How to achieve Automation in Load Control (Part 1 of 7)

This is how Automation shall not look like ;-)

A high level of automation is one, if not the most important objective for Load Control organizations within airlines. In this blog I speak about selected automation triggers that might help a airlines to identify fields of improvement within their Weight & Balance department.

Automation is one, if not the most important objective for airlines and their Load Control organizations. Therefore I would like to share with you within my next three blogs some thoughts about how an Automation can be achieved in application supported Load Control.

But let´s first get a common understanding about the term: Automation is a technique, method, or system of operating or controlling a process by highly automatic means, as by electronic devices, reducing human intervention to a minimum.[1] In Load Control specifically automation means the use of a Weight and Balance System support to relieve the Load Controller from recurring tasks. This results usually in a productivity increase. This higher efficiency is measurable by simply counting the amount of generated (final) Load Sheets and Load Plans per Load Controller per shift. So counting the average processed flights of a Load Controller per shift is a good KPI for your Load Control efficiency.

According to my experience highly efficient Load Control organizations are capable to produce up tp even 80 Load Sheets per eight hours shift – of course depending on the complexity of the load control situation. How to manage this high amount of work? Due to the high level or full automation provided by a Load Control system the Load Controller will focus on managing the disruptions only. This “Management by Exception”-philosophy enables him to typically handle a few dozen flights in a single shift.

Triggers for Automation

When speaking about “How to achieve Automation in application supported Load Control” I would like to address these automation triggers:

  1. Automated Data Processing from Neighboring Systems
  2. Automated Flight Handling Process
  3. Automated Load Planning
  4. Automated Shift Management
  5. Automated Flight Handling Tasks / Procedures
  6. Automated Background Checks with automated alert/warning mechanisms
  7. Automated Messaging
  8. Automated Responsibility Assignment
  9. Automated handling of Irregs

Let have a detailed look at each of these triggers:

1) Automated Data Input from neighboring systems

Automated Data Input is actually the prerequisite for implementing any other automation triggers. In order to run a load control application fully automated, a Weight and Balance application should be designed to utilize interfaces with the most important neighboring systems. This includes data minimum from the Check-in / Reservation system, Flight Dispatch, Operations Control. A Cargo System – if the airlines also provides cargo services – is highly recommended to be interfaced as well for a seamless data population of Cargo items into a Load Control application. The system shall be ideally moreover be capable to process Crew Data and to interface to any other airline company specific systems, like for instance to an Aircraft Maintenance System for the MEL items, etc.

The Load Control system should always receive and send real-time data where necessary, without any human interaction. This means in reverse: First, papers with data from any other neighboring system that he has to insert into a Load Control application should disappear from a Load Controllers desk where automation is in place. Such manual data input I still have seen very often among bigger airlines when it comes to processing data from the Cargo Department. So here is definitely a field of improvement. Second: The Load Control system shall be populated automatically by the relevant data. Pressing (manually) a refresh button as a trigger for a data update does not count for me as “automated” or “integrated”.

2) Automated Flight Handling Process:

As prior feature is more a prerequisite, the following can be seen as the supreme discipline for automation in Load Control. The Load Control process consists of certain consecutive workflow steps / events. To achieve a fully automated Load Control process a Weight and Balance application shall be capable to execute such workflow steps automatically at pre-defined time triggers (for instance: Send the first (estimate) EZFW 90 minutes before ETD to Flight Dispatch, Ramp Agent shall give Ramp final 15 min before ETD, etc.). This requires a configurable schedule driver that activates Load Control events automatically and provides target times for all involved stakeholders. The reference point of all scheduled events though shall remain dynamic in order to keep up with any operational delays. This means in an operational sense: The reference point for all automation events shall be the ETD rather than the STD.

How does the concept of “Management by Exception” now fit into this? To manage disruptions efficiently in time three things are important for a Load Control application:

  • Automation shall continue even in the event of manual intervention by the Load Controller and consider his changes of course. This will support the airline’s operational stability.
  • The process automation shall be visualized user-friendly within a Load Control application, for instance by displaying timelines, that show each workflow step.
  • (Visual and textual) alerts and warnings shall inform the Load Controller about deviations or if manual interaction is necessary.

Why are these points so important? A Load Control process usually demands seamless coordination between different stakeholders, such as Load Controller, Cargo Agent, Ramp Agent and Check-In. The visualization and dynamic target times including the alerts support the coordinated activities among all involved stakeholders right from the start. It provides the Load Controller, who is usually responsible for the overall process, transparency about the workflow progress, minimizes disruptions resulting from cargo or ramp handling delays and therefore supports the airline’s punctuality and reliability.

In the second part of this blog “How to achieve automation in Load Control” I will continue to share with you my thoughts and experience about the remaining automation triggers that also play a very important role for achieving automation in Load Control.

Until then I very look forward to hearing your feedback about this blog. Please stay tuned.

 

Michael Muzik

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