How can Lean be Applied in the Aviation Industry?
The aviation industry has come a long way over the last 20 years. Today, Airline companies transport millions of passengers and packages locally and internationally across the globe. The technological advancements that have impacted most industries have not spared the aviation industry. Customer expectations are evolving, with the markets becoming fiercely competitive by the day. This owes to such factors as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, unstable fuel, and oil prices, personnel cutbacks and unrest, tighter aircraft safety and regulations, climate change, and other global economic woes.
Still, businesses in this industry must consistently work on improving and matching service delivery efficiency with customer expectations. From check-ins, security checks, and queue management to ferrying passengers and luggage, the trends and patterns of demand and supply in the aviation industry will keep changing. What’s more, most processes are sequential, thus requiring streamlined flow to avoid disruptions, unnecessary costs, and such challenges as delayed flights, loss of luggage, staffing problems, and maintenance issues, which affect customer satisfaction.
To streamline workflow and improve efficiency, the aviation industry is fast coming to terms with the immense benefits that Lean practices can deliver. Hence today, the Lean Six Sigma certification cuts across most, if not all, industries and is an asset for professionals who can demonstrate their ability to apply different management techniques to streamline business processes, improve productivity, cut costs, and increase customer satisfaction.
What is Lean Management?
Lean management refers to the techniques employed to optimize an organization’s resource utilization through the elimination of waste. The three main goals of the lean approach are to streamline workflow based on demand, reduce costs associated with waste, and continuously improve product/service quality. Waste in lean manufacturing is described as anything that does not add value to a service or product, and value is what customers are willing to pay for.
Lean management helps businesses, aviation companies included, to reduce eight main types of waste:
- Unutilized/underutilized talent
To effectively implement lean principles in aviation, the industry should focus on core areas like business process control, production workflow, and logistics. The United States Environmental Protection Agency defines the lean approach as attaining the highest possible quality in products/services at the lowest possible cost while at the same time achieving customer responsiveness.
The lean approach uses a number of techniques to discover and reduce waste. The aviation industry, for instance, can increase efficiency in its operations, utilize staff talent, and reduce waste and operational costs using the following techniques:
- Kaizen rapid improvement
- 5s: Sort (Seiri), Set in order (Seiton), Shine (Seiso), Standardize (Seiketsu), and Sustain (Shitsuke)
- TPM (Total Productive Maintainance)
- Kanban / Just-in-time
- Six Sigma
Difference between LEAN manufacturing and LEAN management
While the terms Lean manufacturing (production) and Lean management are often used interchangeably, they are slightly different.
Lean manufacturing/production is more focused on identifying and eliminating waste from existing business processes/systems to improve efficiency.
On the other hand, Lean management refers to an organization’s top management commitment to embracing and supporting continuous improvement of processes. Both Lean management and Lean manufacturing see the principle of continual improvement as a long-term strategy in which small iterative improvements are made to processes, ultimately achieving efficiency and value from the customer’s perspective.
Challenges in the aviation industry
The aviation industry continues to face various challenges thanks to increased competition, increased passenger demand, changing technology landscape, global economic pressures, security and safety concerns, and skills shortages amidst increasing demand for environmental sustainability.
Integrating Lean Six Sigma in aviation operations and processes may just be what the industry needs to address the challenges facing it.
Key challenges witnessed in the aviation industry that the Lean management approach can address include:
- Flight delays and cancelations
- Missed flights and connections
- Lost luggage
- Massive staffing cutbacks
- Long processing queues at check-in and other areas
- Idle staffing and equipment majorly due to disruptions and low-peaks
- Inefficient aircraft refueling
Integrating Lean management best practices like automation, digitization, waste elimination, short cycle times, resource optimization, as well as qualitative and qualitative defining of value, can yield much higher efficiency and customer service levels.
Application of the LEAN approach in the aviation industry
Before looking at how the Lean concept has impacted the aviation industry, let us first define aviation.
Aviation refers to all activities surrounding the mechanical design, manufacture, and operation of aircraft as well as all other aviation-related businesses that facilitate it. The airline industry is just one field that falls under the border aviation industry.
In recent years, the Lean methodology has seen wide adoption in the aviation industry to deliver the same benefits as in other industries, including streamlined business processes, waste reduction, and continuous improvement of systems and processes to deliver high-quality products/services and achieve high customer satisfaction.
As we have seen, most of the processes in the aviation industry tend to be sequenced. For this reason, a disruption of one process can impact the rest and ultimately affect customer satisfaction. Several processes in the aviation industry could greatly benefit from the Lean approach, including but not limited to:
- Flight operation processes such as dispatch, scheduling, watch fleet assignment, maintenance planning, ground-air communication, aircraft routing, and demand schedule.
- Power supply operations include transmitter power supply management, pulse power systems, discharge sensing equipment, power electronic equipment, and jet ignition starter system management.
- Airplane flight operations, monitoring and control, and fuel consumption processes
- Staff scheduling, including crew management and planning, aviation workforce management, and airport ground staff scheduling processes
- Cost and revenue management includes available seat miles (ASM) for calculating seat pricing, revenue passenger miles (RPM) for calculating total passenger revenue, cargo revenue, and expenses such as fuel, landing fees, labor costs, and maintenance costs.
management helps airlines and other aviation-related businesses to identify and eliminate sources of waste, minimize variability, and promote employee productivity, ultimately improving efficiency and customer service levels. Other benefits of implementing Lean principles in the aviation industry are reduced waiting times and delays, improved consistent scheduled aircraft maintenance operations, improved working conditions for employees, and cost savings, among other benefits.
Lean manufacturing and management are founded on the principles of continuous improvement, waste reduction, and improved process flow. A business must first undertake to understand value from the customer’s perspective and then design delivery processes to deliver matching or exceeding value. While the Lean concept was initially developed for the automotive industry, it has proved quite useful in other industries and has often been bundled with Six Sigma to yield even better outcomes.
There is no doubt that Lean management has already impacted the aviation industry tremendously. Integrating Lean principles in operations will help the aviation industry to better respond to changing customer demands and increasing competition.