Prepared and punctual
Airline Ground Services December 2010
Widerøe operates 32 Dash-8 aircraft (a mix of -100s, -300s and -Q400s) to 48 destinations. Around 1,300 employees serve 2 million passengers ever year, undertaking 380 daily flights around Scandinavia and to the UK and back. We are talking short hops of an average 30 minutes flying time with the shortest leg being an amazing seven minutes.
This is the largest regional airline in Scandinavia. It has been part of the SAS Group since 2002 which enables the seamless connection of Widerøe flights to those of other airlines within the SAS group. It also allows passengers to check in luggage all the way to their final destination and it delivers the convenience of connecting several timetables between several airlines within the group. Being part of SAS also allows the sale of common on- and off-airport products.
When it comes to developing a ground handling strategy, Widerøe’s preferred route is straightforward. Within the Widerøe Group there exists Widerøe Handling Services. Dahl explains that this handler undertakes handling for the airline’s 27 domestic stations, 26 of which are short takeoff and landing (STOL) stations. He says that the strategy within the group is to use resources as efficiently as possible so that the cost for handling each Widerøe flight is as low as is achievable. “It is not a standalone business,” he says of the handling division.
Widerøe Handling is one of the most prominent suppliers of ground handling services in Norway. In addition to its five hubs at Oslo (OSL), Sandefjord (TRF), Bergen (BGO), Stavanger (SVG) and Bodø (BOO), the handling division operates at more than 30 Norwegian domestic airports offering ground handling, cleaning, catering, ticketing services and staff training through an integrated network of affiliates and partners.
Widerøe Handling Services is part of Widerøe Aviation Services which, apart from ground handling, offers line and base maintenance, technical training and spares. Widerøe has more than 600 dedicated staff employed in its ground handling and technical services divisions at airports all over Norway. The technical department boasts 110 authorised engineers with EASA/IATA approvals. The division also sets up technical mobile repair teams to address Dash 8 aircraft.
Beyond these 27 stations handled within the Widerøe Group, Dahl explains that there are also 13 domestic stations served by the airline which are handled by SAS’s handling company SAS Ground Handling (SGH). All seven international stations are outsourced; in fact they are handled by six different ground handlers.
Today, the Widerøe network comprises 60% commercial routes and 40% “public service obligation” routes. What does this mean in practice? Dahl says that Widerøe operates these routes under a total of 16 public service tenders which require operations to 29 airports. Under these agreements, 227 daily flights are operated which involve approximately 1 million passengers per annum.
So what are the handling challenges for a regional airline operating to small regional airports, often in severe weather and public service commitments to attend to? Dahl responds that short turnaround times come top of the list with only 15 minutes spent turning each aircraft. Then there is the large number of passengers with reduced mobility handled by the airline. “We transport passengers from the outskirts to hospitals in the city,” he says. Pointing to the irregularities that often complicate this process, he says: “Severe weather often results in closed roads and no boat traffic – and there are no train transport available north of Bodø and on the west coast.”
The STOL stations are typical of the small regional nature of many of Norways airports. They are often limited not only by runway length but also in terms of facilities. Commenting on STOL stations, Dahl says that only manual baggage check-in is available. In fact all STOL stations within Widerøe’s route network use SAS's old check-in system called PCI/Starcheck. Dahl calls the old PCI/Starcheck simple “old and simple, but efficient”. He adds: “Everyone has to know how to use it.” The down side is that no courses are available for PCI/Starcheck training as the system has now been phased out at SAS. However, Dahl is hoping that the introduction of the PACS departure control system (DCS) at STOL stations later in 2010 will hopefully solve these challenges.
Elsewhere on the route network a new DCS system – Amadeus – is being installed across the entire SAS Group. It is expected that the Amadeus DCS will be phased in during 2013.
So how does this regional airline make sure that it stays top of the league for punctuality? “Realistic planning,” responds Dahl, adding that safety always comes first. He says that the airline is careful always to remain open to feedback from all the stations and to ensure that on-time performance statistics are published weekly and monthly, including information about delays. Every station is audited, each has a performance chart and there is a station of the year competition.
“There is also collaboration across all parts of the group involved in ground handling,” he says. “And there is close dialogue between the airline and its handling agents.”
So are there any process improvement initiatives, quality audits or training programmes associated with Widerøe’s operations on the ground? “There is improved collaboration across departments,” answers Dahl. He says that handling agents are closely and systematically audited and all stations are now audited more frequently if the quality of handling drops. Within the Widerøe Group, audits are performed by the airline itself, by IATA under the IOSA banner and by SAS.
Most importantly, Dahl says that there is a “yes, we can" attitude at Widerøe and amongst all its handling agents.