Disruption Management: Thinking Big Picture Can Have a Big Impact

When you woke up this morning, the odds were very good you didn’t allocate five minutes out of your day to read this post. You didn’t know it existed until you received an email about it or found it through some other means. By definition, reading this post is a disruption. Our days are full of them. If you work in aviation, disruption management is likely at the root of what you’re working on most days. For many, the quickest route to disruption resolution seems best—likely because there’s another disruption waiting to be managed. But stepping back in the heat of the moment to think long term about a disruption may prove to be worth the time and effort.

Name Your Disruption

First, it helps to recognize the type of disruption you’re facing. Disruptions come in many forms: weather, mechanical, AOG issues, crew complications, regulations and the list goes on.  However, you might benefit by starting from a broader perspective.

By it simplest definition, disruption is a change to a current plan. From that, it makes sense that disruptions could easily fall into one of two categories:

  • Negative Disruptions—This type of disruption is the one that comes to mind most often (see the causes listed in the paragraph above). Something in the system has failed and opportunities will be lost if a path around that failure isn’t identified and acted upon.
  • Positive Disruptions—While no less disruptive, these usually have new opportunities associated with them. A passenger wants to add a leg to his or her trip at the last minute. A new trip springs up that wasn’t planned. Maintenance requirements on an airplane aren’t as complex as originally thought, and it can return to service sooner.

It can be argued that a disruption is a disruption. It doesn’t matter if it is positive or negative, it has to be dealt with. True. But here’s a scenario that happens in many flight operations every day. Does this sound familiar?

A passenger calls with a last-minute trip request. After some quick calculations and a return call or email to the passenger, you agree that $10,000 for this hypothetical trip is profitable for you and a fair price for your passenger. In the excitement of getting this unexpected trip on the books, one may consider options like shuffling crews and/or aircraft, deferring non-critical or non-scheduled maintenance or even enlisting an external charter service. The trip goes off without a hitch. But it’s not until the end of the month, that you determine the real cost of that $10,000 trip was $15,000 due to the true ripple effect of disruptions and the true network cost.

Having first acknowledged the trip as a positive disruption, and then having asked how to deliver on that opportunity profitably, would have changed how the disruption was managed. 

Think In Circles, Not Lines

According to Roei Ganzarski, the CEO of BoldIQ, the human brain can only analyze about seven pieces of data to solve a given problem. But the details surrounding scheduling, flight planning and trip planning can number well into the hundreds. When a disruption comes along, the brain will naturally default into linear thinking. If we consider the hypothetical trip mentioned above, a reasonable line of questions to manage the positive disruption might be: Is there a suitable airplane available? Yes or no. If yes, is there a qualified crew available to fly it? Yes or no. If yes, are there regulatory or maintenance issues that might prohibit the trip? Yes or no. If no,… you get the idea.

If you’ve worked in scheduling or dispatch for more than about three minutes, you know the answers to the questions above are rarely Yes or No. More often the answers are Maybe, Possibly, Could Be. Instead of a linear thought process, imagine a big circle around your operation. When you think across the network, the questions change to: Is there a suitable airplane available? Maybe. What is the impact if we schedule airplane A for this trip? What is the impact if we schedule airplane B? In this day of data and analytics, the answers around impact aren’t as hard to find as they used to be. What’s more, they bring a new level of clarity and confidence to the larger impact of disruption management decisions.

Understand Your Larger Goals

Now, more than ever, it seems that once a positive decision is made regarding the bottom line, the thinking stops. But you might take an additional minute and think on. Many a company has gone under because they were so focused on the making the cash register ring today, they forgot about tomorrow. Let’s use the hypothetical $10,000 trip as an example one final time. If your operation prides itself on outstanding passenger service, would you look at the disruptive trip differently if the passenger calling was a longtime customer versus a first time traveler?

Would you consider a newer or more well-appointed airplane for the first-time passenger in hopes of demonstrating your outstanding service and converting them to a regular customer? Would you take the extra step to schedule the flight crew you know is a favorite of the long-time passenger? Would you suggest alternative departure or return times, or perhaps an alternate airport, if you knew you could save the passenger some expense (and still be profitable)?

Managing disruptions—positive or negative—is often a game of survival. What’s more, few others appreciate the hoop-jumping that’s required to meet what seems like the simplest of disruptions. And, truthfully, many passengers don’t care about the sausage-making that is scheduling, flight planning and trip planning. Since they’re willing to pay for a flight, you should be willing to provide it.

Despite all these factors, recognizing the kind of disruption you’re dealing with, thinking across your operation and acting in accordance with your values will put you on a path to disruption management success.

At NBAA 2016, Jeppesen introduced its new Operator solution. It integrates the often disparate flight planning, scheduling and trip planning functions into a single tool that can help schedulers and dispatchers spend more time thinking in the ways outlined above, and less time reacting to the disruption of the moment. Contact your Jeppesen representative, or learn more by clicking here.


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