The Art of Preparedness in Aviation
It´s again the winter time in the Northern parts of the globe and the snowy days are here. Even though snow is nice and definitely idyllic, it can be a major nuisance in the aviation business causing largely delays and cancellations. Therefore it can cause uncomfortable situations and bad customer experience for the passengers.
Snow storms as well as other adverse weather conditions are a major reason for irregularities in aviation. The others can be something like for example crowded air traffic, strikes, accidents or equipment malfunctions. But the weather is always a major player in aviation and a usual cause for irregularities.
How to approach the irregularity situations in aviation and especially from the passenger perspective? Taking a look at the weather related cases there are basically three ways to prepare:
Don´t prepare. Don´t do anything beforehand. Just let the potential irregularity come and do everything to recover and ease up the harms in the situation. Give the passengers meal tickets, blankets, water and chocolate.
A couple of days before the expected irregularity start cancelling the flights. Minimize the damages by reducing the amount of operations largely. Let the passengers stay away from the airport and rebook them to future flights.
Make scenarios for various irregularities and prepare actions and contracts beforehand to get additional help, staff or subcontractors to cope with the situation when it happens. Prepare irregularity processess beforehand with the whole community and work together throughout the whole situation. Continue the operations with some delays and potentially some cancellations. Focus on serving the passengers by ensuring the flights.
As we have seen in the newspapers, all these three choices have been in use in the world of aviation. Sometimes the choice has been there because the operator has taken a calculated risk, or sometimes just because these things haven´t been thought about before. Or, maybe on a good day the risk of an irregularity seems so distant that no effort is allocated to it.
From my own experience it´s definitely clear that the sizes and the affects of irregularities can be minimized with preparedness. Yes, there are always situations that just are too massive or hard to handle, but all preparations are helpful even in the worst cases. Creating scenarios, making action plans based on the scenarios and ensuring resources for the various action plans by creating systems, back up plans and contracts gives lots of power for coping with the irregularity. When you add the power of cooperation and shared situational awareness the the picture, you start to be very powerful in the situation.
The catch here is that the preparedness is definitely a tradeoff between the smooth operations and the money. Being prepared costs money. But on the other hand if you aren´t prepared and you just let the things happen, it might cost you even more. In 2010 London Heathrow went closed because of snow for almost one week. According to the media sources only British Airways lost about 50 million pounds because of that happening. Add up the costs for all the other airlines as well, the airport and the rest of the ecosystem, and of course the harm for the passengers, we come to a very big amount of money. And a very bad passenger experience.
If the irregularity situation is likely or expected to happen, there´s more willpower to make preparations for that. Like in the Nordic countries there´s likelihood to winter conditions for about five months in a year. Of course this is a good motivation for winter process preparations in those countries. On the other hand, the global warming has made the weather to be much more unpredictable than before and now making predictions has become more and more difficult everywhere. So it´s become even more important to be prepared.
In aviation the challenge is that you can´t do anything alone. It doesn´t add value if the airport keeps the airfield operable and runways open also in bad conditions, if the airline has chosen not to purchase extended resources for longer lasting aircraft deicing processes and therefore the runways remain empty. Or if the airline reserves extra personnel for ground handling purposes and at the same time the airport chooses not to keep the airfield operable. The one missing link in the chain of operations can cause the whole card house to collapse. Therefore it´s crucial to have good relationships and common understanding as well as respect about the targets and each other´s challenges in the whole ecosystem.
Preparedness in aviation is a hard work to do. It requires for example making snow plans on a summer day, creating sometimes strange scenarios, working on action plans and doing this all together with the whole and sometimes unwilling ecosystem. It requires a lot of leadership and commitment. In the actual situation it requires constant holistic situational awareness. It requires common goals. It´s really hard. And therefore the preparedness in aviation isn´t really science, it´s art.