Operational Excellence

Lean six sigma and the aviation industry

Mar 13, 2020 | 1609 views

When it comes to operating efficiently, few sectors directly affect customers, such as aviation.

A delayed flight causes many problems, especially if passengers are attempting to make connecting flights. Moving thousands of passengers every day through tickets, security, lines at the gate and during boarding involves a number of interlocking tasks. A hiccup and people end up with late flights or lack of luggage.

Given these issues, aviation is a perfect industry for the application of Lean Six Sigma methodology.

It is also a massive operation. According to figures from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), there are 5,000 flights in the air at any time every day. Other statistics that provide information on the scope of the aviation industry include:

- There were 15.6 million flights carried out by the FAA in 2016, about 42,700 flights per day
- There are 65,000 aviation-related equipment and systems that operate every day
- There are more than 2.5 million air travelers every day in and out of airports in the United States.
- There are 26,527 scheduled daily passenger flights

How can Lean Six Sigma help? By providing aviation leaders with the tools and techniques they need to correct failures in their operations and improve the service they deliver to customers.

About Lean Six Sigma

Lean focuses on cutting waste in a process. Efficiency is the goal of a continuous effort to improve processes. This involves eliminating anything that does not add value to customers. It also focuses on improving quality and performance.

Six Sigma focuses on eliminating defects in both existing processes and creating new error-proof defects. The goal is to eliminate variation, add flexibility and create systems that maximize the use of human talent. All this gives an organization more control over the quality of the final product or service.

Combining the two can prove to be a powerful force for any organization and industry.

Lean Six Sigma and Aviation

The aviation industry involves a series of interconnected processes, each with its own challenges. In addition to the safety issue, airlines are looking to improve passenger satisfaction. There are many areas where this can go wrong, from late flights, missed connections, long stops, lost luggage or, worst of all, canceled flights.

Climate plays a role in some of these issues, and certainly this is beyond the control of an airline. However, as McKinsey & Company reported, airlines also have delays at the gates after planes land, underutilized aircraft and other expensive equipment and staff that remain idle for long periods of time.

Many of these issues can be reduced or even eliminated by applying tools used in Lean Six Sigma, including the following.

Collecting data

One of the first steps in Lean and Six Sigma methodologies is to gather data on the current operation to determine the areas that need improvement and identify the steps in the process. Monitoring the flow of passenger traffic, the number of late and canceled flights and cases of lost luggage are key. But aviation leaders can also get direct feedback from customers through surveys and focus groups, providing them with the necessary information about what works and what does not.

Wasted employee time

One of the eight wastes identified in the Lean is employee time. Airlines have an abundance of this, according to McKinsey & Company. Part of the problem is not accurately determining the right staffing level, both in customer service and maintenance, despite the routine nature of the tasks. This can lead to a single clerk checking out hundreds of passengers, a carousel of unmanned luggage and mechanics trying to find a party instead of working on a plane. McKinsey found that in some maintenance areas, 20 to 30 percent of the mechanics' time is spent in the break room.

Applying the Lean examination of the eight waste areas would lead to the identification of these problems and provide the tools to correct them.

Late matches

Putting hundreds of people on the catwalk and on an airplane is what usually causes delays. The application of Six Sigma can reduce and eliminate many of the duplications, delays, redundant actions and misapplied rules that lead to these delays. Six Sigma tools divide the process into individual subprocesses, identifying the details of each operation, as well as the time each process takes. This kind of non-emotional, data-driven assessment eliminates the "estimated" measurements that lead to errors.

Baggage Handling

There is simply no good reason why an airline can not carry a bag from the plane to the baggage carousel in the time it takes a passenger to walk from his gate to the luggage carousel - much less lose his luggage. As with passenger-to-air travel, Lean Six Sigma can identify areas of waste in the process, streamline workflows, and create standards for time spent doing tasks.

Customer service

Some airports now have automatic check-in procedures where passengers can print their boarding pass and their luggage ticket. This helps speed the process, but also puts the work on the client, some of which can cause long delays simply because they have never done so before. Things are not much better when airline employees do the work. McKinsey notes the lack of standard deadlines for passenger check-in, with the time spent doing the task varying by up to 50% between agents!

Eliminating this kind of variation is one of the things that Six Sigma does best.

Examples of Success

These are just a few of the areas of the aviation industry where applying Lean Six Sigma can improve efficiency and quality of service. Some airlines have already become pioneers in this area.

Southwest Airlines is perhaps the best example. The company applied Lean Six Sigma, particularly in the area of ​​customer service. The airline often requests customer feedback. It was the first airline to use flights without a ticket. They use personal check-in and check-in terminals to expedite check-in. On board, they offer free Wi-Fi, free e-Books and videos on demand.

Southwest has the lowest number of passenger complaints among airlines, according to the Department of Transportation.

The company also has a policy of "do not fire" employees and has managed to create jobs even during the recession of the last decade.

Other aviation companies have also instituted Lean Six Sigma. American Airlines has used Lean techniques to optimize its passenger complaint process. The International Air Transport Association offers Lean Six Sigma classes that are focused aviation, as does ACCLINO process improvement specialists.

More jobs are also starting to appear in the aviation industry that require Lean or Six Sigma training.

All of this contributes to an aviation industry that is starting to turn to Lean Six Sigma. This is good for airlines that need more efficient operations. And, more importantly, for your passengers.