DFS Improves ATCO Scheduling with Integrated Quintiq Solution

Around the world, large air navigation service providers (ANSPs) work in dynamic, complex environments. They need scheduling systems that can change and grow with the company, and they need round-the-clock support for their system’s administration.

Until recently, Germany’s Deutsche Flugsicherungs (DFS), along with many other large air navigation service providers (ANSPs), were scheduling their air traffic controllers (ATCOs) using the same commercial shift scheduling system. In 2005, when the system’s developer stopped all software development and declared that it would no longer provide support or upgrades, ANSPs worldwide were left in a lurch.

DFS is one company that wasted little time in deciding to replace the legacy system, seeing this as an opportunity to vastly improve its scheduling and planning capabilities. DFS had high demands for the new shift scheduling software as it wanted a solution that could exactly meet its specific planning needs. An additional requirement for the new system was that it be able to integrate with DFS’ IT environment.

Answering these criteria, the Quintiq workforce optimisation solution was chosen to replace the former system. It was first implemented in the Bremen Control Centre and, over time, it will be implemented in all of DFS’ control centres and towers.

The Bremen Control Centre is one of DFS’ five national control centres and 16 towers. Of the 1,800 ATCOs working at DFS, 270 work in the Bremen centre together with 50 flight data assistants, helping to direct more than three million flights that cross the German skies annually. For many reasons, planning and scheduling this large number of employees is an extremely complicated task. First, government regulations regarding the number of controllers and the licensing necessary to man each sector are very strict. Second, DFS has to deal with a complicated set of collective labour agreements which can even vary from site to site. Finally, for the past couple of years, Europe has suffered from a shortage of ATCOs. Short term scheduling and long term recruitment and training must take this into consideration.

DFS’ future vision is to benefit from the Quintiq solution even further. Using some of the most advanced planning algorithms available today, the Quintiq workforce optimisation solution is able to exactly adjust the number of ATCOs to the flow of traffic and to position controllers in the right sectors to constantly ensure that safety regulations are strictly adhered to. Also, the solution is flexible enough to include different labour agreements for each control centre and to take into consideration employee preferences. With every project milestone set, DFS and Quintiq strive in that direction.

Improved personnel utilisation and employee rostering according to shift preferences reduces stress in the workplace and improves employee motivation and satisfaction. Moreover, Quintiq helps DFS in better dealing with staffing deficits.

Another reason DFS chose Quintiq was because of the unique Quintiq capabilities which allows the system to be configured to meet DFS’ strict planning requirements. Quintiq and DFS have been working closely to develop the DFS-specific aspects of the system.

As with IT system upgrades in any large organisation, the implementation process at DFS has been complex. Understanding that this is normal, Quintiq solutions are extremely flexible and the implementation process is iterative, with quick turn-around times for updated versions. Mr Schlingmann commented: “If something in the software doesn’t work right or if one DFS site wants something slightly different, there is a new software model available for work three or four days later.”

The DFS roll-out is continuing and will eventually include all of DFS’ ATCOs and operational technical people in the control centres, tower sites and aeronautical information service centres – a total of 2,700 people. Also, additional functionality including productivity checks, event handling in real time and controller training alerts will be included in the system at a future date. Together DFS and Quintiq will bring ATCO scheduling to new heights.

Capacity overview:

The planner can check all working, nonworking and holidays on one screen. The system shows the effects on demand coverage when approving days off to balance capacity and demand to 100%. The system supports what-if scenario building, allowing the planner to compare different situations to define the best work day schedule.

Employee request:

At DFS the employees are given the choice to select a fixed shift pattern which generates a more predictable roster or a flexible roster which is less predictable in terms of working and non-working days but more considerate towards individual employee preferences. Both, fixed shift patterns and flexible individual rostering guarantee full compliance to all labour rules and union regulations.

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