Improving punctuality to save millions

British Airways uses Operational Research to improve punctuality and save millions of pounds.

Passenger aircraft on the ground at airport

The Problem

British Airways, operating from Heathrow, is responsible for 2,600 flights per week, to 42 UK destinations, using a fleet of 85 aircraft.

Airline industry surveys identify punctuality as the biggest factor in providing customer satisfaction. Being late costs money too, and it was clear that any punctuality improvement for British Airways could provide both financial and customer relationship benefits.

Any strategy capable of maximising aircraft utilisation and profitability on these short haul flights would clearly be welcome; so British Airways decided to direct its OR resources towards punctuality improvement and the generation of greater profit.

The OR Solution

A problem structuring and analysis exercise was undertaken using tried and tested OR methodologies; this helped to provide an understanding of the chain of events leading to each departure flight. Comparison was also made between Heathrow punctuality for the whole day and second wave departure performance.

The study then focused on the chain of events leading to Heathrow second wave departures – a chain of events was drawn up, and each event in the chain was decomposed and measured. This resulted in the creation of new metrics – Ontime Achievables (OTA), and OTA conversion rate.

This understanding of the factors which led to bad punctuality, and the means to achieve greater levels of punctuality led to a problem though, how can you convince senior management to adopt new metrics? Showing them endless complex mathematical presentations would hardly captivate their interest.

So a simplified graphical approach was devised - the creation of ‘waterfall’ diagrams. The diagrams were used to show the effect of circumstances on departure situations which could theoretically achieve 100% efficiency. However, correlation with the OTA metric indicated it was more a realistic goal to achieve 83% efficiency - a considerable improvement on past performance.

After the analysis was completed, it was agreed that ‘all bars’ had to be raised - a league table system was set up with a focus on 1st wave performance. OR was also used to implement methodology which improved the distribution of spare time, and to implement a tool to measure schedule quality using OTA.

The Value

The benefits of these endeavours soon became apparent; a 3% improvement in ‘ready to go’ performance was reported almost immediately, and on time performance increased by 6%. The improved scheduling process showed an OTA improvement of 5% (the financial benefit from this was £5 million).