Contextual Inquiry of a 50 Aircraft Regional Airline Systems Operation Center

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Feigh, Karen M.
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A contextual inquiry was conducted at the Systems Operations Control (SOC) of a regional airline with approximately 50 aircraft from the 8th-11th of November 2006. A total of 35 hours of direct observation were conducted with various members of the SOC Staff including the System Operations Control Shift Manager (SOCSM), the System Customer Service Manager (SCSM), the Dispatchers, and the Line Maintenance Planners (LMP). During the inquiry a wide variety of situations occurred: unscheduled maintenance delays, estimated ready time slips, a lightning strike, aircraft damage from a ground vehicle, a system-wide gate printer outage during a departure push, ATC delays, internet and subsequent ACARS outage, an unruly passenger disruption and turn back, and a sick dispatcher. The vast majority of these situations were handled as if they were no different from routine operations; however, there were moments when the SOC personnel were fully involved in the situation, and other minor tasks were being ignored or transferred to other personnel. The majority of high impact problems faced by the the airline’s SOC on a daily basis came from unscheduled maintenance or IT glitches. Unlike other airlines, ATC restrictions are not often an issue for this airline, although station curfews in southern California do place an additional constraint on the schedule recovery process. Similarly, weather was also only a minor issue during the contextual interview. Beyond the inevitable weather and maintenance interruptions, the majority of problems stemmed from software tools which limited the efficiency of the SOC personnel, and from procedures that required the SOCSM to do certain steps multiple times. For example, in order to keep the non-SOC personnel informed about the state of the airline, the SOCSM is required to run reports after each routing change and paste them into both email and the shift log. Additionally, the SOCSM is required to manually enter flight data to create new flights or to maintain existing ones. Similarly, the SOCSM is also required to manually enter and maintain maintenance segments for aircraft. The solution to these problems includes making better use of the current software’s functionality, investigating the actual information needs of the routing change recipient list, and incorporating additional automation to automatically create routing change reports and shift logs. The current software includes a capability to create new flights or maintenance segments using a correctly formatted text file. Using this capability would save much time in manual entry and minimize the number of typographical errors. Additional software should also be created to transition the incident reporting system and the shift log to an electronic database to facilitate data analysis. The SOCSM is currently responsible for posting any routing changes to a preset list via email. The actual information needs of these recipients should be reviewed to determine how frequently this information is actually required and whether or not a more scheduled reporting of all routing changes during a given time period might be adequate. Depending on the outcome, it might be possible to consolidate reports to once or twice a shift. Regardless, additional software should be created to automate the reporting process.
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