The OCC-“Allrounder” or the “eierlegende Wollmilchsau”

Often organizations are stuck in their old structures in times of fast growth, often manpower and resources are limited, sometimes a “we always did it like that” policy prevents required adjustments to changing environments. It is time for a change.

I bet you will ask yourself: What is an “eierlegende Wollmilchsau” (literally “egg-laying wooly-milk-pig”). Don’t worry, I will give you an explanation. But before that, please follow me through one of these typical night shifts in the OCC of this fairly new, but fast growing airline:

The night shift Ops Controller / Flight Dispatcher just finished the handover with his afternoon shift colleague who handed him over a handwritten shift log over, just quickly commenting “Sorry mate, I gotta dash, wifey is stressed out with the new baby, I’d better rush…all is written down in the handover...cheers...”.
Off he goes.

Mmmmh…the handwritten log is hardly readable, as usual, but at least a quick review leads to the conclusion: It all looks “OK”: All 17 single aisle mid-range jets are serviceable, no bigger checks planned for the night, and the weather for the morning departures looks promising, 15 aircraft are already at their stations and handed over to maintenance, and the two in the air are well on track.

Time for a coffee, and then off to start preparation and filing of the 110 flight plans for tomorrow’s operation.

As the OCC nightshift also takes crew control’s tasks over during “not so busy” nightshifts, the crewing afternoon shift just pops in for a briefing before going home, obviously annoyed due to the delayed closing time after a long discussion on the phone with a Captain who wanted to “get a last minute favor due to family commitments”. The friendly crew colleague quickly hands the standby list over, including the morning departures. No additional briefing required, all calm. Off she goes. FINALLY a nip on the coffee before starting the job.

One and a half hours later; an ACARS message from one of the two aircraft in the air: “Airport clsd d/t VIS below MIN, DIV to ALT1.  Company behind me will DIV to ALT as well, will call frm GND, advise hotel” Great, and here the calm night goes down the drain. Two diversions, the destination closed until further notice and both crews at the end of their duty time, hotel and transport must be arranged, but, most importantly, 270 passengers at the wrong airport 340 km away and two aircrafts at the wrong place for maintenance requirements and tomorrow morning's departure.

 Bulgaria Air OCC, Martin Paskalev/ Kaloyan Nikolov
Photo: Bulgaria Air OCC, Martin Paskalev/ Kaloyan Nikolov
Two OCC "eierlegende Wollmilchsäue" who improved their already high standards by utilizing LSY Airline consulting

Let’s cut it shorter down here:

It became a very busy night for this combined Ops Controller / Flight Dispatcher / Crew Controller with many decisions based on incomplete facts and figures, misleading information and incredibly high workload for the only person in the OCC. To make it worse, many uncomfortable questions were asked by the new COO in the morning:

  • Why were no contingency plans in place with known marginal weather forecasts and why weren't these operational constraints mutually briefed with Crewing/OCC/Dispatch during shift handover?
  • Was the Ops Controller aware of Crew Flight Time and Rest limitations and the impact on legally required crew training events and expiries for the next days when rearranging crew routes?
  • Were the best decisions taken, were all stakeholders informed in a timely manner?
  • Despite the additional workload, was the quality of flight planning and preparation for the next day still given, including saving the next day’s schedule integrity?

The list goes on endlessly... The Night Shift Ops Controller, while trying to answer these and more questions, secretly thinks: It’s about time that the boss understands that the resources are limited here and that the concept of “everyone does everything” does not function anymore with this fleet size. While it was a great approach to have the dispatchers performing the Ops Controllers tasks when the airline was small, and then even taking the crew control’s job over during “not so busy nightshifts”, the sheer amount of tasks is really not manageable during disruptions. I feel they see me as a “eierlegende Wollmilchsau”.( “egg-laying wooly-milk-pig”)”


So what is a “eierlegende Wollmilchsau” (“egg-laying wooly-milk-pig”)?
The German term that perfectly describes the situation of this OCC “Allrounder”. Looking at a dictionary, I find these translations: “Swiss army knife” or “jack of all trades device" Wiktionary explains this term by: “(colloquial, often disapprovingly) An all-in-one device or person which has (or claims to have) only positive attributes and which can (or attempts to) do the work of several specialized tools.” Reading my little story above, I am sure you go the point.

Having worked formerly in some OCCs in different areas (Ops Control, Dispatch, Crewing,…), both in “in the trenches” and in management, I understand the frustrations of the Ops Controller in our story, being the Jack of all trades, but also the requirements and commercial pressure from the management's point of view. Looking at it now as a Consultant, I see this: Often organizations are stuck in their old structures in times of fast growth, often manpower and resources are limited, sometimes a “we always did it like that” and “everybody does everything” policy prevents required adjustments to changing environments, thus becoming less efficient and even more error-prone . This produces additional operational costs and most likely unmotivated employees – not talking about negative passenger sentiment. So my recommendation would be: It is time for a change.

In case you have found at any point similarities between your organization and my little story, please feel free to contact me: Maybe there is simple a way out.


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