Frankfurt, Germany-based WePlan offers a software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform that enables airlines to optimise their crew manpower deployment on a continual basis
WePlan was formed in 2019 by Lana Jansen and Franziska Burmester. They had been acting as IT consultants in the aviation sector, working to offer clients efficiency strategies in manpower management.
Both were of the opinion that there was a “critical gap” – Jansen tells Airside – in the tools available for airlines to efficiently plan their crew resourcing, and they set about doing something about it.
At that time, most airlines were relying on Excel for informing their manpower strategies but, Jansen says, while powerful Excel simply does not facilitate the data analysis that is required for informed future planning. They should know – they were using Excel all the time in their work, and well knew its limitations. The two women also thoroughly understood the needs of their client carriers’ workforce planning teams.
Hence, through the help of a couple of software developers they knew, Jansen and Burmester set out to create the WePlan platform; three years later, the platform consists of 15 different modules that can be used by airlines’ planning teams – and potentially those of handlers, of which more later – to create cost-optimal plans for crew resourcing.
The need for effective forecasting, testing of scenarios and achieving maximum efficiencies has become more important than ever for operators in an aviation industry that has been ravaged by the impact of the pandemic, which has not only hit their own staff but of course led to a dramatic collapse in flying passenger numbers.
Today, it’s critical, Jansen notes, for airlines to understand their data and to be able to use that data to achieve efficiencies.
Moreover, Covid has added new complexities to the task of any airline manpower planner. Historic data is not as representative of likely future operating conditions – so the fact that WePlan also employs the most recent operational data helps here. But, more importantly, flight schedules can be changing on virtually a daily basis, as carriers seek to meet rapidly changing passenger requirement patterns.
Flexibility and adaptability have become more important than ever and WePlan’s sophisticated roster cost estimation tool helps airlines minimise the costs associated with resource allocation, while its scenario planning analytics and forecasting help them to look forward to what might be required for the future.
Indeed, says Jansen, while scenario-based planning used to be a ‘nice-to-have feature’ of the platform, in the current operating environment for airlines it is now a ‘must-have’.
Varied customer base
The WePlan platform was built for airlines, and indeed its customers today are carriers such as TUI, Eurowings (a Lufthansa subsidiary) and AeroLogic.
TUI has deployed WePlan right across the group’s geographically based airlines, as well as at the group corporate level. In being so used, it becomes a very powerful tool for the company, whose airlines operating as TUI fly, TUI Airways (operating out of the UK), TUI fly Belgium, TUI fly Netherlands and TUI fly Nordic can each use a version of the system adapted to their own particular operating conditions.
For example, holidays are typically taken at different times of the year in these different nations/regions, which will significantly impact manpower management and planning and which is reflected in the various systems used by the different airlines.
Meanwhile, the fact that the platform is being used by AeroLogic, a freighter operator joint venture of DHL and Lufthansa Cargo based near Leipzig, illustrates that WePlan is as useful for cargo carriers as it is for passenger airlines. Moreover, AeroLogic’s constantly changing flight schedules really put the system to the test and thereby highlight its effectiveness and value, Jansen suggests.
Jansen and her co-founder are in talks with a number of other carriers about signing up to WePlan, and, in fact, some are currently undertaking proof of concept analysis of the platform.
The WePlan capability is also being extended beyond the airline environment. The resource planning of a carrier’s handling partners and even maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) teams can also be critical elements in how an airline plans its manpower allocation. These factors are now reflected in the platform: relevant data on handlers and MRO partners (which might be third-party service providers or might be separate divisions within an airline group) can also be fed into the platform and the information interrogated and analysed.
Improvements are being made to the various modules on an ongoing basis. An upgraded platform is made available, free of charge, to clients typically at least every couple of months.
Planning as a Service
As well as WePlan’s 15 different modules that are available on an SaaS basis, the company also offers Planning as a Service, which enables clients to outsource elements of their manpower planning as a full service option.
The WePlan team then feeds results into the system such that the client can access them anytime and anywhere.
Plus, a consultancy service is also available for clients as a separate service. This might be a particularly welcome option for those carriers that dispensed with some of their planning staff during the worst of the Covid pandemic.
Someone at WePlan is always available to help out should they be needed, a vital consideration given the fast-moving nature of the aviation business today and the rapid manpower management decisions that need to be taken on a continual basis by carriers in this – still much-affected by Covid – industry.
Plus, whether a customer is signed up for the consultancy option or not, the WePlan team goes out of its way to maintain regular communication. “We may be small, but we deliver high quality, are flexible and remain close to our clients,” Jansen insists.