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Operations Control in the Future
Like all domains with opportunities to embrace technological processes that can surpass human effort and brainpower, problem solving in the IOC is increasingly becoming the focus of high-tech organisations. The ability of humans to remain in-the-loop is still critical but more and more, airlines are using complex solution software to assist the management of disruptions. This chapter considers the key drivers likely to affect ways in which IOCs function in the future. In particular, new challenges in the industry, innovative advances in technology, increasing needs and demands o/humans and demands on humans, and a need to respond correctly and with due alacrity to a range of external influences will govern the future make-up and roles of tomorrow’s IOC.
Industry challenges will continue to test the resolve of the best IOCs. Parallels with the irresistible force meeting the immovable object are evident. Sheer growth of passenger and freight movements, expansion and development of airports, and requirements for more efficient infrastructure and supporting services are driving the momentum of the travel experience. Containing this powerful energy are nullifiers such as severe congestion, escalating pollution, wariness or even rejection of travel based on social or environmental opinion, and general dissatisfaction with suboptimal performance in the face of continual disruption. These pressures both on industry and caused by industry alike will continue to compel airlines to recognise and address shortfalls in customer delivery. Thus, IOCs will need to acknowledge the foreseeable conflicts and arm themselves with the right tools and people.
Aviation is arguably one of the most technology-dependent industries ever. Continuous improvement in airframe and propulsion technology drives the very nature of the travel business, but on the ground and at the heart of operating an airline network at any airport, in any region across the world, lies an enormous bank of sophisticated systems. Improvements in current and emerging systems drive the operational future. Every single aspect of airline operations revolves around technical capability, for example, from improved satellite-based navigation and landing performance, aircraft systems of maintenance for monitoring, interrogation and assessment of in-flight operations, to communications systems that rapidly link flight deck decisions with customer outcomes. On the ground, advanced technologies that enhance airport equipment and facilitation must realise significant benefits (e.g., lower landing minima, better АТС flow), under increasingly challenging weather and trying traffic conditions - i.e., gains in efficiencies need to outweigh current limitations. Accessing more advanced global databases will enable better weather predictability and provide avoidance mechanisms of phenomena such as volcanic or cyclonic activity. And in the IOC, more complete and capable systems need to provide intelligent information, filtered for preciseness and relevance, but inclusive of key data that properly inform and drive decision-making processes.
The future IOC needs to be populated with highly capable individuals. Past recruitment methods may have worked to a degree, but future performance is critically dependent on strategies to source and secure the right blend of characteristics and skills. Doubtless, some change is needed. Finding, training and retaining those individuals who can absorb and, importantly, visualise the ‘big picture’, think ‘outside the box’, and who have a naturally inquisitive but relentless mindset that drives passion, should be the key focus. Merely filling a vacancy should have no place in future IOCs. Now, more than ever, high-performing individuals must be the basis of engagement, so recruitment and selection processes need to be far more directed at determining what constitutes the right person for the task and then set about acquiring that resource. No longer can an IOC afford to entertain a candidate who at first appears to meet criteria, but when tested, fails to deliver in the short term, and probably will in the longer term. Training needs must also be fiilfilled, not just to cover the fundamentals of the job, but advanced techniques need to deliver well-honed skills in problem recognition, analysis and solving. Recurrent training should be part of that strategy, so as to engage and revitalise the employee contract and with it develop individual growth and maturity of thinking.
Previous disruption-management strategies have had a significant impact on customer reactions. Airline disruptions that deteriorate into extensive ground-holding times now need quite specific management. In past events, customers have remained on board aircraft for long periods of time, to the extent of significant detrimental health and well-being effects. This action may have been taken by the airline to contain disrupted passengers, or with the knowledge that circumstances would change imminently to enable a resumption of operations. However, in the interests of consumer protection, legislation in many jurisdictions now prohibits such treatment of customers. The legal (and financial) ramifications for an airline failing to meet the new requirements are now far greater than just adverse social media commentary that prevailed earlier. Accordingly, the philosophy in the IOC has changed as well. For example, decisions affecting specific operations may force airlines to consider customer management on board active flights, and thereby react far earlier to events such as, for example, severe pending or existing weather conditions.
The growing influence of social media is now requiring airlines to have social media teams embedded in the IOC, with the appropriate support to monitor and respond to a variety of social media platforms and network chat sites. Policy changes are required due to the ability for a customer on board an aircraft, and therefore currently en route to a destination, to produce and broadcast a message that may well reach a diverse range of social media followers on the ground. In the past, information about an incident occurring on an aircraft was largely reliant on journalists checking with an airline media team prior to the event reaching either the newspapers or the nightly news. Nowadays the information is instantaneous. A message is likely to include video and sound and, in many cases, its intended audience has received it on their own devices before the airline is even aware of it being circulated. Indeed, the customer now has just about as much information on his/ her portable device as has the Operations Centre. They know where their inbound aircraft is, they know what the destination weather is going to be, they can look up the runway in use, and they can get their connecting information - all at 40,000 ft. In addition, they can promptly receive their delay or cancellation advice directly from the IOC at the same time as the airline’s own sources.
This text has tried to convey some of the information and processes about airline IOCs. More can always be said, and additional scenarios can be so diverse that they could number in the hundreds, but the risk of repetition makes for a fairly ordinary reception. So, the intention in Part II of the text was to highlight some typically representative problems faced by airlines and provide sufficient detail so as to explain to the reader the complexities of the task at hand in an IOC. The authors trust that the message has been illustrated meaningfully.
Note From the Authors
If you are lucky enough to be working in an IOC or are considering it, you’ll find it frustrating, stressful and at times exceptionally difficult. The decisions made will impact hundreds and at times thousands of customers, both internal and external. On busy days you will leave work absolutely drained. But, it is unique, enormously rewarding and actually makes a difference. It is totally different to any other department within an airline.