Regional Airports Threatened by Corona?

Juergen is one of the very few people, I really mean, VERY FEW, people that understand both airlines and airports.

BUND analysis 2020-08 Regional AirportsLast week it started with a analysis by the German Association for Environment and Nature (BUND), hitting the headline news claiming that seven of the 14 regional airports in Germany would be expendable. Which was a welcome story for the media. While I still hope that they come to senses, I am afraid that history shows their sole focus on populism (next election) and hypocrisy. Including their attempts to distract from their failures managing the ongoing Corona crisis.
More articles and posts surfaced this week that airports should be privatized.

Focus on votes reminds me too much on “shareholder value”, being accused to have a sole short-term profit-maximization interest and none for long-term success, sustainability or social responsibility. Same stupid.

Today the headline news is about the Thuringian president of their Court of Auditors recommending the closure of Erfurt-Weimar Airport, building on the above analysis.

Closing Erfurt-Weimar Airport? And others Regionals?

Erfurt-Weimar Airport, Passenger Statistics 2006-2015As you may recall, 2009/10, I’ve been managing Marketing, Press/P.R. and Corporate Communications at the Erfurt Airport, one of the seven now questioned. Which is my example of why German airports fail thanks to populistic airport bashing by the local politicos and most of the media. And an idiotic, short-sighted focus on “outgoing” holiday charter flights. I am adamant about my justified opinion that given a positive support and strategy, the airport would be worth a million passengers and an economic operation. If they’d cash in on incoming.

Back 10 years ago that was the reason I made the name change from Erfurt to Erfurt-Weimar possible from Marketing budget. Just before the shortsighted politicos – lead by then Minister for Traffic (“C.C.”) who saw it more important to invest into streets and highways – decided to “strategically” end all support for scheduled flights, which I had recommended to replace Munich-service with a sole Lufthansa- but without Star Alliance codesharing, with a KLM-service to Amsterdam to be connected to the world. With having compiled justification and statistical data supporting the case.

outside-inAs I wrote three years ago, airports must embrace their changing role – which many airport managers and owners fail upon. And that is simply another example where the Corona crisis highlights the shortcomings. These shortcomings have been there before. We have too many “good weather managers” that keep running a company (beyond just airline, airport) and have no vision for it, no strategy. They handle day-to-day work and live inside their microverse without understanding or concern about the bigger picture.

Should they now close Erfurt-Weimar (or either of the other questioned airports), it is a direct result of the local stakeholders failing to envision, demand and support a long-term sustainable strategy for the airport. And giving the public airport bashing by the stakeholders, I wouldn’t justify scheduled flights to Erfurt-Weimar either. It’s an example how short-sighted stakeholders run an economic driver into the ground. And just an example how politicos don’t think and guide, but brainlessly worship an implied public (voters) opinion and not act but only react to developments (incl. Corona).

CYA in action: Cover Your Ass. Don’t think, don’t move, don’t risk.

Strategic Indecision and Short Sight

USP
Having a USP means you do things different…

As I’ve written in the two Food for Thoughts in December, there is the Financial Impact of Air Travel for the regions and their economy. If you understand and focus on the need for “incoming”, passengers coming into the region, bringing money to the region. Instead of the sole “outgoing” focus we see with most airports in the “developed countries”. And without this, there is no valid argument to invest into the airport, is there? But with a strategy, it makes sense to invest. Not to subsidize!

The other post in December was about Why Airlines Keep Failing, which is mostly the same reason why airports keep failing to live up to their expectations. No strategy, no stakeholder management (politicos, industry, media, public opinion, etc.). Erfurt-based Thuringian state development agency funding travel for delegations from Berlin, instead supporting the subsidized flights from and to Erfurt. Politicos publicly promoting to travel to Erfurt and Thuringia flying from Frankfurt, Berlin or Leipzig, then taking the train. And even with a Biathlon World Cup taking place in Thuringian Oberhof, places like Weimar, Eisenach and the Thuringian Forrest recreation are, travel to Thuringia not coming through Erfurt in their empty heads.

Scheduled Incoming vs. Charter Outgoing

No Flights (Erfurt, 2011)Again ,there is no reasoning to invest into an airport that only looks at outgoing summer charter flights. The money leaves the region and benefits the destination. Why would I subsidize that?

Without a strategic vision to use an airport incoming as an asset to connect the world to the region and cash in on the incoming air travel, it is a logical consequence to shut down an airport and write it off. In turn, you write off an asset for your region. If I call anything short sighted, this is a very good use case.

I keep explaining “seasoned airport managers” that airports need three foci.

  1. Connection with the global hubs and connectivity there
    At Erfurt, it was a barrel burst to have a flight into Munich by Cirrus Airlines as “partner of Lufthansa”, but with only some Lufthansa code-share, but not even Star Alliance. It was why I very quickly promoted to replace that one with a KLM-Amsterdam-service. With very promising talks ongoing until the political stakeholders decided to shelve all support for scheduled flights. A good reason to end my work there. Aside me being told later that the discussions ceased as they called my number, reaching someone not able to communicate in English.
    So connectivity to global hubs with code-sharing and/or interlining must be prime on any regional airport’s agenda.
  2. Strategic Point-to-Point travel
    Depending on commercial and strategic regional relations, direct flights between economic partner regions can and should be established.
  3. Local Support
    With “airport bashing” being too common, it is vital to promote the airport as a partner for the region. As a vital infrastructure to improve commerce and industry, incl. but not limited to tourism!

And yes. Summer charter flights are nice to have, and may contribute to the revenue, but they are commercially and strategically not a priority.

The Kolibri Offer

KOLIBRI.aero is looking for funding of the development of first and further bases. With seven aircraft, maintenance, infrastructure and several hundred jobs a € 15 million funding is needed. No subsidies but a bold investment with minimized residual risk, to be paid back with interest. Investment into local infrastructure will reflect long-term commitment. Further development of profit centers being part of the plans. Should you know airports being interested in such a joint development having regional funds to provide the capital but also demand for the new routes, we are happy to discuss details.
Kolibri @ Prestel&Partner Zurich December 2020

Food for Thought
Comments welcome!

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Automated Flying and Fallback – an Aviation IT issue

Airbus 2020 vision based automatic take-off

Airbus 2020 vision based automatic take-off

B737max, Air France 447, Asiana 214 – and computer failures reason for the largest flight cancellations in the past two years. Lesson (to be) learned…?

Following a discussion triggered by Airbus’ automated take-off last week, I posted a comment on LinkedIn:

“Just discussed the issue of “autonomous flying”, two examples against it. Asiana flight 214 (there was also a similar incident with Turkish Airlines) caused by a pilot with a semi-religious belief in the Auto-Pilot. Said to have very little experience “flying manual”. And the 737MAX, also to keep in mind the missing redundancy of sensors to safe cost. Also Air France 447 accounted to incorrect sensor readings. One reason I don’t see a “pilot free cockpit”, but a “cockpit flight manager”. Like the flight attendants there in case of need, but usually just monitoring proper systems. “Accompanied” by a drone-operator at the AOC. Having GBAS+GPS a system to constantly monitor the four-dimensional position of the aircraft and if in line with flight plan. If not, maybe a sensor-glitch misguiding the aircraft? Please “Pilot” or “drone operator” override the faulty sensor…”

Several replies, notably the one public response by David Eiser outline the threat: “Too much reliance on automation by both operators and pilots is one of the biggest threats today.”

A frequent issue I discuss when discussing AOC or APOC (airline or airport operations centers) is the necessity to have fallback procedures in case of IT failure! This is also in line with disruption management and the fact that the major disruptions of the past two years were caused not by weather, but IT failures! Just an example reported by Wall Street Journal.

Lesson Learned?

Back in 1990, I came as a Sales person to the Frankfurt Airport to meet and greet an important FAM-group – FAMiliarization – a group of journalists invited for a trip overseas. To learn the flight would not take off, as the airport check-in-system failed. I got a printed passenger list, a stack of boarding passes and after 10 minutes of preparations issued the boarding passes to the passenger. With only 75 minutes into the process the flight got readied for departure. It was as far as I remember, the only flight that left that day during the computer downtime. Lufthansa used a different system, their flights were not impacted.

That was my day to learn the lesson to have fallback procedures in case of a computer glitch. It was driven home over the years by other failures that became public. But more and more, I also learned that managers developed a semi-religious faith in computer systems. Redundant systems cover for a failure, right? Wrong. Working with AOCs and APOCs – there are no system redundancies. If a system fails, there is a downtime. Period.

Computer Literacy

As Richard Maslen just wrote on CAPA’s Blue Swan Daily: “It used to all be about passes in English and Mathematics, now it is blockchain, cloud computing and analytical reasoning – the changing mix of skills most prized by the business world”. It is another example of the semi-religious faith in IT I talk about. Big Data was the buzzword everyone talked about and nobody had a clue on what it really meant. It’s hip, so it must be good. Now we added blockchain, cloud computing and analytical reasoning. Important buzzwords, but if you look for a business case, it’s for the ones making themselves a business with it.

Sabre HistoryCloud Computing

Did you know that aviation was the first large application of cloud computing? Sabre enabled to book flights from anywhere in the world anywhere in the world. I used Sabre-messages back in 1987 – that was years before e-Mail. Tell me about Cloud Computing. On the backside, most recent computer failures forcing airline downtimes were caused by small cloud solutions failing and taking down the airlines’ IT system as a collateral damage. Leaving airplanes grounded, passengers stranded.

Blockchain

Where aviation has a strong requirement to keep a “history” of changes in their IT systems, blockchain might help, but it adds complexity and slows down systems. And keeps the question of the ultimate truth. If there is a data discrepancy between two independent systems, which ones is the right one? That’s not just on A-CDM between different stakeholders, I’ve seen the same problem arise on internal systems aplenty!

Analytical Reasoning

Now on analytical reasoning, it goes with the old issue of who analyses with what intent. As the old saying goes, I only trust the statistics I falsified myself.

Get the FactsAircraft System Redundancy

Now have we learned our lessons? Speaking to academically educated managers, I find a lot of superficial knowledge. Like the Big Data picture. Someone – usually the IT companies – come up with those buzz words and explain they are important. They are not unimportant. But it boils down to my usual question: Give me a business case. No wishful thinking. Nor divine revelation and forget what the stars foretell!

Boeing managers, in what I consider a criminal neglect, prioritized commerce over safety. In line with FAA and others. “Shareholder Value” is a word that was invented in the U.S. It implies that the only value a shareholder has is short-term profit. I disagree ever since I learned the word back in 1997 in the process of the IPO of Cytric. At the time my baby – yes, the one today owned by Amadeus. Shareholders have different values. Long term profitability. Sustainability, not even linked to profitability. An idea. Something “good”.

Now Boeing used a single sensor to trigger MCAS. And the system overruled the pilots. It crashed two airplanes. The cause? Greed. A mortal sin.

Oh Gawd... Helpdesk: Final Level. PrayFaith in The Computer

A key-finding on Asiana 214 was a pilot who believed in his on-board computers. Who had thousands of “auto-pilot” hours, but very little experience in manual flying. Who did not grasp that for a wrong sensor his system was wrong. Who made small mistakes on his computers’ settings (i.e. direct input, no landing flaps) ignored the tower’s advise to do a turn-around, to disrupt the landing and start the landing process anew. A similar case grounded a Turkish Airline plane. Pilots like this make a case for autonomous flying. Better a stupid computer than a pilot with blinders.

Another sensor failure caused the crash of Air France 447. GPS giving a three-dimensional point in space, where are the systems that provide that information to the pilots at night? How can it be that pilots and airplanes loose their direction in the air?

And while we talk about GPS and GBAS in aviation, a flight like MH 370 teaches the same lesson. Not the one shot down over Ukraine, but the one that got lost over the Indian Ocean. Airline and authorities are blind over the big oceans. All those fancy systems, satellites, etc. and we have no information, neither in the cockpit nor at the control centers, where the flights are? And trust in pilots following navigational directions (semi-)blind?

Faith in the Pilot

A frequent argument for the cockpit automation is German Wings flight 9525, where the pilot flew the airplane into the mountain. While that was a freak incident, neither pilot nor computers are “fail-safe”. All we can do is to minimize the risk. And while autonomous flying will come, I’m an advocate for a “flight operator”, both in the cockpit, as well as on the ground. Then we have three independent “systems” and any two will override the third. Still, there will be ad hoc decisions to be taken, then who “rules”? If you have another aircraft on collision course. If you have foreign object or another aircraft on the runway.

Fraport VelocopterFly by Wire, Drones and Air Taxis

Since the development of Fly-by-Wire, airplanes cannot fly without computer aid. If the computer fails, the steering signals from the side stick go nowhere. So we already rely on the computers in airplanes. And a computer failure will result in a crash. Period. But Fly-by-Wire also makes the case for automated flying.

Pilot-less air taxis already require a fully automated system. If you consider them to fly in airport vicinity, they interact with the flight plans of commercial airplanes, today considered a major security risk with an excessive bureaucracy for a single approval for any plane, helicopter or drone entering the airport’s air space!

Doctor Who GridlockA similar case is the automated drones as envisioned by Amazon, DHL and others, for automatic passenger delivery. As the air taxis, they will rely on a fully-automated flight planning and flight plan filing with the authorities’ computers. Simply to avoid in-air-collisions.

While commerical airplanes, delivery drones and air taxis follow pre-assigned flight plans and routes, drones are operator-guided… Can we expect manually guided drones in the air space of other operators? Be it air taxis, helicopters or airplanes? I doubt it, I believe this is a short-lived fashion. Soon drones will be so restricted in use that they go back to hobby and in pre-assigned areas. All other operations requiring the filing of a flight plan!

I like the examples in The Fifth Element. Or Doctor Who’s episode Gridlock (image). We’re not talking about individual travel or we risk air accidents, way more potent than any car accident you might imagine today! This can only work in a fully automated environment. You want to change your flight plan? The computers must secure a safe route in four-dimensional space – including the time, beyond what ATC can do today! A constant prediction of traffic for several hours ahead!

My Prediction

I take it with Heinlein, as he wrote in Friday, a 1982 novel. I believe we will have ability for a fully automated flight, which will also improve A-CDM and flight planning. We will have a pilot on board. Plus a drone-pilot in the AOC. Heinlein wrote that the pilot no longer pilots but is there for the sake of passengers’ reassurance. The pilot unlikely to have better ideas than the computer.

The pilots will be turned into a flight operator in the cockpit, plus a flight operator on the ground. Both will be specialists, but I predict that their “work times” will no longer be privileged, but more like computer specialist. Automated flight management will reduce the work load and make those jobs mostly observational. Making privileges in duty times or salaries obsolete. Heresy. To the pilot industry. But in my opinion a “logical consequence” since the introduction of fly-by-wire – which also was the start of the discussion about autonomous flying.

Side note: This will also automate Air Traffic Control, ground handling, etc., etc. – Give take 100 years, likely less, we will have air traffic automated. With very limited manual input by pilots or other stakeholders. Backbone is slot management, scheduled flight planning. Then add “scheduled air-taxi” (air-bus), followed by delivery drones (for people or freight), ad-hoc flights. Think about medical emergency but also “VIP” flights (Air Force One)…

Food for Thought!
Comments welcome

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The Financial Impact of Air Travel

Juergen is one of the very few people, I really mean, VERY FEW, people that understand both airlines and airports.

GFK Purchasing Power vs. Airport 2020You all know my graphic merging the GFK purchasing power map with the Wikipedia map of airports that I use to visualize the relation between the both.

Now my friend Ged had put together some numbers, simplifying but following mostly what I used myself in discussions with tourism offices, chamber of commerce, politicos and the other stakeholders that in Germany frequently fight against their airports. Those stakeholders keep failing to understand the commercial impact of “their airports”. In Germany, it’s “airport bashing”. Aircraft noise being an enemy. Transportation statistics on environmental issues beautified to condemn the airlines, I just wrote about the #flygskam reality check.

I have some improvements, but maybe you want to see the info about Ged’s presentation first?

New Airline Routes Are Worth Huge Amounts To Destinations

There are some shortcomings that from experience I do address when talking to the local stakeholders beyond airports. But most politicians I found to prefer airport bashing to understanding. And most airports (not all, there is a slow change) work alone on the route development process. Stakeholders like chambers of commerce, tourism boards, politicians or local media focusing on “other things”. And my original use case was Erfurt with Cirrus Airlines, when I tried to attract KLM to Amsterdam with 70-seat aircraft.

Doing the mathsSo let me quickly adjust Ged’s numbers.

First of all, I prefer frequency over size, so I think we should talk about i.e. a route with 100 seats. Instead of a trice weekly that fails to attract business travelers and suffers such from a higher seasonality, I’d look in turn at a daily service. So let’s keep to the example of an Amsterdam-service with KLM. As operated by KLM will also get you the more attractive ticket prices they can offer.

So over the year, a “daily service” accounts to six weekly flights or about 330 round trips. That accounts (at 100 seats) to 330 days x 1 flight/day x 100 seats x2 (return trip) = 66000 seats. Or slightly more than Ged’s assumption of 29,640 outbound seats we use for typical statistics, we have 33,000. Slightly more, but triggering commercial passengers helps to fill the plane and get some improved ticket revenue.
Talking about 90% load factor – and I agree with Ged, that is minimum what you better plan for nowadays, we need to sell 29,700 seats. For easier calculation, let’s say we must sell 30,000 seats.

Now comes Ged’s mistake, a rather common one, the “inside-out” look.

Passengers never travel only one direction on a plane, ideally they originate on both sides. Different on summer charter flights, I know. But we talk scheduled and low cost services here. So depending on the destination, let’s take the simple equal distribution of in- and outbound travelers. So we talk about 15,000 travelers we target “inbound”.

Next I agree, € 250 total average spend per day for a four day trip is reasonable. But again, I’d adjust slightly here.

Not all travelers go to hotels, there usually is a valuable VFR traffic, visiting friends and relatives. So I’d use only a lower, more conservative €500 for trip spending.
But then Ged fails to use an important multiplier. EU (European Union) usually uses the factor 2.5 (sometimes 3) on the commercial value on any € “spent”. So for any passenger, we talk about 500€ multiplied by 2.5 = 1,250 €. At 15,000 travelers we talk about roughly 19 million € spending by all travelers.

What must be emphasized is the fact that the airline route will also trigger commercial relations with a positive impact to the commerce taxes for the regions as well as the attractivity. Especially on regional airports with such a connection, it will create new jobs, countering the rural exodus so many secondary regions suffer. That is, why the local chamber of commerce (and tourism) have such an impact. If tourism can fill more seats incoming than outgoing, the result becomes even more favorable. A 60/40 in-/outbound results in 3,000 more passengers adding on the incoming value of the flight or 3,750,000 €, totaling the effect to € 22,8 million. Full flights will result in increased frequency or larger airplanes.

If you focus on “holiday flights”, i.e. from an airport like Erfurt-Weimar to the Mediterranean

Image courtesy The Economist

But given all that, the regions – as mentioned – fail to understand the impact to their commerce. Nor do they understand the financial risk an airline takes, calculating with “competitive” ticket prices they must fill the plane year-in/year-out. If the wonderful biased statistics by the airport marketing fail to materialize the passengers, if the airline looses 10% of the planned revenue, we can quickly talk that many or more million Euros being burned. You may be able to understand why an 80% discount on the “landing fees” are nothing more but an expected risk the airport takes. The brunt of the risk is with the airline.

That said, I remind my readers I am no fan of long-term “airline subsidies”. There are “PSO”-routes, called public service obligation. I would expect the (political) stakeholders of any regional airport to be well advised to fund a PSO-route to one of the big global hubs, but not by “any airline”, but by the hub-carrier. Reminder: German airport association ADV published that most passengers connect online (same airline) or within the airline alliances, there is only negligible numbers of passengers connecting “interline” (between unrelated airlines). Which in my opinion is a result of biased marketing, but it’s like it is now.
But generally, a route shall be set to the right sized aircraft, an attractive frequency and a strong point-to-point demand. Then there can be subsidies, better a real “risk sharing” to establish the route. If the airport/region believes in their own numbers and expectations, they should be willing to guarantee the break even load factor and revenue to the airline. Right? And like any business venture, there must be clear milestones – and an exit scenario if the expectations don’t match the real demand.

burning moneyWhich triggers the other issue. At the ISHKA Investing in Aviation Finance conference we discussed reasons for airline failures. One very common reason is the fact that airline managers don’t calculate according to their own cost base, but try to compete with ticket prices of their competitors. Not just the real ones, also the implied ones. Trying to fly low cost ignoring their different and higher own cost base. Negotiating new flight services, airports but especially the political stakeholders make it worse by “expecting” unrealistic low cost of operation. They demand that tickets must be cheap. If they, like in Germany, add taxes and make flying more expensive, they shoot their own foot.

The financial impact on air travel is a two-sided coin. There is a major impact to commerce and regional income, especially on the incoming travel. But if you focus only on holiday charter flights without incoming, you deprive your region of an important commercial multiplier. In fact, I question your business case. And yes that goes to you Erfurt-Weimar, my prime, sad example.
On the other side, airlines are commercial companies. No airline can keep flying if load and revenue don’t justify.

Food for Thought
Comments welcome!

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Aircraft-on-Ground, Disruption Management …

… and the Ongoing Demise of Small and Mid-Sized Airlines

P.S.: While I wrote this article, Germania, an airline that I know from the beginning of my career, who’s team I booked at American Airlines to Seattle to pick up their first 737s, an airline I have had a personal attachment to, went into insolvency grounding all aircraft after many years of financial losses. The demise of Air Berlin 2017 brought easyJet on their home-apron in Berlin in force, no longer some competition, but clear one-on-one. Such the chance to establish lucrative routes in Berlin evaporated. Instead of benefiting from the demise of their largest local competitor, Germania had to sit aside, watching the threat growing.

Germania did, what they had to do, they focused on niches. Niches that were too small, to fragile to give them safety. Routes they developed well always threatened to be taken over by their competitors operating with lower cost. Erbil, under threat of war, Beirut, …? They announced a base in Pristina (Kosovo). They ordered A320neo, in an attempt to stay somewhat competitive to their competitors like easyJet also introducing the modernized aircraft. Else they operated tourism charter flights – which are in great demand in summer, but one after another airline in that market files for bankruptcy at the end of the season. And Germania published financial troubles as early as August 1st, 2018. So they could not do what needed to be done: Generate enough money in summer to succeed across the harsh winter.

You cannot succeed if you play it small, if your cost is not competitive to your competitors. Not the small virtual airline competitors, the other “day flies” lasting one summer season, two at best, but the big ones. The easyJets, Ryanairs, Wizzes, etc. It’s not fuel cost development that kills you. It’s bad management. It’s a strategy without USPs or with very weak ones – there’s reason, the other airlines don’t bother the routes Germania did.
And as I outlined in an article I published on LinkedIn, this was no sudden issue, they lost money for years!

As it is being said, the unexpected increase on EU261-expenses, the “EU passenger rights” also had it’s impact on the financial situation. If you sell a ticket for € 100 and you must compensate € 300, it does impact your revenue. So back to the topic – flight disruptions.

Having worked last year on the business plan for KOLIBRI.aero as well as on projects related to Airport and Airline Operations Control Centers, flight disruptions have reappeared as an ongoing topic of increasing concern. And my experience doing a study a few years ago at delair together with Zürich Airport (ZRH) about the impact of the deicing forecasting and management tool on Swiss (airline) operations at Zürich became a strong source for my advise to airport operations managers.

Image ©2010 Flughafen Zürich

When working with ZRH “Ice Man” Urs Haldimann on the study, I also got some feedback from Swiss. While managing the deicing in winter is not that much a problem, neither airports, nor passengers understand the rippling effect to the schedule. And often enough, not the airline’s own managers. That in the evening in warm Mallorca, the flight may be late, because of a deicing delay in the morning. So while higher force is accepted for the flight cancelled in Zürich, very often, the airline is required to pay EU Passenger “compensation” multiple the price for the ticket. So a major delay can be far more costly than just related to the immediate flight.

The harsh winter 2013/14 in North America (as likely this recent one) became known in the deicing industry as the Polar Vortex. The accumulating delays forced JetBlue into a “two day network reset”. Crews and airplanes were anywhere but where according to schedule and crew planning they were suppose to be. It took the better part of two days to relocate aircraft and crews back to the planned position, also to make sure the crews received their legally due rest, to then start the new day with a fresh start. As needed as that decision was, imagine the impact to passengers on flights that are booked usually 80-90%.

Disruptions can also be thanks to airport closures for other reasons, delays can be caused by as trivial as a broken baggage belt, a common thunderstorm or a ground handling crew doing a coffee break in the wrong time window – all things I experienced in my professional life. Flight crew duty times and technical delays are more common. Did you know that the Top 10 of “punctual” airlines have 15-20% of their flights delayed? That means 1 out of 5 flights is lateTo “celebrate” such achievement is beyond me, I honestly feel embarrassed that our industry cannot do better! Don’t come with the typical “explanations” covering for the incompetence to do better. Needless to mention that this is about “departure delay”, whereas passengers truly don’t care about those as long as the flight arrives on time, right? I was recently on a flight that left “on time”. Doors were close, the aircraft was sitting at the gate, waiting for it’s slot in the deicing and departure.

More recently, Primera Air, Azur Air or Small Planet Airlines closed down. Cobalt Air followed shortly after I published the blog post. At least for two of those airlines the cause was said by their respective CEOs to have been “unexpected” cost for delays and disruptions. Though not reconfirmed, rumors have it such were also the cause for the financial troubles Germania faced in Mid-January 2019, filing insolvency early February (see P.S. above). “Refund portals” organizing refunds for delayed passengers result in higher number of refunds. Small fleets with no spare aircraft causes the ripple-effect to sometimes swap over into the next day(s).

Lesson learned from my research about Zürich delays: It very often is cheaper for the airline to cancel the flight to make sure the further aircraft “rotation” (planned flights for the remaining day/week) are not impacted. Especially if i.e. winter operations allow for “higher force” reasoning of the cancellation. While the airline can show goodwill and help the stranded passengers, in such situation they are not legally forced to add the legal, excessive passenger compensation for delays. It also in fact reduces the overall passenger upset. And Zürich can predict the delays!
What I expected quite a while ago is the information of upcoming delay situation to the inbound planned airlines. The example I keep using: Once Zürich (or any other airport) learns about arrival-, turnaround- or departure-delays would inform KLM before their flight leaves, that it would likely develop delays in Zürich and may have an excessive delay departure, maybe KLM would cancel the flight?
The concern: But if those airlines cancel their flights, then the flights will leave early, so KLM could operate on-time…?
Ain’t that shortsighted? Oh holy dear Saint Florian – don’t burn my house, take the neighbor’s one…
So what would be needed would be a bonus/malus system. If an airline “volunteers” for the sake of the overall operation, to cancel a flight in such a situation, maybe it’s relatively empty, could be merged with the following flight – the airline gets a priority the next time, so the full flight gets an on-time departure. An airline deciding not to join that system will never get prioritized and take what they get – including the delays.

Another ongoing discussion is the promotion of the big players for “SaaS”, Software-as-a-Service, more commonly known as “Cloud Computing”. What in my experience lacks of one vital thing, the fallback for a “line down”. There have been three cases that I (just me) know of last year, where line-down caused major flight delays. Because there is no fall-back in place.

Photo by Darren Murph / The Points Guy
Delta takes weather seriously, with a team of 20+ in-house meteorologists (Photo by Darren Murph / The Points Guy) . Taken from Daniel Stechers LinkedIn article.

That problem is multiplied by data silos. As Daniel, VP at IBS points out, there are too many screens an operations manager in the typical airline Operations Control Center (OCC) or also in the AirPort Operations Center (APOC) have on their desk, using old-style Gantt-charts, weather maps and other “sophisticated tools” that show them what happens out there. Very little tools that analyse the data automatically, giving you decision support on a disruption. Or warning you of potential disruptions giving you decision support how to avoid them.

While we do need to replace those multiple screens with dashboards, highlighting what to look at, I disagree to some extend with Daniel’s implications, as I believe we will need to be able to expand from the problem, onto the relevant Gantt charts, graphs, tables and maps. Worse in my eyes is the underlying reason for those screens, as they are clearly attributed to data silos. And if the left tool does not know what the right does, if the airport, the ground handler, the airline have different “realities”, no wonder we have friction that results in ineffective operation causing “issues” and delays. As I mentioned in my article about APOC, OCC, NMOC five years ago. And if I ask about interfaces and am told “XML” or “ASCII”, we talk about triggered “push” or “pull”, but not about a live interface. Another data silo.

Coming back, to close this FoodForThought-article, let’s come back to Germania and other airlines which we have lost recently. If you have no assets (aircraft leased or sold/leased-back which is the same), if you outsourced everything (to which I include “cloud”), if you don’t have “spares” for covering up disruptions, you make a very good business case on the old joke: “How do I become a millionaire in aviation? I start with a billion.” Or the other one: “Saving, no matter the cost”. It’s called a “virtual airline”. And I predict we see increasingly those virtual airlines to fail, as they lack size, assets and revenue (RASK) to compete with their competitors.

Food for Thought
Feedback welcome

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Primera Air, Azur Air, Small Planet Airlines – and the dying continues

After the demise of Air Berlin, forced by Lufthansa and incompetent if not corrupt politicians, we lost Monarch last fall, but the dying continues. This months we’ve been all “shocked” by the demise of Azur Air (Germany), Small Planet Airlines (Germany) and now Primera Air.

Interesting: None of those airlines had any relevant material assets. Working with leased aircraft as most airlines do today, it minimizes the cash-flow. And aircraft are almost not available for purchase, large aircraft leasing companies and the largest airlines dominating the market. No, neither Primera, nor Air Berlin “owned” aircraft. They were all leased.

Whereas Air Berlin struggled, there was an inherited business model that even ambitious CEOs could not overcome. What was Air Berlin? A holiday charter airline? A low cost airline? A network carrier? While Air Berlin tried to be all of that, they failed to be either “properly”. In a competitive, over-saturated market a death sentense.

Now all those airlines have operated Airbus A320 and/or Boeing 737. An aircraft in surplus, a saturated market, flooded not only by the aircraft makers but also by lease offers from the low-cost airlines seeking utilization for their own surplus. And while everyone wants aircraft in summer, the eroding revenues do not pay enough for those airlines to survive the winter. I learned so long ago, an ice cream shop needs to create enough revenue to survive the winter.

And while aircraft lessors add more and more Airbus 320 and Boeing 737 to their fleets, airlines are established without a long-term concept based on clear USPs, those airlines lease the aircraft out in summer and … oops. And then they go broke and the aircraft lessors sit suddenly on their assets without income. Even scheduled airlines like Volotea ground their aircraft in winter.

Even if the airline operates successful, after usually seven years, their leasing contracts expire. And then they understand the need to invest into more modern aircraft, so they do not extend the leasing contract but return the aircraft to the lessors. Who now need to find “other markets” to take their aircraft… Often below cost to minimize the losses!

In consequence, the aircraft financial funds are known to suffer from year 7, often generating losses over their typical 10-year duration. KPMG earlier this year said the average return on aircraft fund are 4%. While some do better, many smaller ones fault. Another consequence is deteriorating market value for Airbus and 737 aircraft, also usually starting seven years after the aircraft is sold into the markets.

source Wikipedia
A320neo family orders & deliveries (source Wikipedia)

So one of the reason for failure is the attempt to compete in a shark pond, using the same aircraft than the competitors, copying their business model and trying to find a small niche – that upon success is quickly threatened by the big fish.

Primera Air as the most recent failure tried to convert “in a rush” from a safe holiday charter airline operating secure routes for Primera Travel Group, into an – as aero.de said – copy of Norwegian, flying with the smaller A321neoLR across the Atlantic. But also trying to fly a mixed fleet of A321neo and Boeing 737-800, while having orders out for two A321neoLR and 18 Boeing 737 Max 9. As small newcomers do have problem getting access to the new aircraft like the A321neoLR, of which most go to the largest aircraft leasing companies to be placed into the existing fleets of their large (safe) airline customers. Why would they prioritize newcomers that threaten their existing clients they have long, very long relations with?

But which “newcomer” airline can wait for 10 years (at current production rates) for an Airbus or Boeing they order??? Can you plan what is in 10 years?

Then we come to the flight crews. While pilots usually are either type-rated on the Airbus A320-family or Boeing 737-family, a mixed Boeing/Airbus-fleet either requires respective crews for each aircraft or the cross type-rating. While pilots usually pay for their flight training, in return, they require high salaries in order to pay off for their – substantial – investment. Even Ryanair now faces the consequences of their “outsourcing” and slave-kind payments of their pilots. While I keep seeing their pilots recruiters immediately jumping on Primera Air but also trying to convince pilots from South America or Asia, if they don’t change their attitude to their pilots, they will keep having problems. Their recent announcement to close the base in Bremen and Eindhoven and reduce the base in Weeze are simply puffing. As Ralph Anker showed in his Anker Report. Behind each and every dropped route or base are airports, suddenly deprived from services. And pilots and crews, suddenly forced to find work elsewhere, likely move. Ryanair is the airline that does not care. Europe’s favorite airline? I doubt.

Summarizing, I come back to the point I keep emphasizing. Ever since easyJet (1995) and Wizzair (2003) I have not seen a new airline that had a USP and a clear concept. What is your USP? For the investor, the traveler and yourself? Or are you just another copy, trying to cash in?

I believe A320 and B737 families will hit a brick wall. Investing in those aircraft or airline models trying to operate a few of them is high risk. At best.

Food for Thought
Comments welcome!

Side note: Taking all those “natural thoughts” into account, in a team of experts we’ve developed a business model, that now seeks funding. With a unique concept, multiple USPs and under- if not unserved markets. But that does not work with small money. If you want to do it right and lasting, you need to do it right. And invest. Not just building “an airline”, but focusing on development of assets, as a side-effect securing the returns on the investment. If you know potentially interested investors, let me know and I’ll establish the contact to Kolibri. Or refer them to my call for investors.

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Airport Marketing Hide & Seek

Working in aviation marketing on CheckIn.com and recently on research related to airline route development, it makes me mad to see how

airports mismanage their data

Passenger Statistics

I think this time we got the numbers right … we just don’t know which ones to use.

For more than 10 % of the airports, using two main sources for data (airport, Wikipedia) and cross checking with the industry source, the ANNA.aero “databases” (Excel files, not “data sources) the data does not compute! So we spend an awful amount of time not just collecting that data, mostly from complicated pages that we have to manually scan, but the data we get, proves then to be “approximate” on core numbers like “passengers” handled by the airports. As reported before, ANNA.aero disqualified for us for anything but a cross-check, once we learned that even within their Excel files, the sum of the months does not necessarily compute to the given annual total… The same we found true on the “usual suspect” sources.

Asking the airports for their last passenger numbers, many cannot give them on a monthly basis, many give us numbers that are obviously wrong but most don’t even bother to answer. Where we get numbers, often they are a table in a Word document or an e-Mail, often in a PDF where if you try to copy that very table to a spreadsheet, it comes out as unformatted text, causing more work. Not to talk about image-files, where you must extract them, writing them off that image… With more than 600 airports we happen to have on file at CheckIn.com, that is no fun, that is frustrating.

Know your numbers? Not an issue at airports. Digital? Naaw, why bother?

Landing & Handling Fees

Every landing you walk away from is a good one

The last months, we approached airports under route planning constraints, asking them for a given aircraft type and load (giving also MTOW and seats) for the cost for the landing and handling at their airport. As we did not find their Standard Ground Handling Agreement and fees online. Maybe we missed to find it, but excuse me, is that our problem? Where we found them, they are often outdated (more than three years old), headlining the year of validity, so factual outdated.

Out of 63, only a good dozen replied within three weeks. Out of those replies, only five responses where useful. Five. The others responded sending us their files, often only landing or handling, frequently not both. Only some of those warned us, referring us to the ground handling companies.

Excuse me? We ask an average cost. Even your ground handlers have an average handling cost. You don’t know? So what do you sell me?

That route planning friend I referred to in my December post (promoted Jan 1st) just told me this week, he doesn’t have faith in airport marketing. Only very few would do their job right and focus on facts. Most would focus on fiction. And he reminded me of my December post and Erfurt.

Airport Marketing – Fact of Fiction?

“Wow, I had FIVE super discussions today…” “Don’t worry, I’ve not sold anything either…!”

Honestly, I have no idea. I had faith in my fellow marketing colleagues at airports. But most what I get is “dreamlands”. Digging into the numbers, you find black holes the size of a galaxy. You find logical mistakes. What you don’t find is the numbers you need as an airline. Guesswork. Ideas. Biased ideas at that. Brings me back to my friend. He confirmed, even with their established, substantial size, they had the same problem with airport fees, keep having them with about any new airport they consider flying to. That’s why one day they have to send someone there and inquire on-site. Bug them until the numbers are on the table. And usually he says: “Usually, that takes too much time”.

Are we living in a digital world? We may. Airports still mostly does not.

My friend told me: This is why Routes is such a success. Because you still need to talk to the airports to get what you need. No, they do not provide that on their website. No, they do not understand how to provide data (spread sheet, not Word, PDF or a fancy “image”). Not ANNA.aero, Route Shop or Routes Exchange, where he confirmed to me, he does not find any facts but fancy “marketing” without foundation. Our comparison we did for him of our catchment area findings compared to those sources he said proved most valuable to him – internally and externally. If they don’t even use a free service like ours to compare and qualify their guesstimates, if they cannot respond to the offset, how to trust any figures they provide you?

He calls TheRouteShop and Routes Online the “big show-off stages” (on- and offline). He says, his and his team’s main function is to look behind that show-off, to find out where it’s trustworthy facts and where an empty hull. Assess the risk. “Their job should be to provide us the facts to make sound decisions. All they do is adding smoke screens and to boast.”

Strategic Directions?

Food for Thought…
Comments welcome!

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Polar Vortex + Collaboration

Sure, now that North America again suffers from extreme winter, experts arguing if it’s another “Polar Vortex”, there is some background on Business Insider. Fact is, it hit North America hard again, causing major flight disruptions, not only in the North, but also “down South”. Suddenly I experience a surge of interest in “Deicing Management”.

The major issue I am asked is how to keep the airport operational, whereas that is the wrong approach. You can’t fight Mother Nature, not even Mr. President can, no matter how god-like he believes to be. You can manage the repercussions. You can minimize the impact, optimize the handling to recover quickly from an airport closure.

This must be more seen on a collaborative approach and I just thought to come back to the typical questions once again, as they reappear these days. If you’re interested, there are quite some posts on this blog addressing disruption management or A-CDM.

No, there is no “quick panacea” for this. Any deicing manager should be able to tell you that you cannot change a running winter operation, you implement the changes outside the season, train your staff and improve the processes. Listen to them!

A common question is: “Which software tool?”

Clear as can be, there is no “software panacea” either. In North America, the closest thing in my experience is Saab-Sensis Aerobahn. In most cases of who’s asking, it simply is overkill. First step is to start to collaborate. Deicing is not an issue of the ground handler, or the airline, or the airport, but the ground handler, the airline and the airport. All together. If you don’t collaborate, the tools don’t help you. If your processes are “stand alone” and not integrated into a master process “turn around”, using a software does not help you. There are tools that work that can help you improve your processes, but most my inquiries end here. For some reason, airport (and airline) managers seem to believe (almost a religious faith) that they need software to solve their problems. It is hard to explain that they need to “think”, that it might be more reasonable to invest into a consulting, sitting together, looking at the processes, talking to the stakeholders and in a proper process start the transformation to collaborative decision making, starting potentially with deicing.

Another common question: “But this only works on large airports?”

Yes and no. The large airports are usually more bureaucratic, have developed “structures”, or more accurately “silo structures”. Where on small airports there is a natural collaboration as people have multiple functions and small hierarchies, the large airports have departments that tend to separate themselves from the larger good. Exaggerating, each department is the only valuable, the only one understanding, the hub of the(ir limited) universe. The other departments only interfere and make things difficult. That silo thinking is more common the larger the company. But also small airports have the possibility to establish a collaborative approach. They might not even need software to do that…? Software can overcome the workers reluctance to share information by doing it for them. And speeding up data exchange instead of waiting that someone shares an information. As we discussed in the LinkedIn group CDM@airport many times, A-CDM is not about technology, but about collaboration. That is people first. The technology is a tool.

Aircraft Rotations, Winter Operations and Forecasting

In the discussions, I keep emphasizing to look beyond the individual airport and think about the airlines involved. Their flights get delayed or worse, they get stuck. Bad enough at the airport, the aircraft is expected to fly to more than one city. In 2014, JetBlue had to cancel all flights for a day to “reset” the network, bring aircraft and crews where they were supposed to be (and give the crews the legally required rest). Thousands of travelers were stranded during the 2014 Polar Vortex disruptions. The same year, I discussed with Zürich about the possibility to proactively inform the airlines about the delay forecast, enabling them to cancel a flight to Zürich to avoid it getting stuck there. It lead to the hen-egg issue, if then enough airlines cancel their flights, there would be no delay…? An idea was a penalty/bonus-system, giving an airline that helps avoiding a delay situation today a priority on their departure tomorrow. The idea was disqualified implying the airlines’ inability to understand and agree on the concept…

Just some more

Food for Thought
Comments welcome

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The Bias of Route Viability Analyses

Certainly the Game is Rigged. Don't Let That Stop You. If you Don't Bet, You Can't WIN - Lazarus Long

The last months we worked with two regional airport operators on a route viability analysis both airports see as a exceptionally promising: Saarbrücken (SCN) to Reggio Calabria (REG).

Their problem is that it is rather difficult to get the hard-facts on it. Based on our work with CheckIn.com, they thought we might be the right people to look into this.

At first, talking to airline network planners, I was referred to the analysis tool providers. Though interesting, I got the “results” from four of those tools, three “disqualifying” the route, the third one (more correctly) failing with the information of insufficient data. The problem is, that the route in question has never been served before. There are some “comparable” routes, we found the two tools returning results used, from airports in the vicinity of Saarbrücken to Catania (CTA) on Sicily or to Lamezia Terme (SUF) in Calabria.
Then we were referred to the ACI “standard” QSI (Quality Service Indicator), specifying how a route potential is being calculated. There is a very nice introduction to QSI on the website of the North American chapter of ACI Airports Council International. But if you read that introduction, you are going to get very quickly to “factors” and “coefficients”. And that they are variables, subject to interpretation and weighting, they are “relative values”. And while I found my usually very open sources at IATA, OAG and FlightGlobal distinctly tight-lipped, when I called and asked about QSI, they quickly confirmed that their tool follows those principles and how much and why their tool is better than their competitors.

One airline network planning director clearly told me those tools they use, but they are useful only on existing (or to some extend historically existing) routes. As he had provided me his initial impression on that route, I questioned his initial response and he confirmed that they use those tools with an “almost religious” faith. So if they look into a new route, knowing their tools to have a bias towards existing routes, if their tool returns “not viable”, it builds a major obstacle to get them to look into such route.

So we also had a look ourselves into the “route data”, getting statistical data from those other routes from Eurostat (avia_par), the airports, two of the tool providers, as well as three airlines. As discussed in The Numbers Game, we once more were confronted with conflicting data. Public data on Eurostat shows different numbers for outgoing HHN-SUF compared to incoming SUF-HHN. All numbers “close by”, but in most cases, the numbers did not correspond to the other sources! So what “quality” do we talk, if we in a single industry cannot agree to a fixed value?

Okay, so we decided we take the average of the different values we received. Then we compared to the various catchment areas from our CheckIn.com analyses, both the pure isochrone-populations as well as our competitive analysis. Where we found once more that the drive-time zones themselves resulted in major offsets, rendering any attempt to interpret the results as useless. On the competitive reach, we found some “trends”, though it showed clearly that the more routes an airport has, the more choice such is given to the traveler, the lower the average choice of a traveler for a specific route. But even with those constraints, looking at the catchment area confirmed potential interest in the route.

More interesting, I found that aside of Eurowings with about 75-80% load factor on their flights, all other airlines operated with load factors of around 80-85% and up to 90% on an annual basis. Such, it seems that overall, there is very high demand for travel between the regions. But the tools disqualify flights. Hmm.

Working on a viability study, other approaches are to look at the regional demand. Where we got confirmed, what we knew before. There are no reasonable statistics on a regional level. Yes, you get all the statistics on a small scale from Saarbrücken to Italy. Or from Reggio Calabria to Germany. Okay on Luxemburg. But is Italy Northern Italy with higher purchasing power, commerce and industry? Or Calabria? Is Germany Munich, Berlin, Hamburg, Düsseldorf, Stuttgart, Frankfurt – or Saarland or Saarbrücken? You. Got. To. Be. Kidding. Me.

So yes, we can see how much of the industry is where (percentages), how many “Italians” live in the Saarbrücken region, but without there local research (they have done), we could not know that their “Italians” are mostly from not just Calabria (state) but Reggio Calabria (city)… Whereas we talk about many “2nd generation”, having German passports, not showing up in those “statistics”.

So yes, we did the numbers crunching, but those numbers are to be taking with a big grain of salt. Discussing this with my friend, that afore-mentioned airline network planning director, I could “see” his smile. “You check some basics, to get a feeling and have some numbers to confront the [Powers-That-Be, PTBs] in those regions with. Then you travel there and confront them and learn that all you learned is useless and why. Then you talk to the PTBs and learn if and why they believe it makes sense, you question them from your experience and then you decide if it makes sense to take the risk and fly – or not.” And he referred to my 2012 post on the Crystal Ball and told me that he liked my conclusion in it: “I take a big long stick and grope in the dark. It requires expertise, experience and good guesswork to do something with all that information you get. Good luck is part of the business.”

Hmmm… It confirms what I recently told the Minister President of Thuringia, discussing on Facebook about population emigration they suffer. Emphasizing the need to better support the airport to attract incoming business and the necessity for scheduled flights, I told him, it is not the airport acquiring airlines, it is the region. As soon as an airline network planner researches Erfurt and finds all the negative buzz about that small airport there, if they hear the PTBs having promoted bus service from Frankfurt when they had a flight connecting them to Munich, when they learn that the state officials and commercial (state-paid) delegations traveled from Berlin or Frankfurt instead, they understand that the people in the region do not support flight services. They’ll look at the story behind the closure of Altenburg. Then they likely look for locations where the PTBs support flights. Politicians, local industry, tour operators, the people and the media. Discounts on landing fees are a minor factor on the cost and risk of an airline operation. (Except for Ryanair). They are an indicator, if the region is willing to support the flights. I am afraid, that Minister President did not understand that, he instantly fell back into the “airport bashing”, questioning, why in the past the airport’s subsidized flight services did not succeed. No, he did not heed my words. In fact, he was prejudiced and simply did not listen but took his “instinctive” fall-back position on “airport”.

Working with small regional airports over the past years, I know many airports heeding such words, their PTBs in strong and unquestioning support of “their” (regional) airport. Who publicly want their airport and want it to succeed. Who fight for it and take a stand in discussions for their airport. And yes, Connect or Routes Europe are places where you can meet and talk to them. Though there I also heard just recently (again) that many airlines are showing interest in the big airports only and the small have trouble getting a time slot to make their case. Where Connect° had the advantage on the small airports.

Coming back to the issue of this post. My airline friend and I discussed for several hours (thank you!). And rather at the end, he emphasized, why he invests only little time in “analyses”. Because all those analyses will promote the big buddies. They will confirm business potential on the large airports with data silos full of supporting statistics. But they will disqualify any of the small airports solely based on the fact that there are no “supportive statistics”. Following our discussion, he wrote me a very short message: “Jürgen, the game is rigged. Your catchment area stuff is the first thing I saw to give me a somewhat unbiased view on smaller airports in years. Those [other] analysis tools are sold to sell us statistics. Stupid network planners and the ones trying to play it safe and by the books, requesting the QSI. It’s why mostly the small airlines, who can’t afford those tools start new routes.” And why he emphasized to me that he and anyone in his team wouldn’t bother about any route viability studies based on the statistical history of the airport, except for an indicator. “If you play it safe, you just follow the crowd.”

Food for Thought
Comments welcome

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Route Financing

Juergen is one of the very few people, I really mean, VERY FEW, people that understand both airlines and airports.

Discussing Routes conferences, I recently appreciated several discussions about the imbalance of route financing in Europe. In the discussion, we boiled it down to a simple question:

Who Takes the Risk?

Image courtesy The Economist
Image courtesy The Economist

As we all know, airlines struggle to make money. Which I personally believe is a house-made problem. The use of legacy systems, legacy distribution models make the legacy carriers operate on a cost per seat that’s no longer competitive. In the 70s, a cheap return flight Frankfurt-New York was 2.500 German Marks, about 1.300 Euros. That was 40 years ago. Today the cheap flights sell for below 400 Euros. Return! So the revenue melted away. The cost for aircraft and seats got cheaper too with bigger aircraft. The fixed cost of the flight divided by seats. But that’s another story.

So who are the players in the game.

  • The Airline
  • The Airport
  • The Traveler
  • The Region
Image source
Image source

Let us look at my example I keep using consulting airlines and airports about new routes. At Join! we usually start discussing new routes with airports and quickly learn day in / day out: Everyone wants new Routes, the analyses supporting the case are mostly biased, it all looks sunny-shiny, but no, they don’t want to take the risk. In EU-Europe, they are often not even allowed to take the risk. How stupid is that?

So we usually approach the chamber of commerce, state development agencies and such asking for concrete demand for the routes the airport asks for. All we usually get is some wishful thinking. This company wants flights there? How many seats a year? 4-6… You got to be kidding me…? When we tell them the simple maths, they frequently retreat and have no answer.

The Maths?

Alex Simon was the only passenger aboard and loved it...
Alex Simon was the only passenger aboard and sure loved it… (Picture courtesy Welt.de)

An A319 has 124 seats. At 80% average load (which is low nowadays), we talk about 96 seats. Which have to sell out and inbound. At four flight pairs a day (five to six weekdays, two to four on weekends), we talk about eight legs in average (more is better). At 365 days, we talk about 280 thousand passengers the aircraft should fly every year. Let’s take out some maintenance, but we still get to a target of 250 thousand passengers. For each daily return flight, we talk about 200 seats target. For a double daily, double that.

The A320 or 737-800 is around 189 seats, so roughly 50% more.

From Southwest Airlines - Culture, Values & Operating Practices
From Southwest Airlines – Culture, Values & Operating Practices

Keep in mind there are disruptions. Less frequently on the technical side, the aircraft makers understand the cost involved in a technical grounding. But the airline has to have resources to survive such groundings. But we also talk about weather related flight cancellations. Flights remaining empty for the one or other reasons. Days people tend not to fly (religious holidays), fluctuation in demand… We talk about delays made worse by passenger compensations required by law. The disappearance of interline agreements allowing for involuntary rerouting of the passengers, not to talk about regional routes where the flight might be the only choice.

The cost of aircraft, crew, kerosene, insurance, distribution, maintenance etc. pp. being calculated, adding the “taxes and fees” on top, you talk about a cost per seat per leg at 80% load factor as somewhere between 70 and 100 Euro. On a 99 Euro return fare on the Erfurt-Munich flight in 2010, Cirrus Airlines after taxes and fees had less than seven Euros.

Risk Scenarios

The airports are restricted in what they can do, usually to discounts on the local fees. So the classic:

adding some small change...
adding some small change…

The Airline Takes the Risk. The very common approach. Yes, we give you discount on the landing fees. A drop on a (very) hot stone.

Guaranteed Load. Classically the field of tour operators, purchasing a fixed number of seats on the flights. Works very well in high season, but in the past two decades, the number of flights where the tour operator charters the aircraft became negligible. Even in that market, most flights are “set up” by the airline and then marketed to a number of tour operators. Once the shit hits the fan, as recently i.e. in Turkey, the tour operators cancel their seat allocations leaving the airline suddenly with unfilled air planes. But the aircraft is still there, it costs money!
A similar approach is to get such guaranteed seats from corporate clients, though they usually demand “lowest fare” for the guarantee at “last seat guarantee”, adding difficulty on the pricing games the airline can play. So a good airline sales makes sure to keep the flexibility. We discussed the purchase of (virtual) ticket stock at cost per seat + X, but very few of the corporations demanding a specific route then come up and commit. So we’re back to the airline taking the risk.

So in reality, we can (and have to) look at realistic scenarios.

Who Benefits?

“What are the facts? Again and again and again-what are the facts? Shun wishful thinking, ignore divine revelation, forget what “the stars foretell,” avoid opinion, care not what the neighbors think, never mind the unguessable “verdict of history”–what are the facts, and to how many decimal places? You pilot always into an unknown future; facts are your single clue. Get the facts!” [Lazarus Long]

And even with all the facts, navigating the future is a risk. Get what you can in the best quality. The better and unbiased the data, the less your risk!

Permanent Subsidies

If you know me, I am no fan of subsidies. You got to understand who benefits and to what extend. Get the maths down. then invest.

On the other side, there may be reason for permanent “subsidies” by the region flown from and to. As they benefit from better flight connections, from tourists, business travelers, commerce, taxes. Why is it that I keep asking if anyone has some sound research to share about the impact of a new flight to the economy? Why are the state development agencies “in need” but unable to qualify that impact to their economy? I am still convinced airports like Erfurt-Weimar, Lübeck or Kassel need scheduled services to be connected to the global aviation networks. Not to the nearby hubs that they can reach easily with rail or car. But studies exist that confirm that beyond four hours drive time a flight makes sense.

Temporary Investment

Risk Sharing

Who benefits?

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Delay and Disruption Management

Juergen is one of the very few people, I really mean, VERY FEW, people that understand both airlines and airports.

[edited]

Sharing the Bloomberg headline What Do You Want, Cheap Airfare or an On-Time Flight? Daniel (S.) today quoted from the article on LinkedIn:  “An ultra-low-cost carrier will never, ever try to be as punctual as a big legacy #airline. Being on time all or most of the time costs money.”

After an initial misunderstanding we agree: That is stupid!

Delay and disruption management are the single most important influenceable cost factors in aviation today!

Yes, we can make good aircraft deals, we use revenue management to sell out tickets as expensive as we can in the low-cost world. But operations is the single most important cost driver we can influence today. We can neglect it, like many seasoned airline and airport managers do, we can deny and ignore it. And loose money.

While doing the research at late delair for the Zurich Airport case study, focusing on the impact of a contemporary deicing management, just that improvement in (IT-supported) process saved about 20 million in one winter alone there. For Swiss (about 50% of the flights). Now working on a financial summary that thanks to the acquisition of delair by SITA never made it “to market”, I spoke with the OCC (Operations Control Center) manager of Swiss in Zurich. Who confirmed what they all knew (and know), but their management remains blissfully ignorant about: It is all about rotations in an airline. The aircraft starts somewhere in the morning and flies to different places throughout the day. And a disruption or delay anywhere en-route is prone to impact the entire rotation. Worse, a late aircraft usually accumulates more delays as ground handling is also tightly scheduled without spare manpower to cover up for such situations. Then crews fall out of schedule as they have to have their rest times. And while the airline may reduce the financial damage by calling for higher force on a snow event in the morning, on the flights down the line, I am told they tend to pay. And passenger compensation often exceeds the value of a single ticket!

In 2014 I wrote this article about Airport Operations Center (APOC), Airline Operations Control Center (OCC) and ATC’s Network Operations Center (NMOC) and how they do not communicate with each other. I asked just recently about a common airline system with decent, contemporary, f***ing basic interfaces and learned that none of my precious industry expert friends knows such. Worse, I got more feedback than I wanted about the issues all my friends in this industry can tell about; where thanks to missing such data flow, the right hand does not know what the left one is doing. In the process, trying to improve a bad situation, but working with different information, making things often enough worse.

I also heard just this week, how airline managers love the big planes (A380), a Lufthansa manager was quoted that they love the big bird, but that they don’t know if they can ever be operated long-term commercially revenue-making.  Or read a comment, how much these airline “managers” love new inflight entertainment and seats and fancy stuff. But don’t understand, why Windows-XP-machines in their OCC need replacement. It’s “fancy”, touchable, visible to see the airplane or fancy seats, but no-one sees the impact of deicing. Okay, we have a winter-delay. Who cares, we’ve calculated it into our prices forever and it’s been always like this. It can be improved? Who cares.

Source firewalkeraussies.comAnd while the airlines benefit, I hear from the airports that they do not show any interest in A-CDM and A-CDM improvements. While they cut into the flesh on most airport’s fees, while they let them starve; while most airports need to invest heavily to compensate the losses from “aircraft handling” by doing their best to increase “non-aviation revenue”, while this is daily life today, airlines demand airports to invest into those technologies and development and process improvements, but are not willing to pay. Did Swiss pay a Penny (Rappen) for the improved deicing at their home airport? Make a guess.

So while I know that seasoned managers in aviation act that stupid and short-sighted. Delay and Disruption Management is the single most important factor we can influence to save big money.

As I should have known Daniel’s opinion, i.e. from his LinkedIn article about why airlines burn money every day I keep myself referring to.

And if you need someone to discuss such projects or to manage them? Keep me in mind. And Daniel 😉

Food for Thought
Comments welcome!

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