Aircraft IT OPS Issue 51: Spring 2022

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Aircraft IT OPS Issue 51: Spring 2022 Cover

Articles

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A flight planning solution that works for Loganair

Author: Owen Purday, Senior Flight Support Officer at Loganair

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This case study has a different focus from those that have previously appeared in Aircraft IT. The publication often brings you case studies about why and how an airline has selected and implemented a new software solution. For airlines moving from paper and/or fixed terminal-based processes to an IT and mobile based process (increasingly less frequent these days) or, more often, for airlines whose current software solution is either no longer supported or no longer matched to their needs, those articles make valuable reading. They enable potential buyers of new solutions to research a range of options and identify a few that look as if they might be a good fit with their business. However, moving to or changing a software solution is a significant process in itself. For the long-term benefit of getting the right system, that process makes sense but there are also airlines who have been using products from the same developer and vendor for a very long-time; have gone through all the upgrades and improvements and have seen their own suggested modifications or improvements adopted and made available across the vendor’s customer base. So, what is it that an airline values in a solution to keep them using it for many years.

Loganair has recently signed a long-term contract to continue with Air Support PPS Flight Planning after 15 years using the solution. Such a long-term relationship has its advantages but, of course, it will be founded on what reasons there are for the airline to stay with the vendor. Owen Purday, Senior Flight Support Officer at Loganair explains to us why and how that long-term relationship has thrived over more than fifteen years.

Owen Purday, Senior Flight Support Officer at Loganair shares the values of the airline’s long relationship with its Flight Planner solution.

LOGANAIR – NOT A SIMPLE AIRLINE

As the largest UK Regional Airline, Loganair currently has a mixed fleet of 41 aircraft including ATR-42, ATR-72, Embraer 135, Embraer 145, Saab 340, Twin Otter and Brittan & Norman Islander. The primary business is operating scheduled services within the UK, there is also some European business which is mainly oil and gas routes from Norway and Denmark, plus there is a large ad hoc charter business catering for sports teams, bands and other groups: a pretty varied clientele. As well as the scheduled and charter passenger services, we also operate mail and cargo flights using dedicated freighter aircraft.

One of the higher profile sectors covered is the Scottish islands such as the Shetland Islands, the Orkney Islands and the Outer Hebrides including the famous Barra beach landing in Na h-Eileanan Siar, in the west of Scotland.

Twin Otter at Barra Beach. Photographer: Dale Savage

Barra is served by a Twin Otter, it is unique and the only commercial airport where the runway’s made of sand, and tide covers it up twice a day. That means that schedules are governed by tide times rather than fixed. Loganair also operates the shortest scheduled passenger flight in the world between Westray and Papa Westray; a distance of 2.7 kilometers which is scheduled for two minutes but has been completed in 58 seconds with a tailwind. Recently, Loganair took on a number of former Flybe routes such as Glasgow-Southampton, Edinburgh-Southampton. All in all, a significant challenge for any flight planning software solution.

WHAT THE AIRLINE NEEDS IN FLIGHT PLANNING

At Loganair, integration is really important for us; we need something that can integrate with all of our systems pre- and post-flight. Currently, PPS is fed by the scheduling system to create the flight plans and create the logs for the crew, and that data is also sent to the EFB (Air Support CrewBriefing) devices for the flight to be used in calculating Weight & Balance. PPS fulfils that need for integrations across the other systems at Loganair.

We also try to take as much as possible away from the OCC (Operations Control Center) with regards to day-to-day flight planning. Our OCC is very good when it comes to finding solutions for delays and cancellations; with the network that we operate, if there is bad weather, say, it can wipe out a whole day. So, if we can take away some of the day-to-day flight planning from them and automate it, that delivers a real business benefit. The more we can automate the better and PPS is good at that.

In fact, because PPS from Air Support has been in use at Loganair for fifteen years, since July 2007, none of the people involved with it now were there when the selection and implementation were carried out. But we do know that there was a selection process with alternate proposals being considered as well as PPS. That process was conducted by an earlier Head of Flight Operations who knew the business very well and would have based his selection on sound reasons. Certainly, one of the things that we’ve found in using the solution is that technical support and customer service are excellent. Although we can solve most problems for the front-line Ops team in the OCC internally and can do a lot of the more complex behind the scenes work with PPS, when we get stuck, we find that response to customer feedback is excellent which would certainly have been a powerful reason for choosing PPS, especially as, at that time, there was just the one individual who covered all flight support issues at the airline whereas today there are five people covering that function. So, the quality of support from the solution provider would have been a critical factor in the decision as it is a critical factor in our decision to re-sign with Air Support this year.

FLIGHT PLANNING AT LOGANAIR

From an airline user point of view, PPS enables us to create flight plans, it submits the flight plans to EUROCONTROL and it provides the crew with detailed log information. Also, the way that the system integrates both with our scheduling system and the EFB devices really helps the operation.

At Loganair, we use the auto-dispatch service which is an add-on to the PPS system and that takes away the manual filing of flight plans which, given that Loganair generates upwards of 150 flight plans a day, would be a really time-consuming job if it had to be handled manually.

PPS also now offers a Cloud hosting solution (PPS Hosting Solution) which means that users can work from anywhere, and Loganair started using that service at the beginning of 2022. It has made a big difference, especially with the split between working from home and working from the office; before it meant that users had to connect into the server via VPN which was incredibly slow and not good to use. The IT department is also very happy because the hosting service takes away some of the requirement for them to maintain and upgrade those servers. There’s also the disaster recovery aspect of not having all of our eggs in one basket or servers in one building.

Because of the diversity of Loganair’s fleet, there is a need to ensure that performance information is fully handled by the solution we use. We have ensured that some of that was input to the system but there are some standard aircraft performance databases that come with PPS. When we have introduced a new type to the fleet, we have gone through the flight manual ourselves and checked those time to climb, fuel burn figures… but we only rarely need to change them. There is so much flexibility in PPS, so many options that allow users to tailor the available suite of tools to what they want to do that we are able to ensure that the solution is well-matched with the airline’s processes, aircraft and priorities.

An important plus point for PPS is that the UI (User Interface) is incredibly user-friendly. There is a clean, basic flow to the program so that anyone with a basic knowledge of fight planning should be able to create a flight plan and file that to EUROCONTROL. We have seen systems that are far less user-friendly: our OCC really appreciates that user-friendly benefit. Sometimes, we have to respond to problems, such as re-routes around danger areas, that the OCC has with flight planning when the crew is already on the flightdeck with the APU running and passengers on board approaching departure time. We have to make a change and do that within five minutes or less. That capability can be achieved with a fairly minimal level of training because the user interface is so naturally easy to use. It enables Loganair to make last minute changes without stress.

One objective is to take stress away from the OCC to enable them to focus on the running of the daily flying program. We have been able to create and maintain company routes that have been checked and validated, and that we know are safe and economical: we can just allow the system to pick, from those company routes, which one would be the most economical for the mission at hand based on current conditions, and can leave the system on an automated level and still get good, economical results.

We use auto-Dispatch a lot. Just simple things like aircraft registration changes, where the aircraft originally allocated to a flight has technical issue and so another aircraft has to be quickly substituted, crew changes… if the system can do that automatically, and auto-Dispatch generally can, that takes away a lot of stress from the OCC.

CHANGING WAY OF USING PPS AT LOGANAIR

The way we use PPS has changed as the airline itself has changed over time. when it was initially implemented, Loganair was primarily a Scottish and Northern Ireland airline with a fleet of Saab 340s, a couple of Twin Otters, a couple of Islanders. Since then, as well as growing, the nature of that growth has made for a complex and complicated operation with a range of aircraft types as well as, within those five types, thirteen sub-types of aircraft. The UK CAA regards Loganair as a complex AOC and that has become increasingly the case in the last decade or so. Anything, such as PPS, that can bring about efficiency in that environment is a Godsend for the business.

Loganair has changed how things are done and PPS has supported those changes and has enabled us to change with the business, to adjust for COVID, to change with the demise of other airlines and to pick-up those of their routes that could fit into the Loganair business. Not only has the way PPS is used changed, but also the software has proved scalable for what the airline has become.

As an example of that, last year we sent an Embraer 145 from Glasgow to Bangor in the USA for heavy maintenance. Even a few months before that, we would not have thought it possible for us to be sending an aircraft to the States which is outside of Loganair’s AOC area. That AOC area goes up to the Arctic Circle, almost as far East as Cyprus and South to the North Coast of North Africa.

However, the software enabled us to take an aircraft to the East Coast of the United States, way outside of the AOC and with no fuss; just like doing, say, Glasgow to Southampton but longer.

There are a lot of tools that we just use and take for granted and that reduce the levels of routine admin, like automatic selection, by the auto-Dispatch function, of valid and the most economic flight plans. Also, the Data Editor which allows for such a high level of flexibility and tuning certain types of routes or tail numbers in light of particular problems with which we might be confronted. We find that we use embedded features in the software with increasing frequency rather than just using the basic functionality. Using PPS is now second nature in Loganair and, with that familiarity, we tunnel into the solution to an increasing degree when solving flight planning problems for the OCC staff.

Training

Because the UI is so easy, there is not any specific PPS training program in Loganair but, if there’s a new member of staff in the OCC, then one of us will spend a couple of days with them to acquaint them with the basics of the system. But generally, because we’re automating the majority of flight planning from Flight Support, that can be achieved fairly quickly. In the early days, people did come over from Air Support in Denmark to carry out some training in order to get Loganair started with PPS but since then we’ve been pretty self-sufficient for training. That is particularly true for the sort of people who work in Flight Support;, once they have the login and the basics and as long as they understand flight planning principles, they can use it very easily. Also, coming back to the support available, if there are any matters on which we need guidance, Air Support is very good at resolving any issues that we encounter. Air Support does offer training on the system during the implementation phase and, thereafter, most users find that they can handle training in-house.

THE APPLICATION OF LOGANAIR’S EXPERIENCE

While it is important to review software contracts from time to time, it is not an easy decision to change such business-critical software solutions. So, if you can select and implement something you feel will be able to serve the business for a long time, that will make life easier. Loganair is not shy about changing software providers where necessary but there has been no reason to change Air Support in all the time it has been in use here. Also, the solution is very cost-effective; it is not expensive.

Generally, if you’re looking, as Loganair did, for a solution which supports the automation of a lot of tasks, that will take the bulk of the day-to-day flight planning load; if most of the planning can be achieved days before the flight, that will be a business benefit. Using PPS, Loganair can generate company routes weeks or months before take-off and that takes away some of the stress on the day of operation. As mentioned before, it also helps a lot that response to an enquiry ticket does not take weeks but is very fast and always, in our experience, accurate.

FUTURE PLANS?

The most recent addition to Loganair’s PPS solution has been OpsControl | Flight Watch, as an extra level on top of flight planning to enable the airline to track and monitor flights across the whole fleet and even include inactive aircraft. This will make the business GADSS (Global Aeronautical Distress and Safety System) compliant which is a requirement for many of our charter clients.

One thing that those customers, want is something more than Flightradar24 for tracking flights, and OpsControl | Flight Watch ticks that box. The addition is being rolled out in the Loganair fleet to ADS-B compliant aircraft and to further aircraft as they become ADS-B compliant. However, OpsControl | Flight Watch does still allow for tracking via EUROCONTROL data, but the more aircraft Loganair gets with ADS-B, the more useful the software will be.

Perhaps the best summation of how we feel about our PPS flight planning system is, as reported at the start of the article, that Loganair has recently signed a long-term contract to continue with Air Support PPS Flight Planning after 15 years using the solution.

Contributor’s Details

Owen Purday

Owen started his aviation career in the airport terminal working as Passenger Services Manager and latterly as an Aircraft Dispatcher. He moved to BMI Regional to work as an Operations Controller before taking the position of Flight Support Manager. Now at Loganair, Owen works as Senior Flight Support Officer within a small team providing a wide range of Flight Operations support to the business. He’s been a user of the PPS system for more than seven years.

Loganair

Loganair has been flying since 1962, and now operates a fleet of more than 40 aircraft going to destinations across Europe, Scandinavia and the 33 airports in the British Isles; more than any other airline. The fleet includes Saab 340, Twin Otter, Britten Norman Islander, ATR 42-500 and -600, plus Embraer 135 and 145 models. Up to 1,000 flights each week transport more than one million passengers a year.

Air Support, PPS Flight Planning

AIR SUPPORT specializes in desktop- and cloud-based software solutions for airlines, business aviation, governments as well as service providers. They deliver flight planning software to 450+ customers in more than 90 countries worldwide. With 30+ years of experience, this company specializes in aviation software and technology developments, implementation of valuable system add-ons, and advanced interfaced solutions for aviation operators, who utilize third-party aviation software systems.

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