COVID19: Impacts on airside operations
Following the latest release of the “COVID19: impacts on terminal operations” study, EBEA collaborated with Horizon Aviation Solutions to assess COVID19 impacts on aircraft turnaround. In the previous research, EBEA analysed the impacts of the various new measures adopted by the aviation industry, using Bristol Airport’s terminal as a case study. The focus was to assess how the customer journey would be affected.
For this case study, the target will be those stakeholders that operate, or support operations, on the airfield. With new sanitary provisions and changes to standard operating procedures, the turnaround critical path can be affected by processes above and below-wing, as well as the performance of some terminal processes, such as boarding.
For this assessment, EBEA Consulting team will be focussing on London City Airport’s infrastructure, as a reflection of those other regional and space-constrained airports, where quick turnarounds are essential to operate during the busier times of the day.
The analysis illustrates the potential impacts of changes in the scheduling criteria. They may require aviation stakeholders to adapt to a new operational performance driven by rules and measures implemented after COVID19. It explores a potential mid-term planning scenario in which, a growing demand would coexist with some of the newly proposed measures, rendering the current planning and operational standards obsolete. If the suggested measures were to generate a consistent variation to each turnaround performance, airlines and airports might opt to introduce other mitigations to protect a smooth, predictable operation of their networks and the On-Time Performance proposition. These measures might include longer planned turnaround times on one hand but also reduced buffer times as a tactical mitigation measure.
On those lines, several scenarios were tested, with an increase of up to 15 minutes to the standard 30-minute turnaround times. It is assumed that any further increase to turnaround times would not be acceptable for airports and airlines, as it would increase stand utilisation, and other staff requirements by over 50% from the base assumptions. For those other airports where rotations were already longer before COVID19, or that were not as capacity constrained, these measures might adopt other shapes.
On the way through the pandemic, 4 distinctive recovery stages can be expected. From the operations restart, comprising of making airport facilities “COVID-secure” and handling low passenger traffic, through recovery and adaptation when demand levels start increasing, to the “New Norm” that will define the shape of the industry for the years to come.
The two middle stages pose some complex operational challenges driven by a combination of restrictive sanitary measures in place during the times of traffic recovery. Both require careful planning and consideration to enable sustainable recovery that promotes passenger safety in the most economically viable way. This study has identified the impacts of increased turnaround times and reviewed some of the observed mitigation measures that could help airport operators in recovering from the capacity degradation. Outputs of this analysis provide valuable insights into mid-term planning for airport operations through the critical stages of “Recovery” and “Adaptation” when capacity constraints are likely to affect the operations and hinder further traffic growth.
This study is based on the airfield infrastructure of London City Airport and has been tested against a maximised schedule aligned with the airport’s Summer '20 capacity declaration. The analysis baseline performance is reflective of the maximum declared runway rate of 40 ATMs per hour across peak periods. Standard turnaround time assumes 30 minutes with an additional 15-min scheduling buffer between a departure and the following arrival to the same stand.
At this stage, operational variations driven by staff performance have not been included, as the main objective of the analysis is to provide a planning view of what the impacts of each measure or scenario would be to airports, ground handlers, and other third-party service providers.
London City Airport
London City Airport is the only airport serving the city of London actually located in the city. It processed ca. 5.1 million passengers in 2019, and is distinctive for its location in the Royal Docks. As it is built over water, this also presents additional infrastructure limitations.
It is a Level 3 coordinated airport, which means that the available capacity is lower than the airline demand. This results in an external party required to coordinate the slot submissions so they can be accommodated within the current infrastructure. This coordination process relies on defining a series of constraints that the coordinator will be used before accepting the airline requests, and follows IATA’s Worldwide Airport Slot Guidelines and timelines.
During Summer 2020, London City Airport had a declared capacity limit of 40 movements per hour, with some secondary constraints as shown in the table below. There were a total of 17 stands available, 1 of which was blocked from a coordination perspective during peak periods to allow for operational contingency (delays, tech aircraft,…), as per the 'Stand size definition' table:
These rules have been maintained unaltered throughout all the scenarios.
Note: during this period, LCY closed 2 stands of the Main Apron at any given time for maintenance purposes.
The actual schedule that all airlines flew to and from LCY is not available, and it is recognised as a key limitation of this analysis. To overcome this, EBEA developed a view of what that schedule would look like during the peak periods if as many commercial opportunities as possible were to be fulfilled, based on the aforementioned constraints. This was based on the airport’s publicly available scheduling criteria included in its capacity declaration. The schedule provides a maximised view of the operation, and these principles could be applied to other similar airfields, achieving a fair comparison between what the entitlement would be at each airport.
The generated schedules are based on the aforementioned runway and stand constraints, which are the same as the ones applicable during the coordination period. They have been developed for an assumed 2-hour peak period, plus shoulders.
The schedules that have been generated include:
• Scheduled Time of Arrival
• Scheduled Time of Departure (STA + 30 mins)
• Aircraft Type
The aircraft types assigned to each slot pair have been based on the largest aircraft that could be accommodated within the infrastructure, at the time of operation for that slot. This, again, provides a maximised view of what the fleet mix, and schedule, could be. The four aircraft types that have been used for this assessment are Airbus A220 (former Bombardier CS-100), Embraer E190, De Havilland (Dash) Q400, and ATR 42. With A318 ou of operation from 2020, it was not included in the generated schedule.
The resulting baseline schedule peaks at 40 movements, in line with the maximum declared capacity. For reference, Summer '19 at London City Airport peaked at 32 scheduled movements. This would be driven by inefficiencies within the schedule based on historic slots, airlines not finding the remaining slots compatible with their networks, or incompatibilities based on aircraft types on the ground.
The stand utilisation resulted in a performance balanced with the runway:
• The specific origin/destination (as opposed to domestic/short-haul/long-haul) or seating capacity/load factor are not reviewed as part of this exercise. It is understood that these two sets of factors will have limited impacts on the majority of services (flight dispatcher, fuelling, waters, and others). These would, however, depend on the airline and where the airport fits within the wider network. On those lines, we understand these processes’ requirement to be binary
• For those other processes, requirements of which would directly vary (i.e. baggage), we have assumed a conservative view of what the allocation would be, based on the experience of both EBEA and Horizon Aviation Solutions
A secondary focus of this analysis is to understand the possible extent of impacts on staff requirements. All key stakeholders of the turnaround have been considered (flight dispatchers, baggage and GSE handlers, cleaning, catering, waters, fuelling) as well as boarding and deboarding, a terminal process that has a direct correlation with the performance of the turnaround.
To generate the baseline requirements, various sources have been consulted to obtain a turnaround map for each one of the aircraft types included in the schedule. Those include:
• IATA best practices
• Official manufacturer planning documents
• Airline targets
• Our experience of the operation at London City Airport
• An additional level of validation for the turnaround maps provided through the operational expertise of the Horizon Aviation Solutions team
Once the turnaround maps were defined, as well as the projected service times, the same level of validation was applied to defining the staff requirements for each process and service provider. For consistency, the following underlying assumptions around the turnaround process were made:
• Parallel disembarkation through the front and back doors
• Cleaning and catering processes start after disembarkation ended
• Cabin check conducted by aircraft crew at -1 minute before cleaning/catering completion
• Boarding after the cabin check through both front and back doors in parallel
• Boarding can only start after fuelling completed
• Parallel forward and aft holds offload and loading
The example below illustrates the planned 30-minute turnaround map for the A220 and its assumed staff requirements:
Turnaround time increase drivers & mitigations
With the expected infrastructure laid out, staff requirements identified and the baseline defined, we reviewed the most common measures implemented to reduce the spread of COVID19. Measures with the biggest impact on the turnaround times were selected, making the performance deviate from the baseline. For each of these, we assessed their impacts on:
The key measures that we have identified are:
• Increased cleaning requirements on board of aircraft – this could lead to an increase in both service time and staff requirements for each turn. However, it is recognised that, following the IATA guidelines on cabin cleaning, each airline may implement different cleaning and disinfection schedules, based on the conducted risk assessment. For instance:
• Deep-clean and sanitisation scheduled once a day – during extended ground times for crew change-over or overnight to protect short turnaround
• Process review and an optimised resource allocation using resource modelling
• Additional cleaning resources to perform enhanced cleaning quicker
• Selective cleaning of only the seats that have been used, and reduced overall number of touchpoints like onboard magazines, etc.
• Phased deboarding to minimise passenger congregation and congestion onboard, as well as for the arrivals processes i.e. immigration – this would result in a longer time required for disembarkation, with a consequent delay to the start of the remaining onward processes. This impact can be mitigated, mainly, by:
• A decrease in the degree of physical distancing
• Indirectly, through boarding limitations on carry-on luggage allowed on board
• Increased boarding time due to additional health checks and physical distancing – this would lead to an increased impact to aircraft boarding and could be mitigated by enabling pre-boarding at the gates (for those that could allow doing so safely and maintaining passenger separations). In any case, it is expected that the actual interaction with the turnaround time is to be greater. The extent of the process time increase will vary between boarding strategies available, and hence:
• Selecting the most efficient seating allocation is critical for the process
• Additional benefits may come from the limitations to onboard carry-on luggage allowed (which may have an adverse impact on baggage loading)
• Physical distancing requirements between the staff inside the holds – this would lead to longer unloading/loading times for baggage, as less staff could be dedicated to these activities. This would only apply to aircraft operated with bulk holds, which make up the entirety of the fleet mix at LCY and other regional airports with no ULD provisions. This impact can be even more significant when there are limitations to the number of carry-on luggage onboard in place. The primary mitigations, in this case, will be coming from the relaxation of physical distancing rules to bring the pre-COVID staffing levels back
Guidelines on sanitary provisions are expected to be progressive and reflective of regular risk assessment outcomes. When the situation improves, measures like physical distancing can be gradually relaxed, which will have a positive impact on the individual processes times.
To quantify the impacts of the selected measures, EBEA Consulting team has developed a series of sensitivities that gradually build on top of each other. This provides a range of performances that airports and other turnaround stakeholders can use as a planning basis.
It is recognised that other studies indicate that certain measures can lead to around 30-minute increase in turnaround times, however, this is deemed as unreasonable for those airports and airlines that rely on speedy turnarounds. On these lines, the sensitivities that have been generated assume more realistic increments of up to a total 15-minute increase. The diagram below includes the key assumptions that have been built on each sensitivity, inclusive of the assumed source of increased turnaround times. As an additional mitigation measure to alleviate the loss in capacity, we have also tested implementing a shorter buffer time between each turn, namely, 10 minutes vs. original 15. This is considered as a logical tactical mitigation that would reduce the loss in stand and runway capacity.
Additionally, all sensitivities assume an increase of 50% of process time for all baggage processes and a decrease in staff requirements based on less staff being able to be inside each hold, to allow for the physical distancing.
Impacts on turnaround time
As an example, the image below illustrates a 45-minute turnaround time which includes a longer service time for disembarkation, cleaning, boarding and baggage processes, as well as the expected impacts to the other processes and critical path of the turnaround times. The variations to staff requirements are also noted.
The reduction of buffer times does not drive any differences to the turnaround maps. This would enable additional aircraft being allocated on the ground, and therefore, might lead to additional staff being required to service those extra movements.
The reviewed measures will have a direct impact on planned/scheduled turnaround times, but the runway limits should not be altered. As such, the starting point will be to understand the actual stand capacity and the subsequent runway rate. The staff requirements will also be a function of the resulting schedule.
For each scenario, EBEA has analysed several aspects listed below:
• Stand requirements and occupancies, based on different turnaround times
• Resulting runway rates (reduced runway rates will be driven by changes in stand occupancy requirements)
• Staff requirements variations, depending on updated turnaround maps
The analysis has been conducted for all key stakeholders, however, for simplicity, the results will only be presented for 4 groups, based on the matrix shown.
It is understood that the rest of the providers would fall in either of the provided categories.
This section includes detailed results of the research. As discussed in the methodology section, for each scenario we have maintained unaltered current runway constraints, stand availability and compatibility. The key variable that has been modified is the actual turnaround time. On those lines, the first comparison that will be reviewed is the stand occupancy. Afterwards, the analysis will focus on the resulting runway rate and the subsequent staff requirements.
The resulting stand occupancy across the 2-hour peak for all sensitivities, is:
• Baseline: 89,6%
• 35 + 15: 91,4%
• 40 + 15: 91,9%
• 45 + 15: 94,5%
• 35 + 10: 87,2%
• 40 + 10: 89,3%
• 45 + 10: 91,1%
The runway utilisation efficiency during the 2-hour peak is:
• Baseline: 95%
• 35 + 15: 92,5% (-2 ATMs)
• 40 + 15: 85,0% (-8 ATMs)
• 45 + 15: 75,0% (-16 ATMs)
• 35 + 10: 95,0% (-)
• 40 + 10: 88,8% (-5 ATMs)
• 45 + 10: 83,8% (-9 ATMs)
Stands and runway interdependency
• As turnaround increased, the runway throughput was either reduced, or became peakier. By proxy, this led to a lower amount of movements operating during the peak times, as the stands became the predominant bottleneck
• On the other hand, an increase in stand occupancy was observed. Another consequence of this fact is the reduction of operational resiliency, which accounts for tech aircraft, maintenance or stands being Out-of-Service
• As scheduling buffers were reduced, the runway achieved higher throughputs. This also allowed for a higher runway efficiency in most cases, however, the original demand could not be achieved
• In some cases, the tactical reduction of buffer time from 15 to 10 minutes would allow an increase of up to 9 ATMs, depending on the turnaround times assumed
• Overall, the main consequence of an increase in the scheduled turnaround times is a drop in the airports capacity to sell slots during peak periods. This would result in a substantial loss of aeronautical revenue, as not all routes might be able to remain as attractive during other periods of the day
• On top of that, longer ground time from airlines might lead to an increase in airport charges to compensate for the drop in premium slots
• As a mitigation, and as demonstrated in the previous charts, the reduction in buffer time could become an evident choice during the coordination and planning stages
• Dependent on:
• Turnaround times
• Aircraft on the ground
• Not dependent on:
• COVID-19 measures
• Staff requirements – unchanged
• The recommended levels to cover for the operation would increase as turnaround times also increase
• The reduction in buffer time results in an increase in aircraft on the ground, and therefore, another increase in flight dispatcher requirements
• Dependent on:
• COVID-19 measures, incl. service time
• Aircraft on the ground
• Not dependent on:
• Turnaround times
• Staff requirements – increased
• Staff requirements are less dependent on the runway rate and aircraft on the ground, and more so on the duration of the actual service
• Dependent on:
• Aircraft on the ground
• Not dependent on:
• Turnaround times
• COVID-19 measures
• Staff requirements – unchanged
• Staff and equipment requirements would be marginally reduced as the increased turn times lead to less aircraft on the ground
• Dependent on:
• Aircraft on the ground
• Turnaround times
• COVID-19 measures, increasing times
• Staff requirements – reduced
• Despite increasing service times, the fact of being able to dedicate less staff per turn based on maintaining social distancing inside the holds leads to a reduction in the minimum requirements for staff
Staff requirements - conclusions
• The various parties involved in the aircraft turnaround will see varying levels of impacts as a result of the potential measures to be applied
• For those providers for which staff levels would not be affected by the new measures but their service time would, like flight dispatchers, the requirement is likely to marginally increase in line with the turn times. This would happen despite the fact of having a lower runway demand. Furthermore, once the reduction is applied to the buffer time, the minimum staffing levels are also expected to increase
• For those for which both the duration of their service and the staffing levels would remain the same, like fuelers, the minimum staff requirement is likely to either remain the same or in some cases, marginally reduce
• On the other hand, those that would see an increase both to their service time and staff requirements, such as cleaners, are expected to see a substantial increase in their manning levels. It is expected that it will be these type of third parties that will require a more thorough training and recruitment campaign to allow for a smooth restart and recovery of the operations, especially in the event of reducing the buffer times to minimise the capacity loss
• Finally, those parties, like the baggage handlers, for which we expect a longer service duration but less staff being allocated to each service due to additional constraints, a drop to the minimum requirements is expected in line with, generally, less aircraft on the ground
Staff requirements - summary of outputs
Apart from the mainly quantitative aspects of the analysis presented in this study, there are some other that have not been covered through the modelling, yet they should be taken into account throughout the aviation recovery. As outlined by the Horizon Aviation Solutions team, the following areas should be considered in operational planning:
Many airports have, unfortunately, had to significantly reduce the amount of staff due to schedule contraction. It has been a challenge for most airports to ensure staff remained trained and that training schedules are maintained to ensure staff are ready to support the business restart. With added process steps to ensure the workplace remains COVID19 safe for staff and passengers, It is important to remember that new procedures take time to ‘bed-in’ especially where timing is a factor. Good mentoring and visible support from management will ensure success and ultimately reassure customers that staff are engaged and working effectively with the new processes and procedures.
On-going compliance with new processes and procedures is essential to remedy any gaps in understanding, or if the amended workflows are actually being consistently maintained. Critical to this, is how the Risk Assessment was carried out, was the ‘end-user’ engaged at the very start? This is an essential point with any amended processes and should be designed around practical feedback and application. It is key that any revision in procedures should be maintaining regulatory compliance.
Most tasks will feel like getting straight back on the bike, no problem, but as leaders, we need to put some simple messaging out there to the teams to highlight to everyone about skill decay, it is a real risk to restarting operations. One idea could be to implement a morning brief/welcome back team session, no more than 30 minutes, just to engage with your teams, discuss, promote and highlight some risks to be aware of as they return back and get ‘match fit’ again. As leader’s we should be more visible during this start-up period; be accessible, be supportive and reassure.
The benefits will ensure a smooth transition back to the new normal operation and together as one team, you will move safely and steadily back through the gears with those skills nice and sharp again ready to deliver that first-class service to your customers again.
In the short term, there could be a false demand for additional GSE equipment created as a result of additional cleaning regimes and extended turnaround times. This is especially true for those pieces of GSE that have staff, flight crew and passenger touchpoints i.e. Airstairs and handrails. Good positioning of cleaning equipment for GSE and an owner could reduce the demand on the critical turnaround equipment and support a safe, efficient and on-time departure. Collaborative working amongst third-party suppliers will never be more crucial to support a sustainable and an eventual return to the new normal.
This study conducted in collaboration between EBEA and Horizon Aviation Solutions was intended to provide an updated assessment of COVID19 impacts on airside environment and airfield infrastructure. It focuses on a mid-term planning scenario, where different sanitary measures would lead to a consistent increase in turnaround times and, as a consequence, airlines would potentially opt to re-baseline the scheduling parameters to allow for a smooth and predictable operation. A range of sensitivities has been analysed to measure how airports, airlines and ground handling providers could be affected.
The analysis was based on London City Airport’s infrastructure and provided valuable insights into the case of regional airports that rely on compact turnaround times. It assumed:
• LCY’s S’20 capacity declaration providing scheduling constraints from the runway and stands point of view
• A maximised view of the schedule, satisfying all of the scheduling constraints
• Combination of manufacturers’, airlines’ and industry experts’ views to define baseline turnaround maps and resourcing levels
The main consequence of an increased turnaround time, and therefore stand occupancy, is lower runway throughput, which directly affects an airport’s aeronautical revenues. In the most constraining sensitivity tested, a 25% reduction (-16 ATMs) in the runway utilisation efficiency across a 2-hour peak has been observed. However, reducing the scheduled buffer times could be considered to minimise the operational impacts of COVID19
• The increased turnaround time affects different parties to a varying degree. In most cases, the staff requirements are expected to increase, even with fewer movements operating during peak periods
• One prevalent conclusion coming out from our analyses is that the degree of sanitary measures assumed has to be reviewed and balanced against the need for airports’ sustainable recovery while ensuring safe and speedy passenger journey
Additionally, for most of the suppliers in the aircraft turnaround, the new world operation will require significant improvement in collaboration in order to achieve a safe and efficient on-time departure. The airline will play a pivotable role as the custodian of the turnaround process to support, understand and drive that collaboration. Could this be the chance to ‘RESET’ and for all third parties to be collaborative and support one another as we help not only our customers but the Industry to restart driving the turnaround safely and efficiently to success with a ‘One Team’ ethos?
Airports and third-party suppliers have the same objective, to support the airline in getting our passengers/guests to their destination safely – that has not changed, in this pandemic, both teams have reacted quickly and intuitively to keep critical services running. This could not have been achieved without collaborative working and supporting each other. It is imperative that the parties must continue to ensure as business returns that those relationships continue to support one another, creating achievable and sustainable KPI’s for safety and service delivery. What this pandemic has taught us is there will be waves of difficulty (staff shortages, GSE availability etc.), but in those waves, it is important that we all support and understand, allowing us to look at the trends before turning to performance reviews and financial penalties.