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Air Traffic Controllers Rostering Automation during COVID-19 Pandemic: How to Get the Best Out of It

Increasing ATCO Rostering flexibility and efficiency, while enhancing wellbeing and reducing fatigue risks - a new technological horizon opens the doors to the future of ATCO Rostering Automation. And now it's the perfect time to jump in.

Back in 2020, the Aviation Industry suffered a dramatic hit, the most significant one in its entire history, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Thousands of grounded planes for months in a row, tens of thousands of job cuts, losses of hundreds of billions of dollars across the entire aviation chain. Epithets like “critical”, “unprecedented” and “cataclysmic” were used to paint the fateful impact of this relentless crisis. Two months after the World Health Organization declared the pandemic, most airlines faced serious risks of going bankrupt, with ANSPs being the second collateral victim of the lack of air traffic, after airliners. And that would be only the beginning.

Global-level Analysis of Impacts on International Traffic, ICAO

Why does it make sense to deploy ATCO Rostering Automation during a pandemic?

1. Never let a good crisis go to waste

…became the 2020’s top-performing motivational phrase in any discussion about COVID-19's impact, opportunities, and recovery. All major aviation stakeholders, including ICAO, IATA, CANSO, Eurocontrol, IFATCA, have constantly campaigned for close, worldwide collaboration to overcome the pandemic. But there were still some conflicting politics and state-level disconnection that acted as a handbrake in the way of any sustainable progress.

"It’s up to every decision-maker, in every country, to pull the strings and turn the ship in the right direction, now when the wind is low."

Mr. Henrik Hololei, Director-General of the Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport of the European Commission, had some encouraging advice for ANSPs at the Aviation StraightTalk organized by EUROCONTROL at the beginning of 2021. When asked by the host, Andrew Charlton, "What can ANSPs do in this situation?", Mr. Hololei replied with confidence:

"ANSPs must prepare for the future. Use this crisis, now, when the traffic is low[…], to continue to innovate, continue to install new technology and make sure there are enough controllers available and trained, ready to deliver when there is a need for that."

DG MOVE Director-General Henrik Hololei, Aviation StraightTalk Live @EUrocontrol

2. The opportunity to innovate in ATCO Rostering Automation

Innovation is hard to achieve and risky to evaluate. In the private sector, it takes ridiculous amounts of cash to finance innovation and many rounds of trial and error to get to product-market fit. Even then, 9 out of 10 innovation endeavors fail. Not even trying to innovate is the safest road to failure. But How can Air Navigation Service Providers innovate when they need to reduce their CAPEX?

ANSPs can use the COVID-19 crisis as a time-out and rethink their long-term strategy. They need to evaluate their operations, assess their efficiency levels, and prioritize investments in areas with the highest ROI potential.

Air Navigation Service Providers’ core business is to provide safe and efficient services and, although the ATC systems are heavily automatized, their most important asset is still their workforce - mainly Air Traffic Control Officers. Anything that can improve workforce productivity, flexibility and health will translate to direct reduction of costs, increased efficiency, and overall systemic resilience.

3. ATCO Rostering adoption pain points

But why is ATCO Rostering still a problem?

The short answer? Because it's done the wrong way.

ATCO Rostering is still one of the most challenging and time-consuming tasks of the rostering managers in any ANSP. Although the advantages of switching to an ATCO rostering automation platform should be well assessed and understood, the large majority of ANSPs still use rudimentary scheduling tools like spreadsheets to schedule their ATCOs on their day-to-day shifts.

The main barriers contributing to the low adoption of advanced ATCO Rostering platforms in ANSPs are:

  1. Prohibitive cost. Most providers of such tools are charging from a few hundred thousand to millions of dollars for a lifetime license. Hardware, installation, training, software updates, and long-term technical support — all add up extra tens of thousands of dollars to an investment that the ANSP hopes to recover by using the tool for 10-to-15-to-20+ years. By the time the return of investment is achieved, these tools are long time running obsolete.

  2. Difficult access. ANSPs should be able to trial these platforms and assess the value they bring to their business before committing resources (both money & time) to an investment that may not pay off.

  3. Shadows of the past. There were some notoriously bad experiences ANSPs had with some of these tools in the past, where tens of millions of dollars failed to deliver what has been promised. After being burned with hot soup, almost everyone is blowing on their yogurt now.

4. Key advantages to look for when researching ATCO Rostering Automation platforms

So what can ANSPs do now to improve their resilience and prepare for the future of ATCO Rostering Automation?

  1. Invest intelligently. All ANSPs should give up spreadsheet scheduling or immature rostering tools, even if their workforce counts a few tens of Air Traffic Controllers. Manual rostering takes time. Adapting the schedule to unavoidable disruptions takes even more time. Overtime (too much workload) and boredom (too little workload) are expensive and fatigue-prone. Manually updating the rosters hurts flexibility. The lack of flexibility hurts the overall systemic resilience.

  2. Try before you buy. Before buying a car, we take it for a test drive. When we get a new phone, we can return it in 30 days and get our money back, no questions asked. When we subscribe to Netflix, Dropbox, or Office 365, we can use it for as long as we want and close the subscription once we don’t need it anymore.

So how can ANSPs benefit from the same advantages when investing in an ATCO Rostering Automation platform? Look no more.

SkyRoster was designed and engineered to be a solution to all these problems:

  • ANSPs can sign up for free to get access to the SkyRoster Cloud Platform.

  • The onboarding process can be finalized in a few days.

  • Planners can get proficient in using the tool in a few weeks.

  • ANSPs can evaluate the tool and, once they decide to go live, they can continue to use the SkyRoster cloud version or request an on-premise deployment, running the platform on their own infrastructure.

The Software-as-a-Service model that SkyRoster is built on leverages unrivaled advantages compared to the classical approach - the enterprise, on-premises deployment.

Starting with SkyRoster costs nothing but the willingness to get you out of your regular comfort zone. It's simple to use, easy to deploy, yet powerful and extensible, covering the basic staff scheduling needs of 80% of ANSPs. With these offerings, SkyRoster is paving the way to the new era of Digitalisation in ATM, with minimum adoption cost and operational overhead for ANSPs around the world.

Don't take our word for it. Sign up for the Free Plan at and evaluate it. Make the first step towards ATCO Rostering Automation.

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