Share Airlines with complex operations can no longer rely on software solutions that simply automate planning processes. While the number of aircraft is a factor, complexity can also be measured by how many aircraft and routes the airline operates, the rules and regulations they must abide by, and specialized factors such as language requirements. With so many factors to consider – including crew satisfaction – airlines rely on optimized planning software solutions to manage their operations. Air Transat, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Tour Operator Transat, one of the largest tour operators, was faced with a similar challenge in 1996 when its operations started to become more complex and difficult to manage manually. Founded in Montreal, Canada, the airline began operations in 1987 with one aircraft and a flight crew of 30 people. Today, Air Transat operates out of three major bases in Canada (Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver) with a mix of scheduled flights and charter services. The fleet is composed of 18 aircraft – Airbus 330 and Airbus 310 – and a crew of 1,500 serving 60 destinations in 25 countries including Europe, the Caribbean, Mexico, USA and South America. The airline is also the designated ‘flag carrier’ between Canada and Cuba. Since its inception, Air Transat has been in a state of constant transformation with route diversifications and the continuous expansion of its flight schedules. As a result, the planning process evolved into a time-consuming and error-prone task. For instance, the implications of international route diversification included additional qualifications for crewmembers such as language skills for flight attendants and ETOPS license requirements for pilots. With the increasing number of international destinations, and with pilots now based in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, specific pairings for pilots flying from these bases was necessary. “With a pairing process that involved the destination, the aircraft size, crew availability and language knowledge, managing the crew composition was becoming increasingly more complex and cumbersome,” said Suzanne Lapointe, Manager, Crew planning and scheduling, Air Transat. “The man hours and effort required to regularly produce these specific pairings was an enormous and challenging task – and that was only part of the difficulties we faced.” At around this time, the Canadian government introduced the CARS regulations, a flight time limitation scheme for regulating flights, duty and rest time, while internally, collective agreements were being formalized whereby pilot and flight attendant groups now each had their own particular rules. These developments added an increased amount of complexity to the planning department’s already challenging workload. Clearly, An Optimal Solution is Required The year 1996 was a major milestone in Air Transat’s history. The airline was managing five different aircraft types, coping with frequent rule changes, new regulations and frequent flight schedule changes. As a charter airline, frequent schedule changes are par- for-the-course. With each change, crew composition, language requirements and other rules need to be adjusted and the planning team had to quickly adapt to these changes. Due to the lengthy manual processes involved, planners also did not have time to try different scenarios or make late changes to the schedule. All of this motivated Air Transat to look for an advanced planning optimization solution that would enable it to cope with these challenges and help better manage its crew. “It was clear that we required a more sophisticated solution to help us manage all the changes and complexities that we were faced with,” said Ms. Lapointe. Following extensive research, Air Transat turned to Montreal-based ADOPT Technologies – a crew planning solutions provider that developed customized advanced pairing and preferential bidding software solutions. In fact, AD OPT pioneered the conceptual development of the preferential bidding solution, with Air Transat acting as one of the company’s first airline customers. “AD OPT was a perfect fit for Air Transat,” explained Ms. Lapointe. “At the time, AD OPT was one of a select few companies with the unique operations research knowledge focused exclusively on providing planning solutions for the airline industry. AD OPT not only provided us with the ideal solutions approach, they complemented their unique optimization expertise with a personal, hands-on approach that has remained a key part of our relationship throughout our partnership.” The successful implementation of Altitude Pairing for Air Transat’s pilot and flight attendant groups was followed one year later by a second customized implementation of Altitude PBS. A Complete Approach to the Entire Pairing Process Today, Air Transat planners rely on AD OPT’s Altitude Pairing solution to build complete, cost-effective and operable crew pairings that take into consideration all costs (per diem, hotel, deadheads, etc.) while respecting collective agreements and government regulations. Used extensively in daily tasks, planners are able to accommodate frequent flight changes by applying a new schedule to the existing pairings for a quick impact analysis. Based on the outcome, planners can make an informed decision on whether they will need to re-run the optimizer to find another pairing. With the ability to quickly repair and re-optimize the solution according to the new schedule, planners can easily adapt the changes without disrupting the continuity of operations. Optimization was one of the key reasons why Air Transat selected AD OPT. Moving from a strictly automated solution, to an automated and optimized pairing solution provided planners with the ability to perform endless “what-if” analysis that analyzed the cost impact of changes. By changing certain parameters, the planners can estimate the cost of opening new markets as well as the impact of new rules or regulations, opening a new base, introducing a new fleet, etc. “The ability to see the impact of our changes before implementing them in a live situation, provided our airline with extraordinary opportunities,” said Ms. Lapointe. “Our planners can provide marketing and senior management with clear and extensive cost implications of the requested changes. We can now make informed and accurate decisions, minimizing risk and maximizing opportunities.” In the more than a decade since the original implementation of Altitude Pairing, Air Transat has benefited from increased flexibility that is vital to the company’s operating model. The speed with which Altitude Pairing provides an optimal solution also enables their planners to make last minute modifications and quickly adjust to changes. By automating the ‘at times’ difficult task of crew split and optimally allocating language qualified crew, Altitude Pairing has improved the way planners manage the pairing process. Air Transat Benefits From Advanced Forecasting Capabilities Based on the success of Altitude Pairing, the airline once again turned to AD OPT to provide a comprehensive scheduling solution to create personalized cockpit and cabin monthly schedules that take crewmember preferences, collective agreements, and pre-assigned ground tasks into account. “Prior to the Altitude PBS implementation, we operated under a bidline approach for both the flight attendant and pilot groups,” explained Ms. Lapointe. “Each group had their own separate planning departments, operating under separate rules and conditions. With very limited functionality, the bidline system created anonymous lines that were manually distributed to each crewmember. With no input on preferred routes, the crew’s involvement was minimal, and mostly limited to leave requests. For example, “personalized” schedules were manually created for each pilot in the case of a leave request, and these were awarded on a seniority basis. We operated under a loosely “manually adjusted approach” that was heavily influenced by the pilots. With Altitude PBS, all this was eliminated, providing for a fairer across the board approach to developing schedules.” Renowned within the industry as pioneers in the conceptual development of the preferential bidding approach, AD OPT delivered a customized Altitude PBS solution following an extensive analysis of Air Transat’s unique requirements. Utilizing a priority weighting method, Altitude PBS enables crewmembers to express highly detailed schedule preferences by assigning weights/distributing points across different bid options. The solution takes into account crewmember seniority while optimizing the crewmember’s overall satisfaction. With no open-time allowed, Altitude PBS strikes a balance between organizational objectives, the respect of rules and regulations, and crew satisfaction. Utilizing the optimized pairings generated from Altitude Pairing, Air Transat planners are able to construct personalized crewmember monthly schedules that eliminate the guesswork out of the planning process. Empowered by Altitude PBS’ advanced forecasting capabilities, Air Transat planners can quickly assess different scenarios, while taking into account all pre-assignments. The solution validates the feasibility of the situation with the given parameters. Planners are able to perform test dry runs, prior to the actual production, with default bids from the crew in order to assess if the crew is able to cover the required flying. This run is used to define the credit window and will suggest the number of required reserves. Accuracy and Simplicity Guide Air Transat Planning Operations Altitude PBS has automated Air Transat’s requirements validation process, making it much simpler to verify crew qualifications, legs, departure and arrival times, overlapping activities, times at the base, etc. For instance, in respect to the “green on green” rule, Altitude PBS automatically creates a solution that ensures no “green” captains will fly with “green” first officers. Altitude PBS has also been customized to address the accuracy of Air Transat’s reserve planning. The solution enables the airline to compute the accurate number of AM reserves and PM reserves required in accordance with the number of departures at all bases. The information is then automatically entered in the reserve calendar requirement. As reserve blocks have a certain number of guaranteed days off, AD OPT has developed functionality enabling the planner to request a maximum percentage of guaranteed days off for each day of the month. Planners are thus able to ensure that an appropriate amount of crewmembers are available during critical time periods such as major holidays. Since language qualifications were previously managed manually through a bidline process, at times, planners were left with numerous pairings without language qualified flight attendants as it was impossible to fit all pairings into a language qualified block. Today, Altitude Pairing defines the need for specific language requirements based on destinations and the crew composition, and Altitude PBS then matches trips that have been flagged for the language requirement. As we have grown in size and complexity, AD OPT has been there to support our growth and provide innovative solutions to our challenges. “During our yearly pilot “route checks”, where a supervisor is required to be matched with a designated pilot, Altitude PBS automatically matches the different types of supervisors and the route checks,” said Ms. Lapointe. “This has reduced the number of planner hours required for this task by over 50%. This is another important saving realized by the AD OPT solution.” A Relationship That Stands the Test of Time In today’s fast-paced technology driven marketplace, it is a rare occurrence to encounter a vendor/customer relationship that spans more than a decade. In part this is attributed to AD OPT’s commitment to ensuring that all airline customers – regardless of size or the number of solutions – receive personalized support. In fact, the company defines its success by the operational accomplishments of its customers, taking pride in their success. “We view the team at AD OPT as an extension of our planning department,” said Ms. Lapointe. “As we have grown in size and complexity, AD OPT has been there to support our growth and provide innovative solutions to our challenges. We have known most of their staff from the early days of the initial implementation and have developed a great partner relationship where they understand and anticipate our needs. Their personal approach to building relationships is something that sets them apart from other vendors.” In Summary In business for more than 22 years, Air Transat has risen above the most turbulent years in the aviation industry by efficiently running its operations. A forward-thinker, the airline has been in a long-standing relationship based on mutual trust and cooperation with AD OPT for over 12 years. By delivering customized, automated and optimized solutions that were in line with Air Transat’s evolving needs, AD OPT has enabled the airline to operate with more flexibility and agility in addressing the challenges presented by its complex operations. AD OPT’s Altitude Pairing is enabling Air Transat to develop cost-effective, crew-friendly schedules for long-term planning, that is often used during collective agreement negotiations. Altitudes PBS is enabling the airline to develop personalized crew schedules in a more efficient and effective manner. Combined, the two solutions provide Air Transat with an automated and optimized planning process, and AD OPT continues to make improvements to these solutions in order to accommodate new challenges and complexities that may be sparked by Air Transat’s continued growth. About Air Transat Air Transat is Canada’s number one holiday airline. It flies to some 60 destinations in more than 25 countries in the Americas and Europe, offers domestic and feeder flights within Canada, and carries some 5 million passengers every year. Based in Montreal, the company employs 3,000 people. Air Transat is a business unit of Transat A.T. Inc., a leading integrated international tourism company specializing in holiday travel and offering vacation packages, hotel stays and air travel. Transat was awarded Travelife certification in 2018 in recognition of its commitment to sustainable development. The vacation travel companion par excellence, Transat celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2017.