The aviation of tomorrow – is there a blueprint for success?

After a turbulent few years for the sector, the aviation industry now has significant potential for growth. Vidhatri Gohil, Operations Director in Mace’s aviation team, explores how aviation projects can meet increasing demand - by putting communication at the heart of their project management processes.

The aviation industry is recovering well from the pandemic - but there is no doubt that it remains one of the single greatest challenges the sector has ever faced.

Affecting so many industries all across the world, Covid 19 created a number of obstacles within aviation; from changing consumer behaviour, to increased operating costs, to labour shortages. With these tumultuous years now in the rearview, many airport growth plans are currently being rescoped – to not only consider greater efficiencies but also preempt further obstacles that may yet be ahead.  

Despite this brighter outlook though, the industry’s growth plans remain less than straightforward. Building a new airport or starting a major expansion around a “live” operating site is often complex. There are many stakeholders involved and the scope and scale of projects are vast. 

This scale of complexity means that without a robust, forward-looking plan that is supported by real-time data, aviation projects can still be at risk of cost increases, delays, reputational damage and a negative passenger experience.

With current predictions suggesting that the number of commercial aircraft in operation will more than double in the next 20 years, how can the aviation sector accommodate the short-to-medium term side effects of the pandemic, mitigate risk and plan for the future at the same time? One of those ways is by forward-thinking, and by striking the right balance between airport expansion and live operations.

Starting with the end in mind

In the complex world of airports, change is an inevitable fact of life. However, it is the decisions taken at the beginning of the planning process that usually determine the success or failure of any terminal opening – be that of a new facility or after a temporary closure.

One solution that encourages early intervention is the Operational Readiness and Activation Transition (ORAT) methodology, which provides a framework for managing the risk of opening a new or substantially upgraded, large or complex operation.

Explained simply, ORAT acts as the bridge between the construction and the delivery of a fully operational airport, providing a brand-new facility that feels like it has been open for years from day one. To ensure this seamless transition, an integrated approach - bringing together people, processes, technology, and the built environment - provides independent reports on the true state-of-readiness as a programme progresses.

Effective ORAT creates a ‘first time right’ approach and takes the guesswork out of operational handover. This way, it saves time and money, and reduces risk to all of the stakeholders involved. Typically, projects focus on construction delivery and completion of a static asset. Yet this approach centres on the dynamic state of a business operation, integrating all of the diverse moving parts into one cohesive operation. A communication plan that encompasses all partners involved helps project managers spot blockers and challenges early, enabling them to rectify such issues. The earlier this kind of thinking is implemented in the design construction process, the more cost effective and successful it is in taking remedial actions.

I’m reminded of a conversation I once had with a former managing director of an international airport, who described the opening of an airport expansion programme to be “like conducting open heart surgery on a runner during a marathon”. In essence, they are highly complex, fast-paced, and – if you get things wrong – extremely risky. Bringing together delivery of a major project with the complexity of an operational airport can be a nightmare for the unprepared.

It is essential then, to connect the ‘here and now’ to the ‘to be’ approach of operations, together with the ‘planning for the future’ thinking of construction. Doing so successfully delivers a reality check on what is needed, both now and in the longer-term.

And so the ORAT methodology concept can prove invaluable to the aviation industry, particularly post-pandemic. Unpredictable travel patterns over the past few years have presented both a challenge and an opportunity to rethink, rescope and reimagine what ‘good’ looks like. Methodological processes provide a new lens for solving these problems and clearer ways to align changing travel behaviours with long term requirements.

ORAT in action

As a tangible example of the concept, Mace client, Isavia, have been adopting this methodology and approach at Keflavik Airport

On this project, the team recognised the importance of early engagement and began this before the appointment of the main contractors. Challenging the status quo and taking the ORAT process from such an early stage onwards has been the main factor in the project’s success to date - saving time and serving as both the single point of coordination for all stakeholders and partners. Introducing the methodology early in the programme has also enabled the business to identify key opportunities that can now be aligned and developed as part of the process to ultimately deliver a truly effective facility.

Re-energising airport infrastructure

Airports are complex pieces of infrastructure. To maintain the safety, security and efficiency of millions of passenger journeys, airport operators rely on the cooperation and deep collaboration of the multiple stakeholders responsible for delivering the passenger experience, alongside operational efficiency, business outcome and seamless passenger journey.

Effective handover requires co-ordination with many stakeholders – often more than 20 different parties, all of which have slightly different requirements and ‘things’ that they want to see. Therefore, an effective programme will result in effective stakeholder management, providing the right information at the right time, with a ‘no surprises’ approach.

As airport expansion plans begin to pick back up after a pandemic-induced hiatus, the focus from the outset should be on getting businesses ready to operate from day one as passenger numbers are only continuing to grow. This period can also be used as an opportunity to redirect the airport to focus on its long-term vision and carbon reduction. Forward-thinking solutions - such as ORAT and other methodologies - are crucial to these long-term visions, moving the dial on aviation projects as airports invest to accommodate increasing demand.

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