That the pandemic has driven digitalization is nothing new. Nor the fact that it has highlighted process pain points and even created new ones. While the air cargo industry has rushed to connect with digital booking platforms and focused on establishing contactless handling processes, one area remains largely untouched when it comes to digitalization: manpower planning. The usual method? Vast, complicated excel sheets… Yet a SaaS cloud solution exists that revolutionizes resource planning. CargoForwarder Global spoke to Franziska Burmester of WePlan and James Wyatt of aeroconcept, to understand what WePlan does and how it can benefit the air cargo industry.
There is no question that excel works as a manpower planning tool and it has served its purpose for a great many years. Yet, it is a laborious, manual task, limited in its scope, and prone to error. Two long-time aviation consultants were certain: “there must be a more effective way!” Franziska Burmester and Lana Jansen, the co-founders of WePlan, both regularly came across the many frustrating bottlenecks in crew resource-planning in the various, individual aviation consulting projects they worked on. Eventually, fate threw them together in the same company where they met, talked, and the idea for WePlan was born: an automated manpower planning tool that considers all the complex components of long-term and short-term resource planning, and delivers solutions (and a whole lot more!) within minutes. Franziska Burmester summarizes the concept: “WePlan is a web-based platform for the planning team and all stakeholders in the company. Our tool enables central, collaborative planning to any organization offering labor-intensive services – independent of its size. It finally brings full transparency about our client’s cost of delivery and combines the various data sources to create proper manpower plans. One of the greatest benefits is our capability to simulate planning scenarios – quick and easy. So planners can rather focus on steering instead of losing valuable time having to create those scenarios manually.”
Passenger airlines, pain points…
“Two years ago, we developed this tool initially for two passenger airlines to do their flight crew planning based around how many pilots and cabin crew they needed where at any point in the operation. This is where we started. We saw that there was great demand in the market to replace existing excel solutions, as these can get really complex and frustrating,” Franziska Burmester explains. Given that the excel process was already deemed “complex and frustrating” pre-pandemic, in an era where flight schedules were reliably planned for the longer term, and the only real short-term turbulences were sick leaves, strikes, weather, or a change in regulations, the arrival of the pandemic heralded unprecedented pain levels. “Network planners have never worked so hard as they have in the pandemic!” James Wyatt adds, illustrating a world faced with huge volatility as planes were initially grounded, crews separated from their home bases, training disruptions, new Covid-19 regulations, quarantines, lockdowns, schedule disruptions, ad hoc flights, passenger freighters, crew-rest disruptions, etc. Suddenly, the focus was entirely on immediate, ad hoc, short-term planning, and no excel solution, however elaborate, is cut out for that.
... and possibilities
From a WePlan point of view, the young company founded in 2019 and originally focused on passenger airlines, quickly realized that flexibility was demanded not only in its product, but also in its own strategy. With passenger airlines on the ground and cargo airlines frantically keeping supply chains running, WePlan’s focus moved to the air cargo industry, and it sought a partner to help gain entry. “We brought James Wyatt from aeroconcept on board last year to go more into the air cargo and ground handling world, and have been in discussions with potential cargo clients who seem to like our idea. When you talk about staff planning in cargo, there are many similar issues regarding the current volatility in planning, yet, we also see a number of new functionalities being required, and are excited to be working on cargo-specific solutions,” Franziska Burmester states.
James Wyatt agrees: “Moving into the cargo sphere, the issues facing a pure cargo airline are much the same as a passenger airline when it comes to crew rotations. However, the spine and the framework of WePlan is manpower planning, and that can fit into any industry. So, from a cargo perspective, this naturally leads on to cargo ramp and ground handlers, warehouse handling agents, and freight forwarders. The possibilities for improved shift planning are extensive.”
Therefore, the company has invested heavily in building functionalities that also serve the demands of customers such as ground and freight handlers as well as warehouse operators. With WePlan, they are finally able to have transparency on the actual workforce costs and hence improve service and product profitability by leveraging an activity-based planning and forecasting. “Together with our partners, we are now also able to offer an end-to-end planning solution to the cargo and logistics industry – from long-term planning and process-based shifts calculation to rostering and on-the-day management of the staff.”
Modular, scalable, and – best of all: employee friendly!
Yet one other major aspect really sets the solution apart from your standard excel solution: the active interaction with those most affected by any roster plan – the employees, themselves. Franziska Burmester explains: “One of our focuses is, of course, on employers being able to improve efficiencies, but we also focus very much on giving something back to the crew. When we talk to a client, it is important for us to understand what the employees want, such as preferential bidding or a shift swap. These days, work satisfaction is not so much about money anymore, it is about flexibility, and everyone wants something different. So, we place great emphasis on identifying how our solution needs to look from the staff’s perspective.” James Wyatt underlines WePlan’s USP in this regard: “This solution is a chance to give employees a little more control, too, and that is a real value add for the company using it!” Employees can easily and quickly enter their personal requests or bids for the roster using the WePlan smartphone app. Those bids get pushed into the rostering system and are automatically included in the planning. They can also be synched to the employees’ personal calendar. A far cry from having to send an e-mail or make pen and ink improvements on a roster printout.
AeroLogic is on board
WePlan’s first cargo airline customer is AeroLogic which came onboard earlier this year. The Leipzig, Germany-based pure cargo airline, one of the largest and fastest-growing in Europe, recently selected the WePlan Software solution to automate its crew demand forecasting and flight schedule assessment in order to further improve cost efficiency in its manpower planning processes. This will be achieved through the deployment of WePlan Software’s SaaS-based Planning and Estimator solution.
The solution assesses the resource requirements and cost of a flight schedule within minutes applying EASA and the airline’s business rules - hence enabling the manpower planning team to give immediate feedback to the organization.
With the highly demanding and flexible schedule of the airline, this functionality enables short notice assessments, with precise cost and profitability forecasting of flight schedule scenarios, providing its customers with even greater performance.
“Pick what you need…”
“Pick what you need, plug it in, and you are ready to go!”, Franziska Burmester outlines when CFG asks about the scalability of the solution. Clients pay the monthly fee based only on what they use, and the timespan to from initial WePlan meeting to roll-out is a mere 3 months. “We meet our clients at the start to fully understand their business and specifics. We then take their existing excel solution, upload the data into our tool, and provide the model for validation. Once everything fits, the tool is ready for use. Naturally, we offer post-setup support, too, for questions related to functionality or new process adaptions, for example,” Franziska Burmester explains.
Thank you for those insights into a back-end process that rarely figures on digitalization maps communicated in the media, and yet plays such a crucial role in keeping aircraft in the sky, Franziska Burmester and James Wyatt.
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