Ask any airline leader why operational excellence remains elusive, and the usual suspects appear quickly: antiquated air traffic control, airport ramp congestion and just bad luck with weather, all conspiring to throw the most careful flight plans into chaos.
Airline complexity has long served as the enemy of on-time percentages and disrupted schedules for carriers large and small. But what if effective answers to airline operational problems lie hidden within departmental silos, waiting to be discovered and harnessed to create a real-time situational awareness for operations leaders? What if those answers helped smooth operations and enhanced the bottom line?
While improving the customer experience and profitability are clear motivators, new regulations penalizing delays in the United States and European airspaces incentivize airlines to take a fresh look at optimizing how an airline runs day to day and deals with unplanned disruptions.
A recent Forbes Insights brief, sponsored by Sabre, “Bridging the Gap Between Airline Operations and the Passenger: How Unified Customer Data Enables Operations to Improve Customer Experience and Profitability,” examines these issues. The brief, the first in a series of three, is based on a survey of 100 operations, marketing, IT and finance executives from the world’s largest airlines.
Airline leaders cite technology and limited access to actionable data as the largest obstacles to improving their airlines’ customer experience. Yet access to data is essential, and transforming that data into actionable intelligence is a key differentiator for airlines.
Consider the following scenario: A hurricane changes course suddenly, forcing a ceasing of operations in six hours and evacuation of the airport. Inside the operations center, tough decisions need to be made in real time: which flights to divert, which flights to cancel both today and in the next two days, and what to do with scattered crews and stranded customers.
Inside the strategic nerve center of any carrier in this position, it is not the time for guesswork. Leaders require quality information from all areas of the airline and need it presented in a way that gives them the true costs in order to make operational decisions.
The journey toward creating actionable data for airline operations includes several challenges: extracting usable real-time data from all areas of airline operations, finding the right tools to analyze the relationships between those data subsets, and finally, determining the best way to present that analysis to leaders in a way that is truly actionable to drive improvement in operations.
The right tools also have to be in place to present operational leaders with the best possible version of operational impact, or a “single version of the truth,” to guide real-time decision making.
Finding tools that present operational decision makers with the single version of the truth drives improvement in metrics that go far beyond the simple on-time and completion factor: revenue, customer experience scores and more benefit when data powers the right decisions every day.
The biggest obstacle to improving airline performance, according to the survey? Finding the right combination of technologies that yield the data required to build actionable intelligence for operational leaders, and creating those solutions in a cost-effective way.
Many different IT systems can mine raw data from different parts of an airline’s operations, but how that data is analyzed and presented in real time (elevating simple technology into a solution that illuminates the true costs of delays, cancellations and resource constraints) can translate into perceived customer experience. The survey data reflects the importance of strong operations on brand perception and how those pieces flow through profitability.
What we see in leading airline performers is a dedication to operational excellence as the foundation of the brand promise to customers – we’ll get you there more often than others – and meeting that promise creates a virtuous cycle of satisfaction and improvement in loyalty. Those are factors that frequently improve profitability.