Achieving operational excellence has always been at the core of airport operations, but with the aviation business undergoing dramatic changes due to the COVID-19 crisis, new approaches are needed to manage operations in the most efficient possible way. At Future Travel Experience Global 2021, Korijn Defever, Senior Manager Operational Excellence of Airport Intelligence, Brussels Airport’s consulting subsidiary, led an engaging workshop on how airport executives can adapt to the changing environment and bring airport management to the next level.
Digitalisation, sustainability and changing passenger needs have taken centre stage since the COVID-19 pandemic occurred. New technological solutions offer a wide range of opportunities, however, achieving operational excellence is not merely about adopting fancy applications, it is about creating cultural change within your organisation and the industry at large. But how do you ensure a holistic airport management to avoid silo-thinking? How do you reconcile the different objectives and visions of different stakeholders? How do you ensure a high level of flexibility to swiftly align demand with capacity with a significant but very stable asset base? These were just some of the questions that were discussed during the workshop, which brought together experts from all disciplines (operations, commercial, infrastructure and digital) to discuss the future of operational excellence. Here, Defever highlights some of the key takeaways from the discussion:
Defining operational excellence
Airports have a long track record of planning and optimising operations based on experience form the past, but the COVID-19 crisis was so abrupt that it really was a wake-up call that alternative approaches are needed. Airports lost all visibility – they had no view on the future and they couldn’t look back into the past, which triggered the need to become even more data-driven within our ecosystem as a whole. Airport communities need to go beyond the silos of departments and organisations and foster a proactive, data-driven and agile culture, using the wealth of data available and making use of advanced technologies to turn them into actionable insights.
Airport communities need to digitalise the way they manage operational processes to come to the next level of operational excellence. We need to unlock the value of data and use elements such as machine learning models to be able to quickly learn from these recent events and move forward again. And as such, it will not only digitalise the way you manage operations, it will become a base for data-driven decision making on all levels, clearly indicating when and where to invest, bridging the gap between operations and long term planning, or where to optimise and increase efficiencies to reduce costs, increase performance, revenues and passenger experience. This process, however, starts with cultural change, training and the flexibility to adapt, while moving towards ecosystem-thinking to better serve the community by improving collaboration and communication.
For Airport Intelligence the main focus is on creating that continuous plan-do-check-act loop from forecasting and planning what the bottlenecks of the future would be, to real-time monitoring and mitigation using the right tools and insights, to post-operations planning and data-driven review of the operations.
Outlining the challenges
Although the participants in the workshop were convinced that we need to reach this next level in operational excellence, it was clear that there remain challenges to overcome.
Large amounts of data are being transferred in a multitude of forms throughout the entire aviation ecosystem, however many airports still struggle to unlock relevant insights from these various sources and create the business value they need to become more data-driven. Collecting and receiving data from other stakeholders and suppliers remains another major point of discussion.
To optimise product implementation and process evolvement, we need to become more agile and be able to test new solutions quickly. We need to ensure a collaborative mindset across the whole ecosystem, and the commitment to execute from all stakeholders. The only way to optimise the system as a whole and come to the best possible passenger experience, optimisation needs to be approached in a collaborative process, the challenge remains how do you converge different organisations with different ambitions and perspectives towards that same goal?
The workshop concluded with a brainstorm on how to overcome these challenges. Participants indicated that as airports, we need to lead the way, be able to create meaning and facilitate decision making. We need to create a single version of truth, one database that is available for the entire community. One single database will create trust, it will help establish common goals and will help the ecosystem share best practices to create a mindset that we’re all in this together. It is also important to produce strong evidence of the benefits that data can bring, so to convince stakeholders to commit to participate and potentially co-invest.
Often, airports are aware they need to invest into becoming more data-driven, though you do not invest in an advanced data platform without having the right use case. Technology should never be the end goal, it is the means to an end. Let’s use operational excellence, and particularly, airport operations planning as the ideal use case for that journey – one that is very tangible, very concrete and allows airports to quickly demonstrate the added value. Operational excellence is a journey that takes time, but the benefits of investing in the process greatly outweigh the cost.
Founded in 2019, Airport Intelligence’s mission is to direct the expertise and knowledge of a major European airport to other organisations across the globe. Its goal is simple: using the wealth of knowledge and operational excellence of Brussels Airport, the company wants to support its clients in achieving their full operational potential with a proven set of methodologies and solutions. Airport Intelligence’s service offering focuses on operational planning and optimisation, airfield renovation, safety and security. Find out more about Airport Intelligence here.