In times of COVID-19, every airline focuses on process digitalization. But this article is not about Zoom and Microsoft Teams. It is about one of the airline’s most relevant processes: Aircraft Fueling! Moreover, the article provides a transparent step-by-step approach you should follow to digitize your airline’s fueling process.
Airline Fueling Process — A Quick Introduction
Let’s quickly provide some context before we start with the details of our step-by-step approach to digitizing your airline’s fueling process. First off, the airline fueling process in this context means the entire operational process. That involves the cockpit crew, some kind of into-plane agent, and probably also a fuel provider.
Very briefly described: At the moment, many airlines still operate a very manual fueling process. The Captain tells the into-plane agent (verbally) the amount of required fuel. Once the into-plane agent completed the fueling, he/she hands over a fuel receipt. Additionally, the Captain signs the receipt.
Of course, the process is a bit more complicated. The important thing is that the process often relies on manual steps that require personal interaction and paper exchange!
COVID-19 And Other Benefits Of A Digital Fueling Process
Contrary to today’s manual process, the digital fueling approach provides various benefits to airlines. From eliminated personal interactions in times of COVID-19 to streamlined processes and cost-savings potentials. In case you want to dive deeper into the benefits first, here are some excellent resources:
- Airline Fuel Efficiency — 10 Benefits Airlines Can Realize Right Now!
- Why Your Airline Needs Digital Fuel Management — 4 Success Stories!
Here’s Our Step-By-Step Approach To Digitize Your Airline’s Fueling Process
As mentioned above, many airlines are currently trying or planning to digitize their fueling processes. However, from discussions, we know that quite often, airlines have no clear strategy on how to accomplish this goal. That’s why we put together our step-by-step approach to digitize your airline’s fueling process. Let’s get into it!
Step 1 — Define The Goal!
I know that sounds so trivial and so consultant-like. However, it is the first and most essential step towards a digital fueling process at your airline. And let me be very frank: You won’t be able to digitize your airline’s fueling process at every airport — right from the beginning. You have to consider simply too many players: different into-plane agents, various fuel providers, etc. Therefore, you should have a clear short-term, mid-term, and long-term goal. Here’s an example:
- Short-term goal: Get your main hub or base digital fueling-ready within one month.
- Mid-term goal: Add ten stations (preferably the one with most traffic) within another three months.
- Long-term goal: Get 95% of your destination digital fueling-ready within 18 months.
Once you have a clear goal, we can start to put our hands into the dirt 🙂
Step 2 — Get A Clear Picture Of The As-Is Situation And Set The Base For A Project
Step 2 is no big deal, but another very essential step. Here are the activities in detail:
Identify Internal Stakeholders
Identify all internal stakeholders that are involved during the fueling process. Usually, we are talking about at least the cockpit crew and flight dispatch. At some airlines also the fuel department, flight operations, and operations control are involved. Get that clear and define the stakeholders from each area you need during the project.
IT Systems Analysis
Identify related systems and capabilities: Most likely, your airline uses IT systems to calculate the fuel amount. Usually, this happens either with your dispatch system and/or with some EFB functionality. However, we’ve also seen totally different setups at airlines. Some make sure you identify all related systems and their capabilities — especially with regard to sending and receiving fuel-related data.
Into-Plane Agents & Fuel Provider Assessment
Identify external stakeholders and their capabilities: The most important question to answer in that context is: Which into-plane agents serve your flights at which airport? Based on that, you can further elaborate on the technical capabilities of the into-plane agents:
- Do they already use IT systems?
- Are their systems capable of receiving fuel orders and send answers?
- Do their systems support industry standards (IATA AIDX)?
Fueling Processes Analysis
Finally, you should also analyze your current fueling process — in detail! Since you are planning to change the process, you must have a clear picture of today’s world.
Alright, you’re all set with the basics. Let’s move on!
Step #3 — Define Your Starting Point And Initiate Discussions
Based on your strategy, you should already have a precise idea of the airport where you want to kick-off your digital fuel journey. Accordingly, it would be best if you initiated discussions with the respective into-plane agents and internal departments.
Step #4 — Deciding On The IT Strategy
Yes, now it’s time to talk about IT. Basically, you require two IT components:
- IT systems capable of sending fuel orders, other fueling related messages, and receiving corresponding answers.
- An IT component that connects your IT systems with several systems from your world-wide into-plane agents.
Let’s start with the first one. As mentioned above, usually, an airline already operates IT systems that calculate fuel orders, etc. Many of these systems can also send those messages (for example, various LIDO or Sabre solutions). If this isn’t the case, you should check the market for specific tools. Very often, such solutions can be used free of charge in combination with other tools.
For the second component, you have to decide whether to build it in-house or go for a standard solution. My straight-forward advice: If you plan to use the digital fueling process at more than one airport (and I suppose that’s your plan), you should always go for standard solutions. The benefits of such tools are just too huge. Here’s a detailed overview of solutions, including pro’s and con’s
Even one additional tip: Regardless of whether you go for an in-house or off-the-shelf product, make sure to go for the IATA AIDX message standard. AIDX covers many aspects of airline fuel management and enables seamless vertical and horizontal integration. Please do not develop a proprietary message standard!
Step #5 — Selecting An Platform Provider (Optional)
In case you decided to go for an off-the-shelf solution, you have to select the best vendor. Here’s a list of possible providers we found: Digital Airline Fuel Management Systems — Market & Product Assessment
Step #6 — Connecting The Dots And Testing
Once you decided on an IT vendor, the process is very straight forward. You connect your IT systems to the platform, and the fuel provider connects its IT systems. Afterward, it would help if you executed integration tests to ensure everything’s working fine.
Even better: In many cases, the fuel provider are already connected to the platform. So, it’s just about you to connect.
Based on the vendor, the integration and testing approximately take a few weeks to a few months. Robin Weissgerber, Head of Fuel Product at ID1, recently stated their product could be connected in just two weeks.
Step #7 — Changing The Process
Once the IT is up-and-running, you have to train the organization on the new processes. Usually, this accounts for the cockpit crew. However, from our experience, this can be done relatively quickly. Moreover, pilots typically welcome the new process since it eases their processes massively.
Step #8 — Going Live And Expanding
Yep, that’s the big day. Pilots are instructed, IT is working, into-plane agents are aware and ready! So let’s get digital at your first airport. And once everything is working for a while, you should start to work towards the mid-term goal: Connect more airports!
Going Down That Road? Let Me Know Your “Airline Fueling” Thoughts
I am always happy to receive your feedback and questions. Just leave a comment below or hit me up on Twitter!