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Where airline scheduling is going: 'Clean sheet' optimization

Jim Barlow

Vice President, Strategic Consulting, Amadeus

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Traditionally, when an airline builds its schedule for the next seasonal period, it does so by taking a previous schedule from the same seasonal period and making minor changes to it.

Why? Because it’s easy and convenient to do so, and because there’s a limited amount of time available to develop a new schedule. Since this approach provides a reasonable starting point, it tends to produce acceptable solutions.  However, this approach is inherently limiting – it’s easy to imagine a better schedule being built from a new set of assumptions. 

One of the seven exciting developments in airline scheduling that we identified in our whitepaper, Breakthroughs in Airline Scheduling: Building Better Schedules, is 'clean sheet' scheduling. This approach gives the airline complete flexibility to develop the most optimal schedule by not restricting the airline with respect to the timing, routing, market frequency, or capacity allocation.

The idea is that the schedule can be built entirely from the economics of the schedule network (e.g., passenger volumes in underlying markets, prevailing fares, competitive schedules), airline resource constraints (e.g., aircraft counts, airport gates/slots), and geography in key markets (e.g., block times, circuity of connections in/out of main hub). No assumptions about pre-existing flights need to be made, hence the name 'clean sheet'.

This capability ensures that a new, highly profitable schedule could be found even if it is based on a significant amount of underlying changes. So, rather than accept incremental increases in profitability from one schedule to the next, an airline can consider much larger changes that could lead to much more profitability, if they are possible. By casting a wide net, schedulers can be more confident that the schedule they have developed is as profitable and reliable as possible.

This effect can be dialed up or down—an airline can control the degree to which it considers substantial new changes. Consistency between one schedule and the next is desirable, and parameters are available in modern solutions to determine the appropriate trade-off between consistency and the potential benefits from incorporating new scheduling ideas. 

One example of this clean sheet optimization is simultaneously determining flight departure and arrival times, fleet assignments and aircraft rotations. Normally, these factors are optimized separately and sequentially and some value is lost. However, there is great value in performing the optimization together. 

Another example of clean sheet optimization is that route development can be automated and optimized. As such, airlines can use a technology solution to suggest route and frequency ideas to schedulers. So, a system suggests new routes or scheduling patterns rather than schedule analysts manually identifying these opportunities. Depending on the degree of schedule flexibility at an airline, these new route and frequency ideas have the potential to generate significant additional value. This benefit can be quantified for any airline.

Generally speaking, depending on their degree of schedule flexibility and freedom to consider new scheduling ideas, almost every airline should benefit from a ‘clean sheet’ scheduling approach. This effect applies to airlines big and small, in every region, and operating different kinds of business models. Everyone can learn from a system that suggests new scheduling ideas.

Harnessing these technology and industry trends, Optym and Amadeus have built new, state-of-the-art scheduling solutions that aim to solve weaknesses in traditional airline scheduling solutions and deliver advances in seven essential areas. 

Want to learn more about these exciting developments in airline scheduling? Download a copy of our landmark report, Breakthroughs in Airline Scheduling: Building Better Schedules.

Discover the seven new developments

Download the whitepaper

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Airline IT