The aviation industry is facing one of the biggest challenges it has ever known. On the back of a global pandemic which caused a drastic downturn in air travel, combined with increased awareness of climate change and the urgent need to reduce CO2 emissions, airlines are doing all they can to improve efficiency - for the sake of both the environment and their bottom line.
One of the biggest factors in reducing both costs and aircraft turnaround time is fuelling, and how efficiently the into-plane company entrusted to provide this service performs. With delays costing airlines an average of $74.20 USD per minute - and the average delay taking around 12.4 minutes - it’s easy to see why airlines will do whatever they can to reduce these delays. Longer tarmac times can also mean increased output of harmful emissions, as idling engines wait for takeoff. Successful into-plane fuel providers know that every second saved is crucial in establishing confidence in their service and increasing their reputation within the industry.
But achieving the perfect refuel isn’t just about speed - how quickly your operators perform their tasks means little if the underlying infrastructure doesn’t support them. Outdated technology and methodology, inefficient scheduling and inadequate safety and training can all negatively impact performance. Let’s look at some of the ways into-plane fuel suppliers can increase their efficiency and see those turnaround times drop.
Depending on your location and legislation, the minimum level of training and education required to work in ground operations may vary greatly. But a well-trained team can drastically reduce delays and improve efficiency when compared to a workforce who are only provided the bare minimum. Effective, regular training has multiple benefits, not least of which being that ground crew can stay up-to-date with new trends in technology and fuelling techniques, and perfect their skills in a regulated, certified environment. Using software which tracks training and certifications for your team also ensures only those qualified to do so are assigned certain tasks. IATA provides a number of courses at both basic and advanced levels which enable your employees to become the very best at what they do. Some training can even be provided online in a virtual environment, further reducing outgoing costs.
Another advantage to effective training is that it explains why the operator is required to do things a certain way. It’s one thing to tell a person to follow a series of instructions - but giving them the background information of why it is important to do something in a standardised, efficient way - because it’s the quickest or safest method, for example - makes all the difference. It helps to make that person invested in their role, and allows them to recognise the value in what they do, and take pride in a job well done.
It’s not just your ground crew who need to work efficiently - your people managers, and the tools at their disposal, have a huge part to play as well. Making sure the right people are at the right locations at the right time is at the heart of turnaround efficiency. In many cases, not having the systems or resources required to be able to react to last-minute changes results in unnecessary delays.
Having a workforce trained in multiple disciplines can help - if you only have one operator with experience in using a certain meter or vehicle, or trained in fuelling a particular type of aircraft, you’re asking for trouble if that person goes home sick unexpectedly. Ensure skill crossover in your team as much as possible. The method used in scheduling also plays a very important role in improving efficiency. Airports who still utilise static spreadsheets or inflexible scheduling systems run the risk of not being quick enough to react to unexpected changes. Switching to a dedicated scheduling system which uses real-time information feeds can massively reduce this risk, as it allows you the flexibility to see changes as they happen and reorganise your resources accordingly. After all, the sooner you know about a problem, the quicker and easier it is to provide a solution - and effective solutions reduce delays.
Transporting fuel and ground crew between the aircraft and your fuel storage locations is also a big factor in reducing delays and improving efficiency. Having a regular, thorough maintenance and inspection schedule for your vehicles can prevent them breaking down when you least want or expect them to, as well as prolong the operational life of the vehicle. Also, consider the components used within the vehicle - bowsers and tankers sometimes have integrated flow meters or other technology that, if a problem occurs, renders the vehicle effectively useless. To avoid this, you can try to make components easily detachable and replaceable - or, for fuelling vehicles, use an EFB (Electronic Flight Bag) system that automatically detects and records flow rate and fuel totals.
Another factor for increasing vehicle efficiency can be the routes taken to and from the aircraft. Knowing where your operators and vehicles are can help you assign the right job to the right person and reduce delays. To achieve this, consider implementing a vehicle telemetry system which allows you to pinpoint the location of your vehicles at your sites - this not only lets you allocate fuel orders to the nearest available vehicle, but can help provide real-time data regarding route efficiency, allowing you to tweak the paths your vehicles take and shave crucial minutes from your travel times.
Incidents and accidents are never good news for any business. It goes without saying that the health and safety of your operators is of paramount importance. But in considering how to make your working environment safer, you can also achieve an increase in efficiency.
If the option is available at your sites, changing from mobile fuelling vehicles to stationary fuelling carts not only reduces travel time to and from the apron, but also increases safety by reducing the risk of collisions and overcrowding or competing for space on the apron with other ground crews during turnarounds. Using real-time data to tell your operators what type of aircraft will require fuelling in advance allows them to safely prepare equipment such as platforms and fuelling couplings. Even small, obvious things such as painting hazards bright colours can prevent unnecessary accidents and delays.
Another way to save time and reduce risk is to ditch paper-based handovers and in-person interactions between the fuellers and the flight crew - which brings us to our next tip...
Many of the solutions listed above have one very important thing in common - effective digitalisation. Training and improved safety procedures can both be aided by providing operators with tablet-based EFBs that provide automatic prompts and require the user to perform checks at regular intervals. Utilising a dynamic, intelligent scheduling system ensures your resources are at optimum levels at all times and distributed effectively. And, of course, having live information at your disposal - such as real-time flight information and vehicle telemetry - eliminates estimation and allows you complete control of your operations.
Digitalisation provides operational oversight and control through smart dispatch, which is one of the biggest advantages for into-plane providers. It's this mechanism that increases efficiency by providing transparency - knowing where the resources are on the field at all times is a game changer. Into-plane providers can see potential issues coming, shifting your operation from being reactive to being proactive and controlled.
Real-time data at your fingertips really is the key to reducing delays and squeezing every bit of efficiency from your operations. This can range from using density hydrometers to prevent spillages during refuelling, to implementing a handheld EFB solution, or even upgrading your entire platform, so that everyone in your business has up-to-date, accurate information when they need it. This can have an enormous impact on your efficiency in an end-to-end capacity, from knowing exactly how much fuel you have in storage and in which locations, to incoming flight data, to operator allocation, vehicle telemetry, and of course the refuelling itself. You can even digitalise your billing and reconciliation, ensuring the accuracy and efficiency of your accounts as well as your ground operations.
For a relatively small initial outlay, into-plane companies have the potential to revolutionise their operations and reap enormous benefits - and, by proxy, so do airlines. Completely digital communication of flight data and order allocation happens instantly, reducing the time and resources required and reducing the potential errors inherent in manual, paper-based communication, as well as eliminating the need for in-person interaction.
At i6, we believe the most effective option is to digitalise the entire airport fuel supply chain. Our fuel management technology seamlessly connects the fuel supplier, into-plane operator, and airline to track end-to-end fuel movements. This provides key airlines, airports, and into-plane operators with detailed and real-time information with greater operational control and efficiency.
Our solution - Fusion6 - is a fully integrated, end-to-end refuelling management platform built from the ground up to be a secure and reliable, fully hosted application to address the unique requirements and integration needs of the aviation refuelling industry. Fusion6, together with the full range of solutions in our Biosphere, provides airlines and suppliers with accurate real-time data, allowing users to realise multiple benefits that lead to increased efficiency. Our solutions provide access to AI-based dynamic scheduling, powerful reporting, robust inventory management, complete financial control, and more.
Get in touch for more information about how you can digitalise your fuelling operations and increase efficiency.