How Efficient Flight Planning Can Help Operators Reduce Costs
A flight plan is essential for every flight. It considers all aspects of the flight – including aircraft and occupants, airports used, routing, weather, fuel requirements, and safety measures. Requirements for flight plans are mandated by ICAO and national regulators, and the plan informs ATC, pilots, and other interested parties about the expected flight details.
Good flight planning is about more than meeting requirements and ensuring safe operations, however. It can improve efficiency in planning and in aircraft operations, and lower costs for operators. Efficient flight planning can be aided these days by specialised outsourcing and by the use of technology and artificial intelligence.
Optimising routes and flight times
Likely the most obvious benefit of good flight planning is optimised flight routes and lengths. Choosing the best route for the expected condition, including altitudes, and consideration of alternates, should lower fuel consumption and reduce operating costs. There are many techniques and tools available to assist with this.
This aspect of planning is even more important in times of political problems and conflict. Airspace restrictions, and prudent avoidance, can change quickly and operators need to stay aware of this – especially if planning and operating in regions they are not so familiar with. The challenges in 2022 and 2023 with Russian and Ukrainian airspace are a good reminder of how this can change quickly.
Changing international routes can be complex. Overflight permits for different countries must be obtained, and increased flight times must be factored into flight plans. Having the right experience and knowledge in these situations is very important.
Reducing flight delays
Flight delays can be very costly for airlines. The US FAA, for example, estimates delay related costs pre-COVID at $28 billion annually for the industry.
Many aspects of delays are outside of airline or operator control. But there are others that can be controlled, and good flight planning is important here. Things can change quickly in aviation. Weather can make a planned flight route or destination unsuitable with little notice, and a planned alternative will keep operation smooth. Aircraft can have sudden technical problems, with issues minimised with good maintenance schedules as well as alternative aircraft availability.
Consideration and planning for potential disruption as part of flight planning will help reduce delays, as will having resources available to deal with and re-plan in the event of a problem.
Improve aircraft utilisation
Efficient flight planning techniques can also help improve aircraft utilisation. Flight times, turnarounds, aircraft positioning, and maintenance schedules all need to be considered across an airline’s fleet.
Optimising aircraft usage and minimising downtime will lower operating costs and hopefully increase earnings potential. Less time on the ground is not only efficient for scheduling. It can also affect other costs, such as aircraft storage, parking fees, and staff costs. Over the longer term, Increased utilisation will also affect the total cost of ownership of the aircraft.
Smart sourcing and supply of fuel
Fuel is a major cost for airlines and other operators, often making up 20% or more of total expenditure. Fuel sourcing is about more than just finding the lowest price, and there are many aspects to consider when planning flights.
Operators need to stay up to date with changing suppliers, rates, and availability at different airports and in different countries. Having agreements in place with multiple suppliers will help smooth the process and guarantee better prices.
There is more to consider the price. Operators should also make sure they consider other costs involved in fuelling and time delays that some fuellers or locations could cause. This feeds into the total cost of operation.
Flight planning can improve customer satisfaction
As well as reducing costs, efficient flight planning can boost customer satisfaction – and with it improve customer retention. This is a factor both when considering an individual flight and when looking at wider airline commercial flight schedules.
No-one likes delays or problems with flights. Good flight planning will help to avoid this. Not only are flight plans and timings likely to be more accurate, problems or difficulties in flight or ground delays are more likely to have been considered and planned for.
Use outsourcing to handle the complexities of flight planning and lower costs
The best, and most efficient, flight planning requires expertise in many areas. There is often a need to be alert 24/7 to potential changes, and to cover new regions or airports. Unsurprisingly, many operators do not have the in-house skills to do all of this.
Outsourcing is a good way to access flight planning services flexibly. Airlines and other operators can utilise specialists with expertise in certain regions, permit requirements, or other areas, rather than having to have this expertise available internally. Having outsourcing agreements in place can also make it easier to handle ongoing changes in service levels and workload.
Overall cost is an important consideration when looking at outsourcing (of flight planning or any other business area). Often, companies tend to focus on obtaining the lowest base price for goods and services. This can add complexity and cost through more contracts, points of contact, and management. Streamlining operations can make things more efficient, and reduce problems/complexity.
Good flight planning involves much more than just filling in paperwork and meeting requirements. There are many aspects to consider, and this will take time and expertise. Done right, however, this can lead to more efficient operations, lower operating costs, and more satisfied customers.