RE: Organisation of the Re-Organisation 

Quite a few members have been attempting to define the real benefits of SDE and in particular asking managers whether they can see the savings. Some managers are certain that the savings are there long term, some say they can't see the savings offsetting the cost. Some simply prefer not to answer the question. Regardless of the truth of the matter, which only time will tell, there are a number of questions we could be asking about the process...

Could traffic (cost) savings have been addressed as efficiently within the existing structure?  The cost savings associated with not having to commit to all that cross-training would appear to be fairly substantial. What efficiencies could we have gained in the [then] existing structure? Certainly there are things in the business that have to change as the world changes around us but generally in high reliability organisations there's a whole lot less risk in evolution rather than revolution. 

The compartmentalisation of the various aspects of our service delivery can lead to efficiencies, particularly in delivery of change based training. NAS is the classic example. For many of the remaining NAS characteristics yet to be implemented the vast bulk apply to regional services only. You don't have to train ECS or UAS. The only problem is that there is also a commitment to allow movement of staff between the various areas to allow regular renewal or "fresh blood" in the streams, sorry, "environments" and also reinvigorate staff that have been in the rut of doing the same thing for years. Thus the savings in implementation are traded against increased cross-training at a later date. What it does mean is that there is a significant saving to be had in the implementation phases due to a much smaller initial target for the training. 

So where can savings be made? There are obvious savings on the plate. If you don't allow movement of staff after the initial reorganisation then there is a huge cost reduction in ongoing cross-training to allow your staff to move. If you decide at a later date that you are going to more closely follow ICAO and provide a class G service in G (ie. nothing) then you can pare most of regional services out of the organisation altogether. (Dick Smith's class E to the ground might prevent this)

Longer term, as airborne technologies become more mature, in UAS airspace our clients might prefer to self-separate rather than pay a monopoly service provider to do it for them. Even before then emerging tools such as Flight Plan Conflict Probe may allow significantly bigger and more complex sectors to be handled by individual controllers, reducing the overall requirement for staff. The enablers include flexible endorsements and greater flexibility in sectorisation. Thus fewer controllers manage peaks as they follow the typical waves of traffic across transcontinental or oceanic airspace. This is already a target of the long term UAS model. Already initiatives such as flextracks and user preferred route trials are significantly cutting enroute fuel burn. 

It is clear that Airservices feels that the revenue base will shrink with time although volume is expected to increase so they must improve value to the clients. Airlines are not by nature moral creatures. It is a cut-throat business trading profit margin and market share in an unholy dance for years on end. This is in common with many businesses but the sheer scale of it is dramatic on the aviation front. And although some (in fact few) airlines continue to post record profits the drive to increase return to shareholders yields a willingness to cast aside any item that does not provide a clear and positive cost/benefit. Rest assured if they think they can do without us they won't cast a backward glance at ATC as they leave us in the dust. All they need is a viable risk model that their underwriters can live with and they'll be howling for us to be sacrificed on the altar of economic rationalism. 

So if the revenue focus inevitably moves toward the ECS environment over time, where are the savings? Now I know I have tended to focus on a "special case" in past articles but the same scenario, writ large in the Sydney basin, occurs at all our major ports and most regionals at peaks. What causes that most painful cost to the airlines? Traffic delays. In the end it's simply availability of areas to land upon and take off from. The passenger market, particularly the business portion, is hell-bent on getting everyone where they need to be to conduct a "normal" business day. So 0600 - 0900 and about 1600 - 2000 (local) are extremely popular departure and arrival times. Interestingly the remainder of the market utilising low cost operators or discount fares has significantly spread the peaks. In either case delays are caused by everyone trying to use the same runway(s) at the same time. Sure it gets better or worse depending upon weather, unserviceabilities and noise abatement but the core problem remains.

How can we fix this?

1.      More concrete/bitumen

  • parallel runways;
  • upgraded regional ports;
  • new major airports

2.      Bigger aircraft

  • more pax per movement

3.      Tighter spacing onto/off the concrete

4.      Regulate the traffic

The first and second points are occurring. This is simply market economics over which we have very little direct control. Airlines want more capacity at hubs where delays occur to reduce their major cost structure component - fuel burn. Pressure in turn from the limited capacity causes airlines to try and operate more efficient and possibly larger aircraft to minimise the cost of every passenger mile. 

Point 3 can be addressed to some extent by improving infrastructure where cost justifies the investment. Surveillance technologies (radar, ADS-B, multi-lat etc.) allow closer spacing but ultimately are limited by the capacity of the airport to populate and vacate runway slots. This capacity can be severely affected by weather conditions which can in turn be mitigated by Instrument Landing Systems, Surface Movement Control Systems, High speed taxiways, Airport configuration, Precision Approach Runway Monitoring etc. It should be noted that in some cases points 2 and 3 work directly against each other. 

Point 4 comes down to what we're doing every day. Holding or other delays happen when the demand for the available runway slots outstrips availability. Despite significant improvements in the first 3 areas we are forced to implement the 4th each and every day at most locations. This might as simple as extending downwind for spacing at GAAP aerodromes and pilots ringing in for arrival slots, right up to the complexity of MAESTRO managed sequences. Again market forces drive the balance of what is done. Too much delay and the pressure becomes very intense to find a way to reduce delays (and of course cost). 

What is being done to try and absorb delays in less expensive ways? ALOFT pushes the expected delays significantly into the en-route portion of the leg allowing reduced overall fuel burn for the leg length. Flex tracks allow more fuel efficient legs taking into account forecast winds. CTMS indicates to airlines where high demand will occur so they can structure their flights more effectively. Slot times allow aircraft to absorb portions of delay on the ground rather than in track stretching or holding. 

The weakness of the system as it currently exists is that the disparate pieces of data that make up the broader picture are not integrated. Each airline is making independent decisions upon CTMS data to try and work out effective scheduling. They may or may not actually change to mitigate against demand. From an airline's marketing department point of view it may be more effective to focus your customers on their "on time departure" and blame delays on ATC rather than accept some responsibility for overloaded systems and absorb time to reduce cost on the ground. Within Airservices the system is not reactive enough to understand issues from individual operators affecting their network such that delays can be targeted in more efficient ways. It may be better for a particular company to take additional delay on one aircraft than another given requirements for subsequent legs. 

The reality is that virtually all of the data required to make better decisions exists now in the various ANSP and airline systems. Attempts are being made to try and integrate the information such that intelligent systems can juggle demand against availability to try and add value (reduce cost) to our customers. 

So the big question remains. Given that the training savings by compartmentalisation of the various service delivery environments may in fact simply be deferred into inflated cross-training costs at a later date, the UAS flexible airspace arrangements are largely dependent upon technical change in the first instance, and lastly the demand for certain airports during peak periods is unlikely to change until we are better able to make meaningful collaborative strategic and tactical flow decisions, is SDE necessary at all? 

Robert Mason, VP Technical