Automation of ATCO rostering for the ANSP that serves a Global First in airports

The Background

Managing air traffic for a global first in airports was fraught with challenges. To meet them the ANSP increased their ATCO and support staff headcount but that came at a very high cost. Complying with complex ATCO rostering rules also meant long hours of manual labor for collecting data from disparate siloed systems for critical information: e.g., medical & health, training & qualifications, licenses & recency, compensation & benefits, payroll & leave administration and more. To that was added the task of managing fatigue risk and work-life balance, both of which required them to factor-in personal requirements of ATCOs. These among many others added up as their primary problem areas.

The ANSP spelt out their need as a unified, flexible application for manpower planning and rostering that would bring information from disparate silos together. The ideal solution also had to make their work efficient and compliant, automate manual workflows, optimally utilize human resources and bring down the total cost of ownership.

The Challenge

Planners dealt with time consuming and tedious workflows – they needed efficient tools and critical information at one place, be it rules, regulations or employee records. Employee training, qualifications, documentation had to be manually maintained and a constant eye kept on expiries to initiate timely training of ATCOs.

A constant eye had to be kept on compliance – alignment with ICAO guidance on licensing, safety, FRMS and training. [GCAA CAR Part VIII, Sub part-4, ICAO Annex 1 (Personnel Licensing); ICAO Annex 11 (Air Traffic Services); ICAO Annex 19 (Safety Management); ICAO Doc 9966 (Manual for the Oversight of Fatigue Management Approaches); ICAO Doc 9868 (Training)]

Managing fatigue risk was a challenge – starting with ensuring that ATCOs came to work well rested, besides preventing build-up of fatigue at work. With training, skill and experience, health and well-being also had to be accorded weightage while assigning duties. Planners had to manually factor health and rest into existing processes and management had to implement a regime by evaluating fatigue factors and deploying mitigation measures.

Little operational visibility for effective forward planning – disconnected systems didn’t allow visibility to real-time status of staffing, events and workforce deployment. They could also not accurately forecast future manpower requirements aligned with inductions, transfers, trainings etc. There was a need to understand variations in ATS workload, number of work positions, changes in regulations. Excessive resource buffer was kept for disruptions which came at a high cost.

Keeping task assignments transparent – to foster a fair organizational culture rostering had to be unbiased and tasks had to be assigned0 equitably. Planners had to strike the balance manually between operational tasks and personal requirements of ATCOs.

Need for new tech – latest technologies like mobility for ease of access and adoption amongst users, e.g., roster managers, ATCOs, senior supervisors etc., was needed. There was need to capture transactional data (residing in disparate systems and silos) for management reports, visibility, analytics and insight.

Lack of unified communications – multiple systems had to be used for communication – one to one, one to many, and many to one.

The Solution

The solution was designed with features that addressed existing gaps and to them were added modern tech components to make the system robust and future-proof. The key areas transformed were:

Regulatory Compliance – the solution ensured that only the ATCOs with valid license, ratings, currency, medical assessment by age groups and language proficiency were rostered. On the day of duty, the system would re-examine each rostered ATCO for compliance with GCAA CAR Part VIII, Sub part-4, ICAO Annex 1 (Personnel Licensing), Doc 9868 (Training), and any other local regulations and flash notifications in case of discrepancies. Prescriptive Duty Time Limits and FRMS as specified in GCAA CAR Part VIII, Sub part-4, ICAO Annex 11 and ICAO Annex 19 were fully complied with and were aligned with ICAO Doc 9966 and other local regulations.

Staff records management – the solution stored fully updated personal and professional records of all the ATC staff and was made to interface with HR and finance systems. Rights to enter or edit records were made controllable. Based on past ratings, currency, medical assessments, ELP etc. of the staff, the system would trigger event related alert(s) as a reminder to all, well in advance. Alerts with remaining days of validity or expiry would be viewable on web and mobile apps. The solution accommodated additional relevant records and threshold values like biometric access cards for control cabins.

Automated scheduling and rostering – an automated rostering system published duty rosters for a defined period on a fixed date each month. For all ATCOs and ATCSOs for any number of ATS units at any number of airports. It covered every work position and their applicable watch hours. It assigned and accounted for staff under training, leave, in back office or performing management functions etc., with easy and customizable views of the staff available vis-à-vis requirement on any specific date or period.

Leave Management – the system could define and manage all types of predefined leaves and associated rules. For each leave type, it defined entitlement – e.g., min and max number of days permitted for each application with advance notice period, supporting documents if required. It Catered for holidays, facilitated a logical approval workflow and automatically bridged the leave demand and supply gap keeping the process fair, transparent and unbiased.

Electronic Logging and Monitoring – the system would enable users to mark start and end of their ‘duty period, operational duty period, rest periods’ through an automated system. Roster planners or watch managers would get a live overview of staffing status on configurable display panels of duty and rest data (also be stored for audits, reports and dashboards). Employees could log on to duty only if all mandatory circulars, notices etc. have been read and acknowledged. An assistance button helped ATCOs on duty to seek help and watch managers could disseminate important operational messages in text format to selected work positions.

Training and Development of ATCOs – a unified database of initial, recurrent and refresher training for staff would be maintained by the system, along with their performance in training. Tasks like training planning and rostering, monitoring, evaluation and reports, processing training requests and approvals were enabled. The solution automatically mapped trainers and trainees as per defined criteria e.g., qualifications, training needs, deploy ability etc.

Staff portal and mobile application – an intuitive browser-based application for PCs and smartphones that displayed published rosters with details for the specified period which could be sync’d with the calendars on personal devices. Here, staff could see leave balance, apply for and view leave approval status. They could swap duties, request for of discard an assigned duty(s), submit preferences, and monitor prescriptive duty time limits. The portal would be used to disseminate important instructions to the staff and provide supervisors reports of successful delivery and read receipts. Documents could be uploaded for reference and personalized instructions could be sent to individuals. Personal records could also be accessed and updated by staff.

Administrative Functions and Roles – a flexible and feature-rich administrative module enabled varying privileges by role for specific functions, to individuals. It would define and edit critical parameters in the application, e.g., number of Airports, ATS Units, working positions, watch hours, staffing requirements at each work locations, rating, and currency requirements. It would define and edit shift roster parameters i.e., Shift patterns and duration, DTL rules, duty period, operational duty period, rest periods etc. It would allow grants of leave, de-rostering, duty exchanges. It would maintain historic data by period for audit trails, including DTL deviations.

Reporting tools – the system would generate a wide variety of performance reports on staff and statistical reports on process events like DTL violations and performance and training related reports on resources. Users could schedule specific reports by predefined periodicity in pre-defined formats e.g., Microsoft Excel and Adobe PDF etc. The reports would be viewable, downloadable, printable with options to email them to targeted users.

Fatigue Risk Management – the FRMS feature helped assess fatigue related risks and suggested appropriate mitigants to improve individual efficiency. It was integrated with the automated rostering system to enable seamless exchange of data. It had controls to make definitions, set rules and baselines on the risk matrix, risk components and mitigation scores. An interface on web and mobile encouraged employees to participate in hazard identification through a reporting system and to participate in building mitigation strategies. The system computed fatigue risk through planning, date of operations and IROPs stages of ops and residual risk based on changing scenarios and mitigation strategies were user defined. Management did regular reviews of those for relevance and for continuous improvement. It recorded and displayed data for FRMS compliance and continuously kept a watch for violations and deviations.

Staffing forecast tool – a forecasting tool for ATCO requirements considered future growth, workloads, and impact of regulations to ensure optimal availability. Additionally, it monitored current staffing level and future requirements for each control position. For that, it considered growth plans, present state, accounted for public holidays, leaves, sickness, absence, regulatory non-duty periods and ratings, currency, medical, other documents, trainings/ examinations and any non-availability. The application would provide predictive analysis tools and optimization techniques for requirements estimation.

Transparent task assignment process – fair and equitable task assignments, duty recalls and leave enhanced employees’ faith in the management. The system displayed all statistics to employees.

New Technology – the tech specs were enhanced to ensure operational resilience, business continuity and ease of maintenance. It easily integrated with existing HR and Payroll systems. Hosted on secure cloud, the solution was compliant with data privacy rules and could be accessed on browser and mobile applications through multifactor authentication. A strong desk for in-life support over a single window was provided by Laminaar for resolution of all hardware, software, and infrastructure issues.

The Summary of Benefits

The transformation brought by the solution was visible in enhanced KPIs in operations, people and business. A point-wise summary is made below:

  1. Automatic generation of consistent, compliant and legal rosters
  2. Efficient management of ATCO ratings, qualifications, medical records; planning and administration of leave and training
  3. Fatigue risk management
  4. Highly utilized and vibrant communications platform for management-to-staff and intra-employee interaction and collaborations, notifications and alerts
  5. 360-degree management overview and control
  6. Complete elimination of human errors and personal biases, adding transparency and employee faith in management. Also, enhanced total employee experience (TEE)
  7. Reduction in total cost of ownership with optimized people utilization
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