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How green is your crew planning department?


The travel industry puts a lot of focus on sustainability, in part because of the clear and direct impact airline’s, railways, hotels can have on the environment.  Within airlines how do crew planning departments consider their environmental impact?  and what can they do to improve it?

Do crew planning departments have green charters?   Do they drive for sustainability?  Can they measure their carbon footprint?  The answer to all those questions is that of course they can, and some departments do explicitly build sustainability into their departmental performance measures; alternatively others may have them as part of their airlines wider sustainable objectives.

How can they achieve it though?

A simple answer is that any crew planning department naturally drives to reduce an airline’s carbon footprint.  Fewer positioning or deadhead flights, fewer taxi or coach journeys, less hotel nights are all key performance metrics that many crew planning departments will look to reduce.   All of these activities create a carbon footprint.  Although it should be recognised that airline’s, hotels, surface transport providers all strive hard to reduce the impact they have on the environment.  Crew planning departments are obsessed with reducing waste and maximizing efficiency!  And naturally, in travel, inefficiency often drives up carbon footprint.

Crew planning departments are obsessed with reducing waste.

Is this focus on reducing carbon footprint an explicit driver or crew planning departments or does it fall out naturally from cost reduction?  Or does that even matter?  If costs reduce, so does the carbon footprint?   A further challenge could be how much do these ‘environmental costs’ get traded off against other rostering KPIs, such as operational stability, covering all flights, fair sharing work out and satisfying crew lifestyle requests?  Reducing taxi journeys or positioning flights may be important but in comparison with covering all the airlines flying schedule the need to operate the flying schedule takes precedence.   More realistically the trade off with satisfying crew lifestyle requests, or trying to eliminate potentially fatiguing work patterns, may be more relevant when measuring sustainability KPI’s.

This becomes a complex planning challenge and difficult optimization problem. Crew scheduling software allows crew planners to make these trade offs, to run scenarios and to easily understand exactly how much is being spent on positioning trips, taxis and so on, and therefore, by association how big the carbon footprint of one set of rosters are against another.  The software can put relative values on carbon driving activities that allow them to be traded off against other roster components.

Originally rosters were even produced and published on paper. This could be thousands and thousands of sheets.

There are of course other things rostering departments can do.  Many years ago rosters would be printed out in full, even if just for review by the planners, managers, union officials etc., originally rosters were even produced and published on paper!  Hopefully that practice isn’t too widespread nowadays but if so – here is another opportunity!  In many countries one recent change has been the introduction of more working from home (or even near the beach in some companies!);  much has been written elsewhere about the impact of more flexible working practices, which in theory can have a positive environmental impact through reduced commuter travel (although this is a complex debate with many other factors).

Crew planning departments are naturally pretty ‘green’, even if they do not think themselves to be.

In summary crew planning departments are naturally pretty ‘green’, even if they do not think themselves to be.  Considered use of rostering optimizers allows control of  the controllable carbon generating activities and this will always be a crew planning priority.  As the importance and focus on sustainability and managing the planet’s resources increases the main challenge may be how can these be more clearly incorporated in crew planning KPI’s.  Optimization is ultimately about managing scarce resources and complex trade offs in the best way, maybe this is just another factor to be incorporated

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Photo by Francesco Gallarotti on Unsplash