January 19, 2021

Integrated planning is the new normal

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced airline planning departments to change their ways of working. Frequent changes in travel restrictions and significantly lower customer demand has required airlines to quickly adjust their schedules. With substantial schedule volatility, how can you be certain you can execute every new schedule variation with available resources, without disrupting passengers and at reasonable cost? For most airlines, the answer is integrated planning.

At our annual CONNECT Crew and Ops User’s Conference in October – of course, virtual this year – the message from the audience was clear: Two out of three said they were forced to not only work much closer but to also work across departments. But even more important, half of the audience expected that they would continue to work this way, even beyond the pandemic. While the COVID-19 pandemic forced much of this need for collaboration, there are a myriad of benefits being recognized from integrated planning.

Weaknesses exposed

Even before the onset of the pandemic, airlines had been revising schedules more frequently and closer to day of operation to adapt to changes in demand. But, this has not been without problems. The lack of tools or integration between departments to support smooth collaboration has led to inefficient means of adapting to changes – such as increasing planning buffers while simultaneously increasing costs.

With the extreme situation the pandemic has created, established ways of working have been exposed and substantial weaknesses identified. In order to efficiently manage and effectively adapt to change, coordinated, integrated planning from the start is required.

Better ways to execute

Common amongst airlines that work successfully with integration is shared and holistic KPIs across all involved departments or planning functions. When common KPIs are established, the first step towards an integrated planning process is to ensure transparency and enable all stakeholders to evaluate schedule scenarios. This allows for qualified and quantitative feedback with accurate KPIs, as early as possible in the planning stage (as opposed to using only standard metrics or average values).

Next, comes the ability for each planning function to proactively identify and suggest improvements that contribute to the airline’s holistic objective. Last but not least, integrated planning is about learning from experience – to use information from operations to plan for robustness and adaptability from the beginning.

Enhanced system capabilities

Integrated planning sets high demands on not only the planning organization but also the systems that support them. It is critical to have optimization tools, with the ability to quickly generate multiple scenarios, consistent across planning functions. When systems for network, crew and operations work in tandem, exchanging information, we have seen that our customers can further improve adaptability and reduce costs. Often by several percent of operational costs.

After recognizing these efficiencies and quantifiable benefits, few airlines will return to the way they worked previously. Integrated planning is the new normal. The pandemic that keeps colleagues physically apart now bring us closer together in how we work.

What are your thoughts on integrated planning? Is your airline taking advantage of collaboration to leverage efficiencies? Do you have the tools to support you?

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