A-CDM, TAM, NDC and other Wishful Thinkings

This last week began with a client in North America, continued with a call from a subject matter expert in South America and culminated in two discussions I commented a bit longer on. Triggering this new article talking about “digital in aviation”, pioneering days and the impact of dinosaurs. And why we suffer in aviation from too much #talkthetalk

Not Invented Here, part 1

Too busy CavemenLast week, I had a lengthy phone call with an airport manager in the U.S. Snow-Belt, asking me about ideas, how to break up the silo thinking that keeps all his ideas about a common airport operations center as a basis for some A-CDM-style development from moving forward. Next winter approaching, he’s worried about repeating the past years’ experience of unnecessary delays. “The airline always knows better” he complained to me. If we offer them solution, it’s not theirs, so it’s being turned down. Communication is faulty and in crisis, everyone works on their own. #talkthetalk

Passengers spend 156 Minutes at AMS

AMS Schiphol: Did you know a passengers spends about 156 minutes on average strolling through the airport?Now give me a break. When I read this “promo” on LinkedIn, is it just me, seeing the fault in it?

As I outlined 2011 and 2014 in my two posts about a contemporary check-in process, contemporary airport passenger processes, to be attractive for the passenger, we need to minimize the wait time, the “ineffective” time spend at airports! It’s the big advantage of regional aviation, to minimize airport spent time.

Planning my current travels, I will spend some time with the family in Northern Germany, in between two events in Switzerland. In both cases, traveling eight hours by train will reflect in several hundred Euros in cost savings, and adds less than an hour on the total travel time door-to-door. As no, the meetings are not in Zürich.

This reminded me of the time we pioneered online travel booking (today Amadeus’ Cytric™). Own story. But as I mentioned back in 2018, compared to those pioneering days, development has almost come to a halt, with just little cosmetics and changes to the functionalities. Very little real improvements.
Working on what was to become Cytric and the first commercially used corporate online booking tool, we discussed:

The Multimodal Approach

Multimodal Travel. Source: http://bonvoyage2020.eu/crat-demonstration-on-personalization-of-multimodal-travel-planning-services/Our vision for what was to be Cytric, that we wanted to follow, a vision not existing now, 25 years later, was to enter the home address, the destination address and the system would provide you the best travel options for you to get to the airport using car, rail, taxi, whatever, fly towards your destination and again take rail, taxi, rental car, whatever, to get to where you needed to go.

Back in those days, we already understood that it’s not about the flight. Or rail. The customer, especially the business traveler, needs to go somewhere. Getting to and from the airport, the check-in process and delays, connecting and waiting for the connecting flight, getting off the airport, all adds to the travel time. But even mighty Google only offers me to select one mode of transport, i.e. car, rail or flight… #talkthetalk

Travel Agent or Data Processor?

American Airline 1987Speaking about Business Travel Management, we don’t need data typists any more. In the good old days, travel agents were the experts, knowing how to get the traveler from A to B, halfway (or all) around the world… Then came the GDS and the travel agents became data interfaces to the big data accessed through travel computers being connected with mighty servers. Something we call cloud computing today, using “dummy terminals”. Using codes like AN19DECFRAMIA and SS1B1M2 to search for and book a flight. Or similar complicated tools to book a rail ticket.

(And yes, that’s me in the American Airline office back in 1987 at an “ICOT” terminal.)

Then we enabled online booking and all that easy trips anyone can “book” now without any help. But what if you want to combine several destinations? What if you’re not living in Frankfurt or Paris, but in a rural, small industrial town with not many flights? We need the real travel agents again. Not the data processors. We need travel experts, that require strong and ongoing training and some specialization to provide the customer with a solution to their travel needs. That think beyond computer algorithms and understand “cross tickets” or “interlining” or multimodal travel. That take into account getting from and to the transportation hubs. And less conservatism, opposition to change and other #talkthetalk

Total Travel Time

HAJ Airport CheckInIt is why I believe we need regional aviation and we need more of it. Smaller aircraft, connecting secondary cities, offering quick and direct connection. Hubs are good for the global networks. And as I kept and keep emphasizing. Regional airports must not look out, how to get their locals out to the world. But to justify their existence, they need to bring the world to their regions! If that is by car, bus, train and/or flight is irrelevant for the passenger. To offer good connections at competitive cost and speed is the task at hand. And no, there is no reason for #flygskam if you do that right.

We need holistic thinking. Beyond our petty box. And less #talkthetalk

The “C” in A-CDM

A-CDM data silo puzzleOn the call from an aviation IT professional it triggered that A-CDM is for big airports only. Is it?

Also the first article today on LinkedIn was from my friend Kalle Keller about TAM (Total Airport Management) and A-CDM.

As I outlined in my articles on that topic and i.e. the article about the Polar Vortex + Collaboration, A-CDM is about the C: Collaboration! It’s not what EuroControl, with their own agenda of this, markets as A-CDM. Neither that “bible” of theirs, they call the Airport Collaborative Decision Making (A-CDM) Implementation Manual. A “bible” about everyone I speak to reads and believes it to be the holy grail. It isn’t.

Eeee...gypt?As I approached it back in 2016/17 and shared the learning curve at Passenger Terminal Expo 2017, the first step into A-CDM is and must always be a collaborative approach between the stakeholders at the airport. Systems and IT are secondary. Less than secondary! It is about tearing down siloes in the heads, between the stakeholders. The development of a common understanding of the common goal to optimize the processes for the greater good: A smooth management of airport operations beyond “the operations management”. Overall. Holistic.

And unfortunately, only once you did your homework at the airport … or the airline … the air traffic control, only then you can reach out to integrate with other A-CDM systems. And beyond. Not behind paywalls, but sharing for joint process improvements.

But then I research airports and my birth country Germany, mighty pacemaker in A-CDM, the ANSP (German Air Traffic Control) hides the basic aviation data from the Aeronautical Information Publication (AIP) is hidden behind a paywall. So other sites, like OpenStreetMaps, Wikipedia, etc. are forced to use secondary sources. Are you kidding me? And yes, even for countries with a truly open AIP, we find some 10% of discrepancies on the data. As those AIPs are published as PDF, not as data tables to quickly update. And the IATA code search is full of airports defunct for years. As they simply “add” but never check… And hide their misery behind a paywall? #talkthetalk

OTA + NDC – Barrel Bursts

AIRIMPAn older article addressed NDC, the “New Distribution Capability” as a barrel burst. And reminded me of my project back in 2006/07, when we tried to develop a common database for hotel-information (descriptive) based on the OpenTravel Alliance XML standards that I had originally worked on in the early days. The standard has been so blown-up, that you simply can’t “comply” with a standard set of features, but anyone can pick what they want and that not being the same that others use, we have an overblown “standard” that in practical life allows everyone to be compliant, but still speaking totally different languages.

The same is with NDC. Original idea of NDC was to allow standard packaging of new or unique parts into the package. I recall early discussions when airlines started to unravel their travel packages and thought a way to package their individualized offers with new and unique ancillaries. The demand was to overcome the limitations of the smallest common denominator represented by the classic GDS. Nowadays, the GDS-ability to manage NDC is a key driver… In my opinion, the original intend was completely turned around. It’s now focused on a solution to put anything the airline comes up with in boxes that the GDS can manage.

As a bold example, we had the AIRIMP back in the 80s. To date, it is the smallest common denominator all airlines work with. Even though, a large number of functionalities specified in the AIRIMP are amiss in all those hip online (flight) booking interfaces (here’s the AIRIMP’s table of content). 26 years after we did the first commercial flight bookings on the web. Again a lot of #talkthetalk, tons of bold ideas how to make things better, whereas the basics are not yet covered? #talkthetalk

Disruption Management

Adverse Weather

A-CDM and TAM are in a large part about disruption management. Ten years ago we talked about “situational awareness” to manage disruptions. And I ask the same question ever since. I would like to see a tool that reflects the contemporary visualization of not what hits us now, but to see, how our industry-partner’s efforts impact the setbacks from weather, technical etc. – to identify hours ahead bottlenecks from aircraft delays, crews exceeding their duty hours, technical problems, peaks exceeding capacity, ATC problems, ground problems.

To do this, we must exchange data in large scale. All I see is data siloes and paywalls and a distrust to share data, keeping defunct and outdated processes alive, but no vision of collaboration on an industry scale. That even no matter that the same data is available in island solutions on interfaces like flightradar or the individual airports’ websites. #talkthetalk

The Source of the Most Common Truth

Our main problem is that our Powers-That-Be still consider themselves in a competition. Data is value, so put it in siloes. Where OpenStreetMap enabled mapping solutions, aviation data is still locked away. It takes two months until IATA publishes passenger data, after four months those numbers happen to differ substantially.

Looking at ICAO vs. the national AIP data, there are differences aplenty, worse even for IATA. So instead of working all together to manage common data together, we have different sources with different data. It is what I learned at SITA to be the art to find “The Source of the Most Common Truth”. There are industries living to develop and manage tools to overcome standard industry messages with airlines adding non-standard “features” to their messages, forcing rejects and delayed processing.

Back in 1995, Bill Gates spoke about the Internet about “Information at your Fingertips”. For the aviation, that is #talkthetalk

Status Quo + Outlook

I think this time we got the numbers right ... we just don't know which ones to use.Where aviation in the 1960s to -80s was a pacemaker in global eCommerce, it is now limping behind. Can tell stories about replies from industry bodies when I informed them about factual mistakes in their data. And their ignorance shown by neither directing the report to their PTBs, nor updating the faulty information. Instead of working together to develop the aviation of the future, we have conservative forces in play that hinder real development. Be that about A-CDM, data interfaces, data intelligence. We limp behind and instead of doing, we #talkthetalk.

Sure the same is true on sustainable aviation, but that’s another topic I discussed and discuss in other blog articles.

To overcome this, we must strengthen IATA and ICAO and demand the change from our PTBs. Stop the paywalls, speed up the availability of LIVE KPIs. Once a flight is finished the data must be available. Not tomorrow. All else is #talkthetalk.

My humble opinion. Happy to discuss how we can encourage real CHANGE.

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.


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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Why Do Airlines Keep Failing

Cognitive Dissonance Resolution

Recently, I attended the ISHKA conference Investing in Aviation Finance: Germany in Munich where one session addressed Why are airline bankruptcies still happening in a booming environment?

There are some, very few, very common reasons. And auditing airline business plans, start-ups and established, I keep raising the same questions.

What’s Your Business?

Back in the 90’s, I became the honorary member of the Airline Sales Representatives Association in Frankfurt. Aside the narrow-minded thinking of sales managers denying to understand that the emerging Internet was about sales channels, it kept and keeps bugging me, that they focused on their “sales channels”, denying responsibility for the new channels, as they had to be handled “by others”. In the beginning and to date, many if not most airlines have no personal e-Mail-contacts for their customers, be it travelers, travel agencies or online portals. The same applies to their smartphone numbers.

My former boss Louis Arnitz used a historic lesson to explain the change we faced converting FAO Travel, a “classic” business travel agency into i:FAO, the first European business travel portal. In the 19th century, rail companies built the railroads of America. Replacing the Pony Express. Then came those crazy flyers, “aviators”, in their small machines transporting mail. To date rail and air travel are not “connected” (very few exceptions). Because the managers understood the building of steel railroads as their business. Not the transport of people. And they still focus on the wrong priorities. Airline and Rail managers alike.

11 years ago, I wrote about the revival of the sales manager.

Know Your Cost

Speaking about Sales Managers ignorance to the cost of their airline’s operation, I found the fish stinks from the head first being a true proverb. I’ve met too many investors, airline managers, airport managers, not understanding the cost involved. Then they try to compete on the price with the large, established airlines. I have no idea, what those managers learned, I heavily doubt the quality of university education…

The recent failure of Ernest is a “classic”. They take little money, rent Boeing 737 or Airbus A320 family airplanes, in case of Ernest 1 A319 and 3 A320. Then they buy software licenses (COTS, Commercial Off The Shelf). They buy ground handling and maintenance. Something I learned studying Whole Sale & Foreign Economics  35 years ago: If you outsource, it is either more expensive or you they safe from the service levels they provide.

Something I keep telling about consulting. If you need someone with special knowledge for a short time, you “outsource”, you hire a consultant to do the job. If you need something long-term, you hire a consultant to develop the know-how within your company. Again, the job for the consultant is short term.

A ship engine failed, no one could fix it. Then they brought in a man with 40 years on the job. He inspected the engine carefully, top to bottom. After looking things over, the guy reached into his back and pulled out a small hammer. He gently tapped something. Instantly, the engine lurched to life. The engine was fixed! 7 days later the owners got his bill for 10K. ‘What?!’ the owners said. ‘You hardly did anything. Send us an itemized bill.’ The reply simply said: 1. Tapping with a hammer. $2 — 2. Knowing where to tap: $9,998. -Don’t Ever Underestimate Experience.-

In both cases you pay for the experience.

Airline managers that do not understand their real CASK, their Cost per Available Seat Kilometer (or mile as CASM), are not doing their job! Airline managers that fire good people because they are “too expensive”, airline managers that save on “service”, don’t understand reputation and brand as important are being doomed from the outset.

So these airline startups come and believe that with some 10 million Euro, leasing the same (but usually older) aircraft, pay for outsourced maintenance, IT, ground handling, etc., etc. They truly believe they can “succeed” in the shark pond where an easyJet owns 70-80% of their fleet. Only some 20-25% being still paid off (until they own them), less than 3% being leased to cover for ad hoc demand. Where they run their own maintenance operation, their own ground handlers where they can. Then they have established processes and understanding of the cost of disruptions and delays – and cover them with an own fleet of spare aircraft. Do those small airline operators have any spare aircraft on hand when their aircraft fails them?

From Cobalt, Germany, Primera (alphabetical order), feedback said “disruption cost”, attributed i.e. to EU261 “passenger rights” to having been a major reason for their financial troubles. Still, most business plans, I was asked to have a look at last year failed to address that issue at all. Or they used “easyJet figures”, neglecting the fact that easyJet has a spare fleet to cover and minimize the effects of flight disruptions.

Even large airlines’ network managers keep ignoring those cost factors and then get surprised when a route fails. Others go to considerable lengths to understand the typical delays they incur on specific routes. Caused by the ground handler, the departure and/or arrival airport, taxi times, the air traffic control – or simply common weather issues like fog in Stuttgart.

So taking all those common and neglected factors into account: What’s your cost? CASK is one value for the entire company – do you understand the performance on the specific route or airport? Why is it often the same airports “failing”? Maybe they shouldn’t be overly optimistic but be more realistic? And yes, that is the same airports believing if they reduce the landing fee, it would have some decision making impact on the airlines’ cost. It’s that level of non-understanding that causes constant and ongoing failures – not just for newcomers or small airlines.

What’s Your USP

Shortly prior their demise, a board member of Cobalt answered my question about their USP: “We’re Cypriot.”
Say what? Competing against easyJet and other low cost and classic network carriers, that is all there is for a USP?

His second answer about USP was “We’re cheaper.”
Okay. You operate 2 A319 and 4 A320. easyJet operates what, more than 330 A320 family aircraft. You think you’re “cheaper”? Really?

Another airline answered my same standard question with: We fly different routes.
Well… Hard to not be nasty. They just wonder that on their most successful routes, the other, bigger carriers kick their butts and take over those routes.

Carolin McCall understood “service” to be a difference maker. Since her leave, very quickly they dropped from my “role model” and preferred airline to “me too”. Taking over aircraft from Air Berlin with additional and “bulkier” seats, I suddenly experienced less leg space. Their airport manager at one of their hubs found himself quickly “obsolete”, the new paradigm being “cost savings”. In turn they seized my (half-sized) cabin bag due to “full overheads”. Aside the seat next to me being empty, there was more than enough space below the seat. Heard meanwhile from many frequent flyers they no longer wait if they have an aisle seat but make sure they have their seat and the cabin baggage with them. Would be indeed interesting to have some statistics how that impacts boarding time.

So what’s your USP? Price? Okay Mr. O’Leary… But what’s an LCC? Ryanair flies into the big airports recently. That’s another story I plan to address in the new year. So again, what’s your USP? How can you secure that people buy your product, that it’s not simply exchangeable with some cheaper airline? Back 35+ years, my boss in whole sale told me: “There’s always someone cheaper.” And several years later, the boss of “low cost airline” Continental Gordon Bethune said:

A good airline is defined by CUSTOMER SATISFACTION not just cost per available seat mile - Gorden Bethune 1996

Interesting enough, in my recent qualification in Online Marketing, P.R., I learned the same values being valid in the online world. Nothing new. What’s your USP? Know your Strengths, Weaknesses, Oportunities and Threats – internally and externally and build your business case. Then you come to your own USPs. And you will likely not invest into some airlines with a few aircraft. Or into aircraft owners with a few A320 or B737 aircraft they try to place in a sated market. If you’re an investor (or know such), send them over to Kolibri.aero

The Virtual Airline

airline money burnAs mentioned above and before and again. I usually don’t believe in the survival of virtual airlines. A few leased aircraft of the same kind than their competitors, outsourced IT, ground handling, maintenance and other “services”, often even the call and service center (to “GSAs”). Then they believe to be competitive to the large players. If you operate in an un- or under-served market, you may be able to ask for the higher ticket prices required by your increased cost levels. Most airlines I see trying to take off or change their business to survive try to compete to the large network and low cost carriers, but without a secure market (using the same aircraft).

Aviation – and the dying continues … Look at the fleet, at complexity at size and type. Do they have spare(s) in case of disruptions? How much do they fly (make money)? Look at the pricing model and if that reflects the higher CASK. I’ve not seen a single failure in the past years that was not clearly a result of those common causes.

Food for Thought
Comments Welcome!

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SEO, SEM – Who Do You Write For?

College Qualification 2019

Online Classroom Qualification 2019, 3x 100% grade 1.0 online P.R., online marketing, search engine optimization and analysis, online advertising

As many of you know, from March to June, I attended a full-time qualification in Online-P.R. (public relations), online-marketing, search-engine optimization (SEO), marketing (SEM) and analysis (SEA) and online advertising. Sure this was contemporary in an online class room I had to log-in at prescheduled times.

The motivation to do that was an implied lack of online experience, a missing understanding of the intricacies (details) what makes online different from the classic offline. That this was a bold misperception on my own can be seen in the results. All three exams I finished with 100% (grade 1.0). I was mostly unchallenged, contributed to the topics, explained and even on several occasions proved the tutors wrong.

What surprised me most is the fact that there is an industry that claims that this is all new and you need all new experts and agencies doing it for you. But if you properly learned your business, it is nothing new at all. The rules are all the same! In addition, I found there is simply an industry implying and claiming value where there is none. We talked and learned a lot about analysis, but you can analyse yourself to death. To do an analysis of one simple “advertising” or “website optimization” for the search engines took hours. Aside the need for external (mostly paid) services.

Google Analytics vs. Matomo

I still believe, the tutor on search engine optimization and analysis has been paid to use certain tools. There is no alternative to Google Analytics? Feed the big monster your internal data? By adding Google Analytics, Google learns about “hidden pages” and if they are not password protected, Google can (and does) parse them. Yes, I know many cases where Google had access to pages that were not linked elsewhere. Funny as that is, I have my browser to only accept cookies from the website I visit and not from “third party websites” (like Google Analytics). A not uncommon setting That results in an offset with Google, counting me again and again and again.

Matomo VisitorsInstead of Google Analytics, I prefer Matomo on Premise analytics. They also offer “in the cloud” (on Matomo servers), but that results in the same shortcomings as Google and comes with a price tag. So if you want to become independent of releasing sensitive information to Google, go to Matomo on Premise. If you use WordPress, they are in the process (Beta testing phase) for Matomo for WordPress, which I am about to test on this blog.

As Matomo runs on your own server, the cookies work properly an the analysis are as  good – sometimes better, sometimes worse, just like the difference between Apple iOS and Android or Open Office vs. Microsoft.

Who Do You Write For?

If you have subscribed to the RSS or follow my posts on LinkedIn, you may recall my note on the June-post, which I “optimized” for Search Engines (aka. SEO). And analysed. Funny as that is, the website did not appear much better in the real world search engines. Slightly maybe. But I got quite some feedback from my friends reading this, that I shall go back to write “my style”.

Search Engine Analysis

I somewhat expected that, but was quite shocked to the extend of the quality (or lack of it) of search engine analysis. While we looked at real websites, analyzing using several different services (including Google Analytics), we could create success by the selection of analysis results. It was another fantastic example on the proverb usually (incorrectly) attributed to Winston Churchill: “The only statistics you can trust are the once you falsified yourself”. Presented then to managers without the experience, it all looks shiny and good, but is simply Hokus Pokus.

The Fairy Tale of Reach

Oh Gawd... Helpdesk: Final Level. Pray

How do you qualify “Reach”? By the visitors? See above on Google Analytics relying on IP and Cookie – a cookie they never get in my case. At home, I have a new IP every 24 hours (thanks to my internet provider). Talking to Marketing Managers, I keep getting the confirmation of what I learned in the early days of Internet. In the GDS and first online tools we talked about the “Look to Book Ratio”.

In the good old GDS era before Internet, a travel agent looked up an availability (for a flight, hotel, rental car, etc.). Talking to the customer, the booking was confirmed, a “look to book ration of 5 I believe to remember. At the dawn of online travel booking, the processes got instant. First the availability. Then a booking. But to book, the availability was redone. And that is just the tip of the iceberg of the complexities we (I) resolved developing the first online booking tool in Europe. The look to book ratio exploded. Even adding sophisticated caching (reuse of data), the systems had to “evolve” to manage the increase in processing power needed.

But how does that compute with “Reach”? Reach are generally unique visits. Some SEA-experts use simple visits – every time someone visits or revisits a website or page. Even with the more accurate unique visits, a visit does not tell you anything on any revenue being generated. Except if you use banner ads and get paid by vistor. Aside visits, there is clicks. Most advertisements are “per click”, at least that brings a visitor to the targeted website. But while P.R. and Marketing are not Sales, they are not an end to themselves but must result in promoting the product and services and generate revenue. I know many P.R. and Marketing Managers (and their bosses) not understanding the difference.

If you believe “Reach” is your goal and you value “Reach” above all else, I hope that that reach results in revenue. And you can have the best reach with no revenue. So I call reach a fairy tale. In the end, it is all about revenue. For sales, not only the price counts, but also brand, reputation and being in the mind of the customer. But it all boils down to being where the customer is when the customer needs your products or services, to be in the mind and to come up.

Key Performance Indicators

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

What are your KPIs, your key performance indicators in Marketing and P.R. qualifying success?

As a Chief Marketing Officer of a now bankrupt airline recently told me: “In Marketing KPIs are a smoke wall. Do you truly believe all those haters visiting your website are lovers? How can you distinguish visitors?”

They had all followers, all fans, all visitors – but not enough sales. Marketing is long term, make sure you’re seen, together with P.R. looking after your reputation, that it is good, but in the end, if they don’t steer sales and help to improve revenue, you can shunt their KPIs. Even “reputation” and “visibility” are only means to generate sales.

If you reach the wrong people, they don’t mean anything. So what’s your KPIs and are they clear? “The good ones in the little pot, the bad ones for your little crop”.

And our tutor showed us how to tamper the statistical outcome in your favor by selecting what confirms the wanted result. I call that cheating your bosses…


Wow, I already had five super discussions... -- Don't worry, I've not sold anything either...!
Wow, I already had five super discussions… — Don’t worry, I’ve not sold anything either…!

Talk to me if you are interested to discuss this. It’s a complex topic and can (and does) fill books. But to boil it down, the rules of engagement are the same on- or offline.

KPIs were in use long before Internet and mostly used as misleading as I see those agencies use them. And there is a very strong tendency by those agencies to justify their overvalued work as valuable. So they try to tamper the KPIs and the statistics in their favor.

Who do you write for? What is your goal? How can you reach the customer, spread your brand message, stimulate sales and reputation? If you look at it “academically”, you can spend your time analyzing your efforts to death and beautify the results to your liking or the one of your superiors.

Or you get things done, use two or three tools for analysis and make sure you understand KPIs and use them meaningful.

Sales will hardly work if you have no marketing, nor P.R., advertising and branding. But don’t overdo it. And don’t split them up, they got to interact and work together for a common goal. Revenue. Income.

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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Long-Haul Low-Cost? Supersonic? Quo Vadis?

While we work here on a business plan for a new airline, we did discuss and disqualified many of the existing airline models. Is that negative? Or realistic?

These days some news hit me in short succession, that make me rethink the assessment my friend Ndrec and I made when discussing possible, viable business models for a new airline.

I did the picture above a mere year ago. Meanwhile Niki is gone too, as is Virgin America. Mighty Norwegian being said to be likely acquired by IAG shortly. We have “new” players like Blue Air. But the question for any new business case must be:

What is Your (E-)USP?

Now Ray Webster, former CEO of easyJet opened the Routes Europe Conference with a keynote:

“I don’t see long-haul low-cost as a viable model. Operating a small aircraft across the Atlantic is not efficient, and low-cost carriers aren’t going to fill a 787 or an A380”

Ray Webster, former CEO easyJet

Even students traveling on longer flights do want more services the longer the flight gets.

In contradiction to that assessment, Eurowings now opens up New York-services, taken over from the late Air Berlin operating from Düsseldorf. We all looked at Norwegian, though their “success story” also seemingly was bought on the cost of revenue, the airline now is said to be acquired rather shortly by British Airways/Iberia holding IAG (also owning Aer Lingus).

Whereas I simply do not understand the “brand strategy” of either Lufthansa or IAG…

  • IAG: Aer Lingus, British Airways, Iberia, Level, Vueling … Now Norwegian adding to the mix of “it’s not me”?
  • Lufthansa Group: Air Dolomiti, Austrian, Brussels, Eurowings, LGW, CityLine, Swiss, Sun Express. Also “it’s not me”?

The work on a business plan for a new airline was triggered last year initially by some investors, going down the same “me-too”-dead end using old, inefficient Boeing 737-aircraft. Cheap to get, but their fuel consumptions renders them virtually useless.

BlueSwanDaily believes in the future of Supersonic… Are you kidding me? Yes, I believe supersonic will come, but expensive niche for the rich and wealthy. No real change to the Concorde business model.

I myself worked out a “green” concept a few years ago, but we’re neither getting there… The project got grounded in the wake of Lehmann Brother’s and a world financial crisis and the original interested investors gone never took up speed again. [Update: The Korean Wingship seems a ready-to-go WIG, though using conventional fuel, no green hydrogen or battery powered e-engines]

So we looked at models that differ from the existing ones. Where are unservered or underserved markets and why are they not served well? One issue sure is the airline analysis tools misleading their users to “established routes” and airports.

So we started with the original intent of a small scale operation. And recognized why so many such projects are doomed. There is a pilot shortage hovering on the horizon, Ryanair running pilot acquisition as far as South America and Asia. Most airlines do not value their workers but drain them.

And having discussed the very same issue again yesterday with friends who must relocate in the automotive industry as a direct consequence of overpaid managers, back again, using old images:

Maybe. Just maybe. I believe Ndrec and I came up with a sound business idea, which requires far higher investment than we originally envisioned. Coming with a round and sound business plan paying off that major investment in 10 years safe. Because we do have a unique selling proposition (USP). Because we do have an emotional USP. Because we thought it through and instead of failing at the first obstacle, we save cost from day one and make this a company to work for?

And working on that, we learned a big deal about the faults of the airlines we see in the market. And it boils down to the normal questions: What’s your (emotional) USP? What makes you different, why should the intended consumer decide to use your product. We see too much “me too” in the market. Buy your market share in the B737/A320 shark pond?

30+ years ago, my training officer told me that joke:

A man starts a business selling screws.
His friends questions him: “You buy
the screws for 1 €, you sell them for 95c?
How do you want to make money?”
“Oh, the quantity does it!”

My training officer told me to look after yours. Not only in the company, also your supply chain. Make sure you have long-term suppliers selling you the quality you need for a good reputation.

Later I learned the same lesson from space shuttle Challenger, management ignoring their own experts warning them of the temperature being below safety specifications. Shuttle Columbia dying of a piece of foam worth a few cent perforating the heat shield. Of Concorde crashing from a “minor” piece of scrap metal.

I’ve paid very high (in hard Euro) for another lesson. Starting with a sound idea (regional airlines’ franchise concept to share cost and operate a larger scale of operations), it turned out later that the stakeholders did not look for a franchise, but a means to start their own small operation and “share” the cost with the other small players. Clearly understanding the small operations to face obstacles they cannot overcome on their own. Could not. Cannot. Will not. A costly mistake I made. But lesson learned!

Then at delair I learned about airline disruptions and how our industry uses historic processes to “manage” somehow. How airlines use manpower instead of intelligence to cope i.e. with a winter storm.

With Ndrec, I found a seasoned manager understanding the need to either do it right – or don’t do it. And we got surprised how much money we save if we do it right! Not short term, there we need more to invest. But then very shortly, within less than 10 years. Now we reached the point of the reality check: Will we find solvent institutional investors helping us to pull this off? Cross your fingers.

For all those other airlines out there… Do your homework. First and foremost: What’s your USP? What’s the business case?

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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Route Financing

“Our Heads Are Round so our Thoughts Can Change Direction” [Francis Picabia]

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

“Our Heads Are Round so our Thoughts Can Change Direction” [Francis Picabia]


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
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The End of the Airport Passenger Fees?

“Our Heads Are Round so our Thoughts Can Change Direction” [Francis Picabia]
Inflight Shopping

As I outlined in my summary on the Hamburg Aviation Conference, my friend Daniel expressed his believe that within 20 years, there will be no more passengers fees.
At the same time, Michael O’Leary was recently quoted that he expects in very short time they will offer the flights for free.
But flying costs money, no matter how good the aircraft engines become, terminal construction and maintenance, ground handling, air traffic control, gasoline, pilots, cabin crews, aircraft, insurance, it all needs to be paid. And no matter how effective you calculate …

… someone has to pay the bill.

Airlines lower their ticket prices, covering the “loss” with “ancillary revenues”. While those “ancillaries” have been understood as services previously bundled (inflight meal, baggage, flight insurance), they meanwhile extend quite into “inflight shopping”.

At the same time, traditionally airport landing fees, split into the landing and passengers, covered for the airports’ cost of operations and development. This basic, sensible model is now threatened. It will change. But how. When the airline and airports fight for the revenue of the passenger – I believe both will loose.

Airport Duty Free

So currently it is a fight between airport and airline for the money of the traveler. I hear airlines expressing their anger about the airports increasingly draining the pockets of the passengers pre- and post-flight. And the airports upset about architectural changes enforced by the evaporating aviation income, forcing them to add shopping in arrivals halls and rebuilding terminals for improved shopping, i.e. forcing the passenger through the duty free store. Or how to speed up the check-in process to increase the dwell time of the traveler to spend more money shopping. And the shop owners about the increasing pressure to cash in on the passenger in order to pay the expensive rental deals with the airports. And, and, and…

And no, it does not help to imply that the politicos should provide airports similar to train stations. Yes, it is true, airlines bring business to the regions. Airports are important infrastructure. But in the end … someone has to pay the bill.

Source firewalkeraussies.comWhat we will need is a serious, joint discussion about the future business model in aviation. At the moment there is no discussion. There’s the airlines, the airports and business models that cannot work. And we need to have the politicos and the usually government-controlled ATC (and border control, security, etc.), we have to have the ground handlers, the shops and all other players on the table. You can’t reconstruct all the small airports. We don’t need a fight. We got to work together for a sustainable business model. ERA, AAAE, IATA, ICAO, this is your call.

Food for Thought
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