How to Achieve Automation in Load Control (Part 7 of 7): Automated Handling of Irregularities
Flight irregularities cannot be prevented, but the way to handle them makes the difference. Please read this blog about how automation may support the load controller in managing these situations.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, this is Captain XX speaking. Welcome to our service to XY. All passengers are on board, the baggage loading is finished and the cargo door is closed. Well, we would be ready to pushback, but unfortunately, we still have to wait for the loading papers. It will take us maybe another ten to fifteen minutes. Until then, I kindly...”
Immediately I stop listening to what the captain is continuing to say, because my “Load Control mind” starts to work and think about what might have been the reason for the delay – specifically caused by Load Control. Maybe an ACH (aircraft change) forced the load controller needing more time to update the load data (for example with the new aircraft registration, cabin configuration, etc.) and producing the necessary documents in time- all done manually. I continued my thinking: For that particular case, it would have been helpful if the airline had some automation in place that covers certain irregular situations to support the load controller in managing these situations.
Irregularity Handling by Airlines
Airline operations might quite possibly be the most complex and fragile transportation system in the world. It is affected by bad weather conditions, strikes, political and operational reasons, which cause irregularities that make airlines, lose a great deal of money every day. Irregularities are therefore daily business for airlines and require corrective activities.
When speaking about the handling of irregularities on the day of ops, airline divisions, such as Operations control, Hub management, Crew Management and Passenger Services, are usually at the forefront. They are all coordinated through the airline’s product: The flight schedule –composed of flight legs between origin and destination airports.
Taking a more in-depth look at an airline’s flight schedule shows this finding: A flight schedule determines other layers of schedules, such as the aircraft schedule, the crew schedule and the passenger itineraries. On the day of operations, the fact that a single flight leg is a component of different types of schedules may lead to the situation, that an irregularity may have a downstream impact on the other (passenger, crew and aircraft) schedules. That explains the fragility of flight schedules. Moreover, that is also the reason, why corrective actions by Operations Control (= management of aircraft schedules), Crew Management (= tracking of crew rosters / schedules) and Hub Management / Passenger Services (= tracking of passenger itineraries) are the priority levers, when resolving irregularities in daily operations.
The Role of Load Control
How does Load Control factor in? No commercial flight in the world leaves without an accurate and actual load sheet. The load sheet provides the captain with the complete information about all weight, trim, passenger and safety-relevant aspects concerning the upcoming flight. Therefore, Load Control plays a substantial role for an on-time departure clearance and – even more importantly – for the safety of the aircraft (and passengers).
The Load Control process consists of certain consecutive workflow events. Each step has to be executed at a certain time. This means, there is also a layer – the “workflow schedule” - behind, resulting in several outputs (loading instruction, load sheet, post departure messages). Because of its workflow orientation, advanced Load Control systems provide already full automation for executing all necessary load control events; such events are for example: “The first EZFW (Estimate Zero Fuel Weight) has to be sent to flight dispatch 90 minutes before ETD (Estimated Time of Departure)”, “The ramp agent must provide the “Ramp Final” 15 minutes before ETD”, etc. This requires a configurable event schedule driver that activates these load control events automatically and provides dynamic target times for all involved stakeholders.
When resolving certain irregularities, such as ACHs, forced returns and return to ramps, load control actually follows the same workflow principle as in normal operations. The important question therefore is: Why not adopt the same idea and simply use this event-driven time management again – only with new data?
Use case: Automated ACH handling with a Load Control system
Let me now return to my ACH use case and explain how automation could support the load controller. Let us assume operations control decides to make an aircraft change at a certain point to optimize the aircraft rotations and departure times. This swap takes place approximately one hour before departure. When working manually, the load controller would now have to set up the flight and follow all (sometimes up to 20) workflow steps to process the flight from scratch.
In case of automation support by a system this happens simply “on its own”: The ASM (Ad hoc Schedule Message) indicating an ACH received by a load control system automatically triggers two actions: First, it immediately sets back to “zero” all up to the change processed Load Control event times. Second, it restarts the schedule for all necessary load control events according to the new aircraft parameters. If done automatically, the load controller will catch up with all already executed workflow steps in time with no manual interference necessary – but with updated load data. The result: No delays due to time-consuming manual updates.
Flight irregularities cannot be prevented, but the way to handle them makes the difference. Today, thanks to the nature of a workflow-oriented Load Control process, full automation in normal airline operations is already standard among advanced airlines. The next reasonable step is now to identify irregularities – or elements within irregularities - that can be resolved in a “standardized” way and introduce IT automation support to support the load controller’s irregularity handling.
This is my last blog of the serial “How to achieve automation in Load Control”. I tried to highlight different areas of Weight and Balance handling (supported by a proper Load Control system) that will help load control departments to work more efficiently, on time and error-free. Please be aware that with all automation and IT support concepts described in this series, my personal understanding still remains, that the load controller always remains the ultimate authority of any operational decision in load control – meaning manual intervention shall always be possible at any time and for any task (even during the automation).
Thank you for following this series. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me or leave a comment here.
For the other blogs of this serial please click here:
Part 4: Automated Messaging