Foreseeing the unpredictable through artificial intelligence and planning


Nobody quite knows when flight operations will return and the scales of seat load factors, ramp teams and social distancing restrictions that will follow. But planning tools can offer us insight says Wolfgang Vermöhlen, Product Manager for GS Planning Staff, Inform.

“When the first email regarding Inform’s Coronavirus preparation was sent to us by our CEO in early March, necessary hygiene measures, remote working and new rules dictating our social behavior were not yet apparent in Germany. Just one week later, it all became a reality. Now, early March seems ages ago, because our everyday routine has changed so dramatically for most people around the world.

A change in importance of technology

Within a very short period of time, Inform re-mobilised its operations to continue supporting our aviation clients worldwide. More than 750 business analysts, data scientists and software engineers, supporting turn-key solutions for more than 1,000 customers in over 40 countries, as well as software implementations at more than 160 airports worldwide, are almost all working remotely connected via internet, telephone and online platforms. Creativity focused on finding solutions, while using existing technologies, has become essential in our new daily routines. Our goal continued to be supporting the needs of each client in their individual situation.

We found that our clients’ working focus has evolved. Due to the pandemic prompted operational disruptions, organizational and theoretical topics have gained greater importance with planning and developing a vision for the new future has become a high priority. So, we can be better prepared for any possible, yet unpredictable scenario.

Assuming different scenarios

It is essential to work with different scenarios, which in turn depend on a variety of other factors. A prerequisite for a return to flight operations is that the flights and the associated turnaround processes are feasible at all. The affected airports, ground handlers and executive authorities must be able to offer an executable turnaround process. This requires appropriate staffing while rebuilding a functioning operation in different phases.

The planners need to make basic assumptions for further planning. As soon as they have created a scenario that they consider to be the most likely for the next few weeks, they can proceed with more detailed steps. This possible scenario includes, for example: Domestic flights start before international flights. International flights start before continental flights. Business guests are more likely to book flights than tourists. Certain routes are more likely to be operable than others. The chosen scenario will, however, undergo permanent updating and re-evaluation of different re-implementation stages and phases.

Many different evaluation criteria

If an airline then decides to resume specific routes and flights back into its schedule, it must apply several additional evaluation criteria based on specific KPI: What is the expected seat load factor on the routes? How many employees are needed on the ground and in the aircraft? What is the productivity resulting from this? Which service levels can be offered to what extent? Additionally, it must be considered which pandemic-related restrictions are still to be expected.

In planning, we see it is a crucial task to be asking the right questions and processing the right data. Along with the extensive expertise of the planners, the right planning tool is key to support such a complex decision-making process.

Artificial Intelligence and planning solutions can and will help us master the coming challenges. There also is something else to it which the current situation teaches us: we are all one and we must learn how to work together and foresee the effect of our decisions in an interdependent and complex world.”