MUAC staff rostering tool TimeZone can transform ANSP efficiency levels

Which piece of current air traffic management technology offers air navigation service providers (ANSPs) the biggest potential overnight leap in efficiency and productivity? A new flight server? An enhanced medium-term conflict detection tool?
Neither. According to EUROCONTROL MUAC experts who have spent six years analysing ways to improve controller efficiency levels by reorganising staff rosters to match controller workload with actual traffic levels, a powerful new automated position rostering tool called TimeZone, developed in-house, has the potential to transform ATM efficiency levels throughout Europe.

Since 2006 MUAC has increased the productivity rate of its own controllers from around 50% to 80%, with much of this due to TimeZone. As far as I am aware we are the only ANSP in Europe to know the exact efficiency levels of our ATCOs and we know the figure to the nearest 10 minutes, according to Robin Hickson, Head of Airspace and Network Planning, We estimate it has improved controller efficiency levels here between 20% to 25% - if we applied that throughout Europe there would be no ATM capacity issues at all to contend with.

It provides a fast and mathematically perfect solution, which means it helps us in the execution phase when a supervisor is required to adapt the opening time of a new sector, said Flemming Nyrup, Head of Service Delivery. He or she can do this now with a touch of a button, rather than having to work out the complex calculations with pen and paper.

Work on a new automated rostering tool at MUAC began in 2006. At that time MUAC employed a fixed roster with a set number of controllers per shift, with an in-built surplus to cater for sickness and leave. A detailed analysis was carried out of exactly how many staff were needed in the control room at any one time. A preliminary automated position rostering system was developed in partnership with an external software provider. Since then, with a very clear and detailed knowledge of actual workload factors, MUAC has developed the new tool using in-house resources and expertise.

When we moved from Break Planner to TimeZone everyone was very happy they had the functionality they wanted and the guys who use it have effectively developed it themselves, said Nyrup. They fed their requirements to the developer and the entire development was done in an extremely iterative manner. We realised that the secret to developing such a complex tool was not to try to build the perfect system from the outset, but to develop a 70% solution and then mature it as we went.

Strategic staffing levels are planned up to 18 months in advanced, with sector opening times forecasts in ten minute blocks. Then we look 12 months into the future; at this stage its a question not so much of how many staff will be needed per morning or afternoon shift but what the total overall staff requirement will be for the entire day, so we can start planning for leave and resources for new projects such as training time on new equipment, according to Nyrup. TimeZone knows the overall picture and labour rules and then, through its advanced optimising function, analyses individual shifts, works out break times and comes up with exact staff numbers required. We can ask: we need this SOT (Sector Opening Table) covered so please do it with the least possible overhead. The result proposed will give us pre-tactical efficiency levels of around 95 %, he added.

TimeZone is now being offered to ANSPs throughout the continent.

The tool itself will maximise the efficiency of whatever rules and processes you have in place, said Robin Hickson. TimeZone will improve existing systems by 10% to 20%; if you improve the associated rostering processes you could see staffing efficiency levels go up by another 20%.

Thats a potential 40% improvement on controller productivity and efficiency levels at a touch of a button which for an industry under pressure to deliver efficiency savings at all levels is something which MUACs TimeZone proponents say could be real transformation in service delivery.
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