How do airlines optimize allocation of aircraft among routes, especially when they must react quickly to unexpected operational changes and unscheduled maintenance? Typical airlines dedicate a team for 3-4 hr. to optimize one day of flying, estimates Kevin Deal, vice president for aerospace and defense at IFS in North America. But this plan can be thrown off kilter by last-minute changes in weather, airport delays or technical problems.

A new plan must then be rapidly set that reconciles maintaining service with short-, mid- and long-term maintenance, destination constraints, aircraft restrictions, crewing needs and other factors. For example, “fleets contain aircraft of different ages and capabilities in range, capacity and class of travel,” Deal observes.

Getting all this right requires the latest tools for what IFS calls Tail Planning. “Optimized tail planning automatically determines which aircraft is best suited to fly a route by looking at range and fuel efficiency, using newer, more fuel-efficient aircraft on a route or vice versa because of operational or maintenance needs,” Deal says. The best software also accounts for the cost of ground-servicing aircraft during stopovers and many other factors that cannot be handled quickly by manual planning.

For example, maintenance planning must be optimized by finding the best time slots for the airline, maintenance crew and aircraft. Hangar capacity, personnel availability and maintenance requirements must be considered to jointly optimize maintenance and flight schedules.

Deal says all operators can benefit from the best tail-planning models. But the business case is easily justified when a fleet reaches 40 aircraft. These models’ advantages are also strengthened by the diversity of the fleet, the number of regulatory constraints and variation in fuel efficiency of aircraft.

Distinctively, IFS’s Tail Planning Optimization & Assignment (TPOA) application operates on a continuous optimization principle, constantly gathering real-time data and updating schedules as changes occur. “At one of our customers, there is a direct link between the engineering department, which provides most of the information that is required for optimization, and the tail planning solution,” Deal says. This constant link enables continuous optimization of tail planning, a key differentiator between IFS’s TPOA and other applications.

The IFS tail-planning solution has two modules: Enterprise Operational Intelligence, which manages data, integrates it and reports on dashboards; and Dynamic Scheduling, which does real-time optimization. Both modules can be integrated with other firms’ solutions for asset management, maintenance or Enterprise Resource Planning.

With IFS Tail Planning in place, a single person can optimize a daily tail plan for 250-300 aircraft in around 15 min. Time required for optimization after a disruption depends on the extent and length of disruption.