Effective manpower planning during unprecedented uncertainty

PROFILE: David Hellerström

David has worked in several roles covering all phases of crew management, from long-term to day-to-day operations, in his 15 years at Jeppesen.

An interview with David Hellerström, Jeppesen Manpower Planning Product Manager.

Making sure you have enough crew with the right qualifications, now and for the upcoming period, has perhaps never been easier than in the past six months during the pandemic.

Or has it?

Additionally, how will the manpower planning process be impacted when airlines are to ramp up again?

To answer these questions, we sat down with David Hellerström, Jeppesen Manpower Planning Product Manager, to get his thoughts on the situation.
David, to begin with – what is manpower planning all about?

Manpower planning is about ensuring availability of the right amount of crew, with the right skills, at the right time. Both to cover the production when it is time to produce rosters, but also to avoid carrying, and paying for, an excessive surplus of crew. In a purely static scenario, manpower planning may not be too difficult, but when you consider crew movements between bases and fleets, rules governing promotions and backfills together with demanding qualification courses – it can make planning very challenging. These factors are all interacting, resulting in a need to run multiple plan iterations to find the optimal balance. This balancing needs to be done not only for the peak-period ahead, but for the full planning horizon.
Manpower planning is also about planning when there is uncertainty. This uncertainty can be managed by analysing past performance and applying appropriate buffers evenly in the plan. But of course, not for the level of uncertainty and fast changing environment we’ve seen during 2020.
When the airlines were forced to quickly scale down early this year due to the pandemic, manpower planning must have been quite simple? Airlines had an excess of crew, and it was all about downsizing, correct?

When we look back, it may appear that way initially but we should remember that recovery forecasts for the industry varied quite a lot throughout the pandemic. Airlines had to plan for and ensure they were prepared to staff their most likely recovery scenarios. This year has presented airlines with an unprecedented level of uncertainty. The second wave of the pandemic in Europe for example, was not expected to be as severe as now experienced.

Many planning departments have been building more scenarios than ever, and also a lot of more varying scenarios. Some of our customers also face down-sizing challenges, needing to deal with propagating training because of their crew agreements. Reducing crew then resulted in a significant training effort, constrained by simulator and instructor availability, when moving crew between the fleets.

So, I guess my answer is no – for some it has been at least as challenging and for many, it has been extremely busy times, facing new complexities.
OK, point taken, but what about right-sizing the workforce during a recovery?

Now that is an interesting question. Recruiting and training crew is not a quick process and does not scale particularly well due to dependencies on instructors, simulators and line-flying opportunities. If the pandemic, crossing our fingers, ends abruptly and the demand rebounds quickly – then airlines would be faced with an extremely challenging planning situation. The airlines capable of ramping up quickly may capture extra market share and revenue. The manpower planning function, at the airlines, will be in the centre of this race.
What can airlines do to prepare for a ‘recovery race’?

Securing simulator capacity will be key, as well as having enough instructors. It will also be important to maintain the planning competency, ensure data quality and utilize planning tools capable of quickly producing accurate results enabling data driven decision making.

The recovery will likely be a wild ride with a lot of volatility, so what-if scenario capability and good data will be critical. It will be important to have an idea of how many crew to keep qualified, to allow for different growth scenarios and recovery timelines.

A major challenge, for many, is to maintain this capability and ‘preparedness’ while being under extreme financial pressure. Some operators, that have been forced to downsize in their crew planning organizations, will likely have greater difficulties during recovery, due to a very challenging planning task. If the pandemic comes to an end more gradually, the planning and execution will be more manageable.
Thank you, David. Finally, two more questions. Where can operators find more information about the Jeppesen Manpower Planning solution, and secondly – does Jeppesen provide consultancy services in this area, to potentially supplement in-house resources to manage recovery?

There is more information on Jeppesen.com, but I would recommend reaching out to us for a demo if there is interest. On consultancy services –yes– we have some capacity for this, but I anticipate it will be a scarce resource when this takes off.

Learn more by visiting Jeppesen Manpower Planning.