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Factors Affecting Air Transport Industry Communication

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Published: Thu, 14 Jun 2018

Air Transport Industry Communication

There are many factors which affect communication within individual air transport companies and other organisations they interface to in the course of normal business operations.

In many cases, the only common contact point for the great numbers of staff working within the industry is the airport which they work in. Even this contact opportunity is not true of many mobile staff such as cabin crew who operate in a transient mode across many airports in the course of normal business.

Organisation

Air travel is accomplished by a wide diversity of organisations; include air traffic controllers, baggage handlers, security staff, aircrew, customs, catering, fuel provision, engineering, freight handling, ticketing, public announcements, and a host of other functions which are required to operate the businesses.

This factor in itself makes organisational communication extremely difficult.

Compounded to this is the ever-growing move towards airports becoming places hosting retail outlets with their own set of requirements in terms of types of staff, operational activity and objectives.

Cultural

Workers in the air travel industry come from a wide variety of educational and ethnic backgrounds, which is made more complex by the skills and level of responsibilities held by individuals. For example, an airline pilot or air traffic controller has had significantly more training and responsibility for adherence to operating instructions than a person in the catering supply business. Such wide levels of education and cultural background are factors which make common communication methods relatively inefficient.

24 Hour Operation

With so many organisations and types of staff involved, communication is further complicated by working hour’s patterns. Flight crew are transient visitors through airports and while they spend many hours together in the course of their duties, their opportunities to interact with ground staff of all kinds are very limited. Support service personnel, such as engineering, baggage handling and other staff who perform vital functions in the smooth operation of air travel vital have virtually no contact with flight crew.

Mobility

Many airport workers are required to be mobile, not simply flight cabin staff. Ground crew, coach transport, runway and taxi-way patrol staff among others, are all mobile and rely mostly on mobile radio communication to stay in touch with those who direct their activities. This, however, does not lend itself to communication between the various groups, resulting in few opportunities to either meet with or gain understanding of the concerns and goals of other personnel.

Competition

Air travel companies are engaged in fierce competition for customers and revenue. This factor tends to discourage sharing of information and acts as an inhibiting factor to industry-wide communication. Fear of loss of information on future sales initiatives or financially sensitive aspects make for a climate of unwillingness to share plans and objectives, which is a natural part of competitive business but is a negative factor for the promotion of common industry-wide communication.

Compensating factors

Individual company newsletters and internal staff communications, either paper or electronic mail, are one of the ways in which internal communication may be improved.

One suggestion for improved communication might be a wider use of organised events such as ‘away-days’ utilised by many large companies to encourage better understanding of people’s roles in organisation and promote a sense of common purpose. Removal of staff from the ever-present pressures which accompany the work environment to a different location where they are not constantly interrupted can have the benefit of making them think about the whole enterprise as opposed to being focussed on their own constricted view of the workplace.

Individual parts of the air travel industry have already formed their own groups which span company boundaries and aim to share information and promote improvements in various aspects such as safety, training and other commonly shared concerns.

The concept of the ‘suggestion box’ has tended to be overtaken by the idea of offering employees various types of incentives for suggested improvements in methods of working or cost saving.

Passenger Communication

Most passenger communication takes the form of display screens showing flight timings and details including gate numbers, possible delays, and cancellations.

This is supplemented by announcements on public tannoy, but in a global community, few airports can offer the variety of language expertise to cover all passengers.

Information points assist in improving passenger experience but are mainly focussed on directions to facilities such as surface transport, hotels and directions within the airport

Individual airlines are poorly supplied with customer service points where specific queries or issues travellers may have with their travel.

Common Purpose

Unlike large corporations, there is no concept of being one organisation with common goals, values and objectives among the diverse grouping which forms the air transport industry. This makes pursuit of a common set of goals virtually impossible.

Technical Communication

Improved air traffic management technology, both in terms of handling flight and ground movements would be a factor which could lead to improvements in safety, collision avoidance, reduction in fuel costs and better adherence to scheduled flight times.

Improvements in air to ground communication technologies would assist in reducing the effects of misunderstanding and potential error which can cause delays and confusion.

Noise

Especially for ground operations, noise is a problem. Staffs is normally issued with ear protectors, and rely on hand signals, assisted by electronic boards or signalling paddles to indicate their instructions to other airline staff.

Improvements in head set communications devices could lead to improvements in this area.

In-flight Communications

Passengers in most flights have the benefit of clear and audible information supplied from the flight deck about general conditions of the flight, time of arrival and any delays encountered, although this tends to be at the discretion of the captain. This compares well with the many railway station information systems which are often limited to electronic bards and the announcements are often inaudible due to background noise.

In summary there are many challenges inherent in communication both within individual companies and in the wider industry but there are a range of actions which can be adopted from other business sectors which can improve the situation.

Problems and Solutions

Growth

The general public shows increasing desire to fly to more destinations, for both leisure and business.

Globalisation of businesses increases, requiring staff fly to meetings, conferences and other events.

Increased disposable income and short and long haul vacation breaks have become increasingly attractive.

Countries of Eastern Europe are opening up free markets and become more integrated in the European Union, providing opportunities for more destinations. [1]

Growth prospects exist in rapidly developing countries like India and China.

The last decade has seen an approximate 100% rise in air freight.

Air transport has increased 500% in the last 30 years.

Competition

Among airlines is competition fierce, with various offers used to tempt passenger numbers.

Prime routes like long-distance business travel offer the best profit margins today, but business travel is unlikely to grow at the rate of economy class.

Lower landing fees at ‘out-of town’ airports reduce costs, but have a negative effect on customer perception due to distance from intended destinations

Low cost versus national airlines is an example, and Easyjet which first operated a commercial flight on 10th November 1995 has since grown to become one of the leading players in this type of travel within Europe. [2]

Countries with large distances between population centres, such as Australia, predict growing demand.

High population density countries, such as the UK, have underdeveloped, road/rail infrastructures, compared with European neighbours. The uptake of high-speed rail transport between major cities would negatively impact air travel. This has been suggested in the UK as a means of reducing traffic and pollution. The Magnetic Suspension (MAGLEV) very high-speed train was first proposed back in 1966. [3]

Speeds of over 500 Km per hour have been achieved on test tracks and while no rail transport currently operates at this speed, if fully developed could compete directly with short haul flights.

Terrorism

Threat of terrorism has led to increasing security and growing expense, together with passenger disruption.

The impact of 9/11 on air travel was massive. The European Aviation Association in Brussels noted that between September 11 and November 4th there was a drop in North Atlantic traffic of 35% and European traffic by 10% for major European airlines.

Recent events in the UK reported in the news media resulted in dramatic changes in security practices and passenger freedom

While this effect is likely to be transient, there is always the danger that a significant event will occur again.

This impact may be reduced by ramping up public relations exercises making the public more aware that flying remains the safest form of travel.

Public Relations

The air travel industry is very effective at marketing seats on flights. This positive factor has boosted sales and assisted growth.

The industry as a whole in not successful in handling negative publicity associated with flight delays, strikes, response to terrorist threats and similar events. British Airways Authority performance in defending the chaos which followed the recent security clampdown at major UK airports was an example of inept public relations leading to loss of confidence. [4]

The industry could benefit from improved self image.

A good example was provided by the British Airways publicity on their web page entitled “Air transport and climate change”, aimed at countering negative publicity surrounding issues of public concern. [5]

Runways

Ongoing investment in new airplanes of differing types has some manufacturers developing very large carrying hundreds of passengers, while others opt for smaller planes which can be more flexible in use.

The latest Boeing jet currently has a restricted number of runways it can land

and runway construction can take years to complete.

Traffic Density

This is evident in major hub airports, such as JFK, Chicago, Heathrow, Charles de Gaulle, Schipol etc.

There are safety considerations relative to take-off and landing numbers which permitted at any one airport or flight corridor.

Capacity problems will limit the ability to handle additional passenger numbers in crowded airports and may stunt growth in prime destinations of choice.

This may be countered by rescheduling some regular services to alternate airports with offers of price reduction.

Environment

Pressure from the environmental lobby is increasing to curb emissions. Not confined to groups such as Friends of the Earth, but governments, European laws, and the increasing acceptance by the general public that global warming is a reality requiring action.

This negative effect is forcing industry to develop improvements in fuel efficiency and lower emissions to comply with increasingly tougher legislation.

This could be countered by investment in engine design, careful routing of flight paths and use of more modern aircraft which are quieter and more efficient in fuel consumption.

Timings

Restrictions are imposed on when flights may take place in many airports. Some locations handle traffic 24 hours per day, but many restrict hours of operation on grounds of noise pollution. This negatively affects overall air traffic costs.

To counter this, emphasis could be placed on publicity showing that airport expansion brings increasing employment, in construction, and later in operation of the facility. T

Fuel

The high price of aviation fuel has impacted on costs of operation. This may have little impact on business or first class travel, but rising prices for low-cost airlines will see their profit margins squeezed and their rapid growth slowed.

Links

Modern airports now have express rail connections and frequent coach services. Investment in this off-airport transportation is a positive growth enabler. The negative side is that new road and rail links take time and are often under control of national or local government agencies. To counter the tendency for this to constrain expansion, the industry needs to influence and educate such decision-making bodies on the long-term benefits of such investments.

Bookings

The upward trend in seat bookings utilising websites helps to lower airline administrative costs and is increasingly an attractive option both for private and company business travel departments.

The implication is that the industry will increasingly be dependent on information technology to process bookings on a 7 x 24 hour basis. This represents a move from labour intensive bookings and check-in activities to increased reliance on technology. This dependence carries implications for security of passenger’s personal data including credit card details. Emphasis is on the reduction of disclosure or misuse of sensitive information. Stringent requirements apply to handling, protection, storage and disclosure of such data. [6]

Legislation

Many factors of a legislative nature impact air travel. Ryanair obtained discounts from in terms if low landing costs at underutilised airports, as a cost reducing measure, but in 2004 the European Commission required Ryanair to repay 4 million Euros it had obtained from Brussels Charleroi Airport.

In the UK, the Department for Transport produced a white Paper on ‘The future of Air Transport’ which sets a framework for regions and possible developments. The paper also focuses on impact assessment of new building, emissions and the environment, noise, and public transport access. These factors, if implemented in a bureaucratic fashion, have the impact of restricting growth. [7]

Health and safety legislation affects travel in terms passenger comfort and working conditions of aviation staff.

The Civil Aviation (Working Time) regulations, 2004 apply within the European Union and impose working time limits.

Health and safety executives across many countries are taking note of such issues as transport and fuelling of planes, engineering, catering and baggage handling risks. [8]

The negative impact of these factors and may be countered by lobbying for informed professionals in the industry, providing consultation with bodies developing such directives.

Volatility

Mergers have become very commonplace in the air travel industry, particularly in the aftermath of 9/11, when a number of carriers suffered dramatic downturns in passenger numbers.

In the 1980’s and 1990’s there were significant downturns in air travel, especially in the USA, where mergers, takeovers and bankruptcy of carriers were frequent.

The air travel industry across all continents remains subject to such factors which can impact share prices.

Aids to overcome this are flexible and well-managed business objectives, which can rapidly adjust to conditions. [9]

Agreements

Air travel agreements have moved on from the concept of ‘flag carriers’ and restrictions on flights and landing rights. The European Community has extended air transport agreements between EC member states and a number of other countries. Involved countries, either in negotiation or compete, include New Zealand, Morocco, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, Russia, Ukraine and South Eastern European states.

This will be of benefit by expanding both freight and consumer markets.

An EC press release in 2006 outlined the background to these agreements citing the role of air transport in generating employment, revenues and other benefits. [10]

In summary the industry faces many challenges but growth looks positive, if managed with modern business techniques.

References

Aviation Week, 2006, ‘New Central European LCC’s expand rapidly’

BBC and ITV news August 2006

Department of Transport, 2003, ‘The Future of Air Transport and the Civil Aviation Bill’

European Commission Press Release 2006, IP/06/810

Heppenheimer, T.A., 1995, ‘Turbulent Skies – The History of Commercial Aviation’

ISO/IEC 17799:2000 Information technology –Code of practice for information security management

Jones, L 2005, ‘easyJet’, Aurum Press Limited

Taylor, A, 1992, Hi-Tech Trains

UK Health and Safety Executive Special Transport Sectors Unit

www.britishairways.com/travel/crglobalwarm/public


Footnotes

[1] Aviation Week, 2006, ‘New Central European LCC’s expand rapidly’

[2] Jones L 2005, ‘easyJet’

[3] Taylor, A, 1992, Hi-Tech Trains

[4] BBC and ITV news August 2006

[5] www.britishairways.com/travel/crglobalwarm/public

[6] ISO/IEC 17799:2000 Information technology –Code of practice for information security management

[7] Department of Transport , 2003, ‘The Future of Air Transport and the Civil Aviation Bill’

[8] UK Health and Safety Executive Special Transport Sectors Unit

[9] Heppenheimer, T.A., 1995, ‘Turbulent Skies – The History of Commercial Aviation’

[10] European Commission Press Release 2006, IP/06/810


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