Planning for success

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Can efficient ‘tail planning’ lead to better fleet management? Andrew Stimpson of IFS offers his thoughts

Most of the aviation industry is in a positive mood right now regarding current conditions and future prospects. Andrew Stimpson, solution manager for aerospace and defence at Linköping, Sweden-headquartered IFS, which offers solutions for the defence and aerospace sectors, shares this view.

Stimpson suggests that the “commercial market figures are staggering”, citing Boeing order forecasts for almost 40,000 new aircraft being made over the next 20 years.

​He further relates that there has been a “boom in passenger demand”, but observes that alongside these encouraging figures, solutions need to be developed in order for carriers to operate at the pace that demand will put on them.

Growing demand is, of course, great for business, yet management solutions need to be created and perfected in order for this demand to be capitalised upon. One of these solutions is IFS’s Tail Planning, Optimization & Assignment (TPOA) product, as Stimpson describes to Airside International. It helps carriers to maximise aircraft allocation efficiency, supports fleet planning and allows airlines to make the speediest possible decisions on resource allocation.

​Stimpson says that IFS has been “working with airlines and airports in different domains for a while now… in MRO and in airline maintenance management”, so its TPOA product serves as a “complement to what we’ve been doing for a long time now”. Indeed, IFS aims to provide ‘solutions for commercial airlines, commercial aviation operators, airports or any company that provides equipment logistics, MRO or support solutions into airline or aircraft operations’. The company provides similar management solutions to the defence sector as well as to the commercial aircraft segment but TPOA, at the moment, applies only to commercial aircraft operation.

​The question that Stimpson and IFS contended with before creating the TPOA was “how can planners optimise aircraft allocation while coping with unexpected operational changes and unscheduled maintenance?” Stimpson notes that “a typical airline will have an aircraft allocation team on this chore, spending some 3-4 hours to prepare a single one-day optimised plan. But tightly planned schedules can quickly be thrown out of kilter by last-minute changes. Add in poor weather, airport delays or engine failures and airline operations can soon become jeopardised.”

​Stimpson points out that “essentially what the [TPOA] solution does is to solve the problem of trying to allocate the aircraft to the flight schedule… balancing off different competing factors. For example, the maintenance versus the flight schedule.”

​The solution, he notes, optimises fleet utilisation. Although the TPOA product is fairly new, with Emirates having acted as launch customer, the goal is to be an application of value to the wider aviation industry. IFS is currently “in the process of taking it into a broader market,” Stimpson reports.

​The system is, “ultimately, tailored to an airline as primary customer… It’s really about helping an airline protect performance, manage risks and also reduce fuel costs”, he explains.

​“Although the airlines are the main focus of the solution, the application clearly has other benefits. For example, for the customer at large, if fleets are managed more efficiently and disruption time is reduced, then this will drive down fares, allowing passenger customers to serve as ‘secondary beneficiaries’.”

​Stimpson remarks that “a lot can go wrong when sending out many aircraft to many destinations”, so working against the backdrop of very different frameworks is crucial to the effectiveness of the system.

​To effectively manage disruption and unexpected delays is key. The 2010 volcanic eruptions in Eyjafjallajökull, Iceland, represent a significant case study. With regards to these sorts of major disruptions, he notes that there is “only so much we can do”, and that it is “really all about having up-to-date information on delays and the impact of delays”.

​The incident in Iceland was an unparalleled one – but similar degrees of delay can occur for other reasons. The way to manage these is to formulate plans before they happen, he says. One of the great things about the management team at IFS, Stimpson notes, is its ability to create “multiple plans at a very quick pace, present them for evaluation and then implement them”.

A range of benefits

The growth of South American, Middle Eastern and Asia-Pacific markets has led to more aircraft being flown, with more planning needed to efficiently manage airlines’ expanding fleets. Africa, too, will undergo a “revolution”, according to Stimpson. As many of the countries in these regions see their GDP increase, more money is invested in (and made from) aviation, all of which makes optimisation of airlines’ fleet management ever more important.

​IFS’s TPOA is designed with this in mind. Saving money, turning around aircraft as efficiently as possible, allocating space and time effectively, developing key performance indicators (KPIs) and benchmarks of measurements, and analysing an airline’s ongoing return on investment (ROI): these are all tasks and processes facilitated by the system and ultimately, Stimpson argues, the solution aims to create an efficient, well-managed fleet that will save airlines money.