offshoot, will normally have arranged in advance for all appropriate licences, overflight clearances, arrival and departure slot times or any other legalities related to the network’s schedules. On the current day, any variances, say due to a diversion or requirement for additional clearances will be micro-managed by the IOC itself.
The decision to select operating ports is part of an airline’s commercial strategy and culminates as a result of months or even years of direction, opportunity, and negotiation. Although driven by commercial interest, operational input (e.g., from flight operations, performance engineering, the airline’s own airport representation, and numerous others) informs the process to ensure the port and route structure are appropriate and that the airline has the suitable facilities (e.g., airport infrastructure such as appropriate navigational aids, sufficient runway, taxiway and hard stand apron areas, and terminal conditions including customer checkin capability to match proposed schedules, customer premium lounges, gate lounges served by aerobridge and/or remote parking, sufficient fuel capability, hangars, and so forth), legal arrangements and appropriate resources in place.
Closer to the operating day, port readiness is essential to ensure scheduled services can be accommodated on the ground, in terms of sufficient parking spaces, use of contracted ground-handling facilities, equipment and service delivery, engineering support, terminal checkin on the day, and provision and allocation of appropriate gates. Either the airport authority or the airline’s airport staff will be responsible for gate allocation. This is an important planning task to ensure that gates are used efficiently, congestion is minimised, and the schedule can be achieved without delays to inbound or outbound flights. Part of the process of efficient port operations also calls for parking connecting flights within reasonable distances of each other to facilitate passenger convenience, and in the case of many short-haul or domestic operations, crew convenience, as they too may need to change aircraft.
Fleet Selection and Mix
Fleet planning, selection and acquisition is a long-term corporate strategy, dependent on the direction set out in its strategic planning and business model. There is typically a long lead time to acquire aircraft, especially if receiving a new aircraft from a manufacturer, or having acquired one from another airline or leasing company perhaps, all of which typically spend some time with Engineering, prior to entry into service. In the case of the first of a new model of aircraft introduced into the airline, this may not be released for line flying until several weeks after arrival, perhaps having conducted ‘showcase visits’ to various ports. Although not in commercial service, their operation will still fall under the monitoring and control of the IOC.
Determining the number and type of aircraft to be acquired is driven by a mixture of commercial need and financial capability. Some fleets will be boosted by additional units of the same model, having little impact on integration into existing operations. On the other hand, integrating new aircraft types into the existing fleet inevitably results in some hybrid mix that can be difficult to manage on a day-to-day basis. From an IOC perspective, aircraft entering the fleet need to be mission capable as soon as they are released by Engineering for line service.