Outsourcing is common in many industries, and aviation is no exception. Many areas involve significant outsourcing – from operators large and small. Flight planning and support is one of these areas.
With many specialised tasks involved, and success critical to smooth flight operations, outsourcing is an efficient option that is growing in popularity. Operators have long realised the benefits, but many of these have become more apparent during the disruption of the pandemic.
Access to expertise in many sectors
Flight planning and support require skills and experience in many areas. Outsourcing has long been a popular solution to access specific services for all types of airlines and charter operators. A small operator simply may not have the scale to take some areas in-house, but large operators too can benefit from more efficient resourcing.
Flight planning includes route planning, checking restrictions and NOTAMs, obtaining permissions and permits, and document preparation and filing. Support services needed for operations are even more extensive. Aircraft maintenance, storage, fuel supplies and airport logistics all need to be considered. Crew requirements need to be taken care of, as do passenger needs – whether this is through commercial terminals or FBOs.
Support when and where it is needed
Flight support is needed whenever and wherever flights operate. Flight operations are far from a 9 to 5 function. Many scheduled and charter operators offer flights around the clock. While destinations are sometimes more stable, there can be changes to this. Outsourcing support gives access to resources for whatever route is planned, or airport is used.
Sharing outsourced resources with other operators also means individuals can be more niche-focused, offering better and more efficient service. Flight planning and overflight permits are good examples of this. Each countries’ overflight rules are different and can change frequently. Having experts stay close to each area is possible with a larger resource pool.
Ad-hoc support is another critical benefit. Once an operator has an outsourcing relationship in place, it can access one-off services when needed. Specific flights may require specialised skills or additional resources at short notice. Knowing this is available can make the difference in a sale or new business. Access to occasional services, such as maintenance or ferry flights, is also useful.
Access to negotiated fuel rates globally
Fuel is one of the most important considerations for airlines, accounting for around 30% of operating costs in many cases. Outsourcing flight support often gives operators access to better fuel rates and sources. Outsourcing companies have networks of fuel suppliers globally. They can pass on competitive prices to airlines and build this into flight planning.
Controlling internal costs
Staffing costs are, of course, a major consideration for all companies. When the sector requires many different specialised skills, though, this is even more important. Flight support services involve many different areas, and having internal staff to deal with all of this is often impractical – especially when you add in global support, 24/7 coverage, and unforeseen requirements.
Outsourcing support in one or more areas can save staffing costs. Expertise can be called upon as needed, rather than always being available in house. Of course, outsourced support can work alongside internal resources. Having services in place can also help with temporary internal staffing issues or absences.
You only need to look at the low-cost airlines to see this in practice. Unlike larger legacy airlines, which have built up extensive in-house teams as they have grown, several of these airlines started with outsourcing as a crucial part of their money-saving business model. European airline easyJet, for example, outsources most services outside of aircraft crew. According to reporting in the Financial Times, it had an incredible 20,000 people working off the payroll by 2014.
Outsourcing has become more common in recent years. Low-cost airlines have proved it works well, and the downturn seen during the pandemic has seen renewed interest in reducing payroll. The benefits of niche service access are more evident for smaller operators. With ongoing uncertainty in operations, however, they are more attractive to larger operators too. Such changes only re-enforce what is already a well-established and valuable sector – helping operators offer more extensive services and save money.