PegaWORLD: Managing Aircraft at Heathrow Airport

Eamonn Cheverton of BAA discussed the recent event-driven implementation of Pega at Heathrow airport for managing aircraft from touchdown to wheels-up at that busiest of airports. In spite of the recent interruption caused by the volcanic eruption in Iceland, Heathrow sees millions of passengers each year, yet had little operational support or information sharing between all of the areas that handle aircraft, resulting in a depressingly low (for those of us who fly through Heathrow occasionally) on-time departure rate of 68%. A Europe-wide initiative to allow for a three-fold increase in capacity while improving safety and reducing environmental effects drove a new business architecture, and had them look at more generic solutions such as BPM rather than expensive airport-specific software.

We’ll be looking more at their operations tomorrow morning in the case management workshop, but in short, they are managing aircraft air-to-air: all activities from the point that an aircraft lands until it takes off again, including fuel, crew, water, cleaning, catering, passengers and baggage handling. Interestingly, the airport has no visibility into the inbound flights until about 10 minutes before they land, which doesn’t provide the ability to plan and manage the on-ground activities very well; the new pan-European initiative will at least allow them to know when planes enter European airspace. For North Americans, this is a bit strange, since the systems across Canada and the US are sufficiently integrated that a short-haul flight doesn’t take off until it has a landing slot already assigned at the destination airport.

Managing the events that might cause a flight departure to be delayed allows for much better management of airline and airport resources, such as reducing fuel spent due to excessive taxi times. By mapping the business processes and doing some capability mapping at the business architecture level, BAA is able to understand the interaction between the activities and events, and therefore understand the impact of a delay in one area on all the others. As part of this, they documented the enterprise objects (such as flights) and their characteristics. Their entire business architecture and set of reference models are created independent of Pega (or any other implementation tool) as an enterprise architecture initiative; to the business and process architects, Pega is a black box that manages the events, rules and processes.

Due in part to this initiative, Heathrow has moved from being consider the world’s worst airport to the 4th best, with the infamous “disastrous” terminal 5 now voted best in the world. They’re saving 90 liters of fuel per flight, have raised their on-time departure rate to 83%, and now involve all stakeholders in the processes as well as sharing information. In the near future, they’re planning for real-time demand capacity balancing through better integration, including coordinating aircraft movement across Europe and not just within Heathrow’s airspace. They’re also looking at physical improvements that will improve movement between terminals, such as underground baggage transport links that allow passengers to check in baggage at any terminal. Their current airport plan is based around plans for each stand, gate, person, vehicle, baggage and check-in resource; in the future, they will have a single integrated plan for the airport based on flights. They’re also adopting ideas from other industries: providing a timed entry ticket to security at the time that you check in, for example, similar to the fast-track system in theme parks. Also (which will raise some security hackles), tracking you on public transit on your way to the airport so that your flight can be rescheduled if your subway is delayed. With some luck, they’ll be able to solve some of the airport turnaround problems such as I experienced in Frankfurt recently.

The tracking and management system, created using Pega, was built in about 180 days: this shows the status of arrivals, departures, turnarounds (the end-to-end process) and a real-time feed of aircraft locations on the airport property, plus historical and predictive reports on departures, arrivals and holdings. Really fascinating case study of using BPM in a non-traditional industry.

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