Automation strategies within the Initial Submission process (Part 2 of 2)
Efficient management of airport slots is very challenging nowadays. Air traffic grows and so does the amount of fully coordinated airports. This makes the Initial Submission more and more complex. This blog is therefore about automation strategies within this important Slot Management process.
Welcome back to the second part of my blog about how to automate the Initial Submission process. In the first part I gave a general overview about the different steps of this important milestone within the airline’s Slot Management. In the second one I will focus on (IT-supported) automation strategies that make this process for the Slot or Schedule Management department of any airline faster, more efficient and less error-prone.
Let us just recapitulate: For a perfect preparation of the Initial Submission, it is necessary to
- Identify those slots where you can claim historic rights
- Agree on those historic slots that can be re-used again
- Evaluate the future slots needed for the new schedule
- Link needed slots to existing historic slots, then re-use / adjust / request new slots
Hence, IT-supported automation shall support the airline in the following:
- Evaluation if the airline has the same understanding about the fulfillment / usage rates to remain the Grandfather Rights of a slot than provided by the SHLs of the coordinator
- Enabling the user to link an actual (or future official) slot set (which contains the current slots an airline needs) to a historic slot set (and highlighting the differences between both)
- Provision of functions and features that support an easy way of linking available historic slots with actual slots needed (ideally optimizing and harmonizing the entire slot portfolio)
- (Telex-)Communication with the coordinator utilizing some specific action codes typically only used during Initial Submission process (even considering deviations, if needed)
So let us together have a more detailed look on the five Initial Submission steps again and I will give some examples, how automation can help here:
Step 1: Automation Support in the Historic Data Collection
- Receiving and handling Slot Historic Lists (SHL):
When receiving and handling SHLs IT automation support shall identify if:
- all the expected SHL messages have been received in time
- they are properly formatted
- to store them within a historic slot set (while at the same time store all messages in a dedicated folder for the respective season for documentation purpose).
- Create own view on the historic slot set situation:
A very important but not always exercised step among airlines within the Initial Submission process is the check, whether airline and coordinator have the same understanding about the utilization rate or, in other words, did I operate at least 80 percent of the slots or not.
Therefore, automation support shall facilitate for the airline an easy way of creating an own historical slot set based on either a snapshot of the operated schedule of the previous (same) season, the official slot set of the previous (same) season, the actual history of exchanged SSIM chapter 6 files or ideally an own slot monitoring tool. With the help of such an own view of historical slots differences can be quickly detected and common understandings can be reached.
How can automation support help here? It automatically identifies, for instance, duplicates and discrepancies between the coordinator’s SHL and the airline’s own historical slot set. This allows the airline to claim for coordinator-rejected slots by proving (or arguing) that cancellations for instance were a result of Force Majeure, like weather or political reasons. Because of this important check, formerly rejected historical slot rights might become a granted historic status again for the Initial Submission. Hence, if this comparison is not done, the airline might lose unnecessarily important Grandfather slots. The outcome of this process will be a final, consolidated and agreed historical slot set as base for the next step.
Step 2: Automation Support for creating target slot set from the new schedule
- Create a target slot portfolio based on the needs derived from Schedule Management system
By few simple clicks, a Slot Management system shall allow the airline to create easily a new (target) slot set from the Schedule Management system in order to link the slot requirements for the planned next season within the available historical slots available.
Step 3: Examples for automation support for linking / matching activities
- Link of the two slot sets (historical and new)
To make the best use of the available historic slots, it is important to compare them against the needed slot states. Here IT support shall enable an airline to easily link an actual (or the official) slot set (which was built on the basis of the planned future schedule) to a historic slot set by comparing and automatically highlighting the potential differences between historical and needed slots. This will significantly facilitate the identification of which slots can be re-used, where potentially un-used slots are and where is a need for new slots.
- Link of historical slots to actual needed slots (matching)
An optimized matching (= linking) of slots will help to re-use historic slots and ideally to harmonize and streamline the entire slot portfolio. Here, automation support shall allow the user different ways of linking the two “sources”. This might (for instance) include the automatic provision of potential slot candidates to be manually linked by the user (which I would call semi-automated linking). However, applications that provide the user an option to define the matching criteria itself and then store them as a predefined parameter set for further (re-)usage are more sophisticated in terms of automation. In such a process the airline then simply decides about the criteria that the system should apply and work with, while automatically completing the linking and matching process without any further manual interference by the user. Such parameter sets might include certain matching levels (e.g. flight numbers, sub-fleet, etc.) and / or slot windows (= time windows in which linking can be done).
Step 4: Automation Support for creating the final Initial Submission messages
- Generate Action Codes
After the consolidation of the own slot set (by linking historic with actual slots) the airline should be able to easily merge their results into its official slot set, which will be the one to send out to the coordinator for the Initial Submission. Here a slot management system ideally generates the IATA conform Initial Submission messages F, CL, CR and N automatically.
A typical use-case here might be: An airline has a certain flight leaving on days 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, but for the planned Initial Submission schedule a daily service for this flight is planned. A smart solution will automatically split out the new two services on day 4 and 7 and send an F for the days 1, 2, 3, 5,7 (for maintaining the historical slot) and an N for the days 4 and 6, asking the coordinator for a new slot. Within this message generation context is very useful, if the system automatically identifies important slots that are not yet used and automatically creates F requests.
- Standardization of deviations
Another important automation strategy is to standardize already well-known deviations within the Initial Submission process beforehand. What do I mean? Sometimes it happens, even if the process of the Initial Submission usually follows strict standardized rules, that some coordinators may demand different (individual) rules for the Initial Submission Codes at their airports. In order to omit the laborious manual adaption of deviating actions codes for specific coordinators, pre-configuration options are the solution for automation. They make the coordinator communication “standard” again. Such configuration options will facilitate the Initial Submission process tremendously.
- Send Initial Submission requests
Finally, when finished with the correct action code generation, the sending of the requests shall be possible with just one click. One tip: It is recommendable that airlines shall not leave all their Initial Submission requests for all airports to send it on the last day. You never know, what might happen on this day. Rather send the Initial Submission request out for any airport, whenever you are ready with it.
Step 5: Slot Initial Allocation List (SAL) Message Processing
- Receive SAL
Automation support shall also help here: After sending the Initial Submission, a system shall receive and allocate automatically acknowledgement messages with the code P assigned to the respective requests.
Following the initial requests of the airlines and in accordance with the airport capacity parameters for the season, the slot coordinator carries out the initial allocation of slots applying the criteria set out in the prevailing regulations and considering the industry recommendations.
The slot coordinator ends this Initial Coordination process by informing all airlines about the results by the Slot Allocation List (SAL) messages. This SAL is usually sent out to the airlines approximately two weeks before commencement of the IATA Slot Conference for the next season, a forum where airlines and coordinators within a period of three to four days bilaterally speak and decide about the improvement of their slot options.
- Link it to right slot
Needless to say, that within this context automation also means that for all slots all codes shall automatically be updated when the coordinators SAL arrives.
This was just a short outline about how automation strategies within the Initial Submission process with Slot Management tools might look like. In case you would like to get more information or any kind of support / advice, please do not hesitate to contact me by clicking here. A feedback on this blog is also highly appreciated.