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Operational Actions and Strategies

With the knowledge that disruptions are inevitable, there are only so many tactics an IOC can employ in response.3 As has been emphasised earlier, the contemporary focus is well and truly upon customer journey management - reducing or eliminating threats that interrupt customers’ travels or recovering operations in the light of problems that have occurred. So, any responses take this into account, even if they may appear to be affecting some parts of the schedule quite harshly. One prime task of the IOC is to balance the needs of the network and doing this may at times result in significant disruption to some specific flights or regions. Indeed, a primary value of the IOC is this oversight and appreciation of control over the entire system.

In terms of exacting the cost of disruptions, most of these can be quantified - accommodation, transport, phone charges, meal vouchers, customer re-bookings and so forth are easily tracked. But airlines have always struggled with accounting for ‘customer cost’. Here, the question of customer loyalty is most difficult to judge. As indicated in the first chapter, the historical approach may well have been to recover the aircraft patterns, and then resolve the passenger upheaval and fallout as a consequence. Now, with such an unrelenting focus on customer satisfaction and appeasement in times of disruption the cost of, say, ferrying an aircraft from A to В in order to retrieve a scheduled operation may be of far less significance than the more crucial cost of losing customer loyalty because a particular recovery plan that may have suited the airline, was unacceptable to the customers.

The most common action, well known to passengers, is a flight delay. Flights delayed by less than 15 minutes are considered on schedule under international standards, and delays are reported to a number of organisations and/or government. Thus, airline performance is partly measured (and reported) according to its on-time performance (OTP), both in terms of departure and arrival performance. While the IOC will seek on-time departures, delays are inevitable, and often the result of numerous contributing factors. What will be addressed though, is the opportunity to isolate delays to the minimum number of flights to stop further spread across the network. Flights that are significantly delayed, or threaten to propagate widely, may require more firm action such as one or more cancellations. The disruption to passengers may be more harmful with a cancellation, subject to alternative uplifts being available, but may overall be the most efficient method to simplify or minimise impact. Cancelling one service also implies a balancing action of some form to normalise the schedules. This could amount to creating an additional flight in the same direction, or cancelling a flight in the opposite direction, or some other action or set of actions.

Some disruptions certainly call for additional flights, either as revenue (enabling the carriage of passenger/freight, and therefore requiring a full cabin crew) or ferry (non-revenue) flights which are conducted with pilot-only crews. Some IOCs seek to minimise ferry flying as this is not only expensive but produces no income for the airline. However, offsetting this is the requirement to position aircraft appropriately to operate other revenue flights that may not otherwise have been able to operate. Finally, diversions occur for many reasons. A ‘simple’ diversion (e.g., for fuel due to headwinds - sometimes known as a technical stop) is relatively innocuous and, other than being inconvenient, is usually a matter of re-dispatching the flight. It must be remembered that with the more recent increase in ultra-long-haul flying, a diversion en route for fuel or other reasons is likely to render the crew out of hours (such that the total flight time would then exceed their ToD (tour of duty) limitation). This would necessitate either crew rest and a subsequent lengthy delay, or the positioning of a replacement crew (however possible) to the diversion port, to bring the aircraft onward. On the other hand, multiple diversions that occur due to a major weather situation, for example, call for more strategic thinking to relocate the aircraft

(and crews, passengers, etc.) and minimise overall disruptive effects. Avenues for manipulating late-running or otherwise disruptive schedules may include identifying opportunities to swap aircraft, which could involve similar aircraft types (i.e., two or more aircraft registrations/ tails belonging to the same fleet) or substituting between types (i.e., wide-body for narrow-body or vice versa, or further, a change of aircraft according to their manufacture).

Impacting Factors

Whatever the strategy or action adopted, the IOC is well aware of the costs involved: cancellations may save delays as well as fuel and perhaps crew costs but may cost loyalty should passengers defect. Ferry flights may be expensive to operate but may be the only means of relocating an aircraft in position to operate revenue flying. The following categorisation of disruptions illustrates the common problems or irregular operations that occur and the IOC responses using such operational strategies.

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