Delta flew a record number of customers this summer. Here’s how.

Delta Air Lines made this announcement:

Saying this summer was a busy one would be a significant understatement. No matter how you slice the data — number of customers carried, flights flown, destinations served, irregular operation days handled — there were records made and broken during the all-important period between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Between May 24 and Sept. 3, Delta flew nearly 60 million customers, including the airline’s new record customer enplanement day on July 26 when nearly 662,000 flyers took to the skies on a single day. Nine of Delta’s top 10 busiest days by customers carried happened this summer and the airline flew on average 80 more peak-day departures versus the same period last year.

“It’s nothing short of remarkable what Delta employees have done this summer to take care of Delta’s customers and each other while running a safe and reliable operation,” said Gil West, Delta’s Chief Operating Officer. “No matter the challenge — whether that’s record customers, several severe irregular operations and everything in between — the Delta employees have again proven that no one better connects the world.”

For maintenance technicians and planners, the summer started in earnest well ahead of the busy period as they worked diligently to perform preventative maintenance work and prepare the fleet. As Delta technicians have done in the past, many base maintenance technicians who typically perform scheduled maintenance in hangars across the system transitioned to the line, helping the team to perform fixes on aircraft in between flights and preserve reliability.

As the airline rolled into summer, so too did a seemingly-never-ending string of thunderstorms that impacted many of Delta’s hubs throughout much of July and August, while a strong heat wave hovered over much of western Europe in July, wild fires impacted the U.S. West Coast and a strong hurricane impacted Hawaii.

Still, for their part, Delta’s Airport Customer Service teams pushed through, taking care of customers amid significant irregular operations that at times prompted cancellations and extended delays. Despite the uptick in irregular operations, Delta still maintained its competitive lead in operational reliability with completion factor higher than summer 2017 and on-time performance nearly the same as last year. The airline also saw fewer misconnected customers compared to 2017, a sign that company initiatives are working to improve reliability and customer protection during irregular events.

The same holds for cargo flown in the belly of the aircraft. Delta Cargo too saw improvements in its ability to deliver freight with minimal disruption. And as cargo takes advantage of capacity in the hold that would otherwise go unfilled, a significant portion of delivered cargo is additive to Delta’s business. This summer, Cargo saw the highest weekly volume in the domestic mail segment and broke the all-time single flight revenue record.

“This summer provided a number of opportunities to test our company processes in real-time and it’s clear the initiatives we’ve put in place are bringing meaningful benefit to our customers,” said Erik Snell, S.V.P – Operations and Customer Center.

Amid the storm-challenged operation, specialists in Delta’s Customer Engagement Centers were hard at work reaccommodating customers following flight disruptions. The team worked through an astounding 26 days of irregular operations with calls topping 130,000 per day, in some cases.

“The Reservations Team had its best summer yet, especially given the circumstances,” said Tori Forbes Roberts, V.P. – Reservations Sales and Customer Care.

Once customers were up in the air, Delta’s flight attendants demonstrated why more customers fly Delta than any other carrier, and again, records were broken. In August, Delta saw the highest Net Promoter Score among valuable — and discerning — Medallion flyers.

For their part, Delta’s pilots are increasingly using the Flight Weather Viewer Plus (see below), an especially useful tool to help cope with summer’s characteristic convective and often turbulent weather. The enhanced app available on their tablet device allows flight crews to see forecasted and observed turbulence ahead of their flight path to either navigate around it or alert customers and flight attendants ahead of time, improving safety and comfort.

“Summer is when Delta’s true spirit shines and our success is because of your hard work,” said Gil. “The incredible performance we saw this summer doesn’t just happen, it takes all 80,000 Delta people to deliver a safe and reliable operation with the authentic care and dedication that you all do so well.”

Groundbreaking app helps Delta pilots avoid turbulence

By Shannon Ledwich

It’s a phenomenon that’s been plaguing pilots since the Wright brothers took their first flight above the sand dunes at Kitty Hawk. According to NASA’s Weather Accident Prevention Project, turbulence costs airlines approximately $100 million every year. It also makes customers and crews uncomfortable, and in rare cases, can even cause a few bumps and bruises on board.

Predicting the where, when and intensity of turbulence is notoriously difficult to do. But Delta has developed a new, industry-leading app that’s helping pilots better spot and avoid it.

Turbulence App logo

Launched in April, Delta’s Flight Weather Viewer app provides pilots with real-time graphics of turbulence observations and forecasts on the flight deck.

“Delta was able to take advantage of a convergence of affordable technology (e.g. the tablet, much improved weather data and aircraft connectivity) to develop an innovative way for delivering weather to the flight deck,” said Captain Steve Dickson, Senior Vice President – Flight Operations. “This approach allows our crews to make informed decisions for a safer flight, more efficient operation and better passenger  experience.”

The app, developed in partnership with Basic Commerce and Industries (BCI), allows pilots to plug in their flight plan and view where turbulence is and how it’s being encountered on a 3-D color-coded map and 0-100 scale.Flight Weather Viewer screenshot

The system uses special algorithms, developed by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), from existing avionics sensors installed on more than 300 aircraft in the airline’s fleet, to combine vertical accelerometer data with atmospheric state data, which includes factors such as pitch, roll and wind speed to generate turbulence reports. These reports are fed back into forecast models, also developed by NCAR, and made available to the app in real time. Pilots can set threat index alerts along their route, which trigger audible and visual notifications signaling when an area of turbulence lies ahead, when the seat belt sign should be turned on and when the cabin needs to be secured.

Setting Delta’s app apart from similar technology, the data is customized by aircraft type, since turbulence affects a 737 narrowbody differently than a much larger A330. It is also available in real time, thanks to fast and secure connectivity via Gogo’s in-flight Wi-Fi network, instead of through the traditional ACARS digital datalink system that’s been in place since the late 1970s.

Traditionally, pilots receive a pre-flight briefing on expected flight conditions. These briefings include pilot reports, also known as PIREPS, with limited, subjective and often outdated information. As tablets (or electronic flight bags) replaced paper charts and manuals, pilots began using apps in the flight deck. Delta began rolling out its own Microsoft Surface tablets in 2013.

Delta pilots have been volunteering to beta test the app since January, with many calling it an industry game changer.

“The Flight Weather Viewer app has become a valued tool in my bag of tricks. It’s the most incredible enhancement to en route situational awareness since the development of the glass cockpit and the FMC (Flight Management Computer),” said First Officer Jason Rice. “The forecasts are accurate, the reports objective and indicative of actual conditions, and the app functionality makes all of that information extremely easy to access… We have made an incredible leap forward in safety and customer comfort.”

 

Flight dispatchers and Delta’s team of 25 meteorologists are also empowered with this new, enhanced tool, helping them provide more frequent updates warning of weather-related safety risks around the world.

Delta expects to see a significant decrease in the number of turbulence-related injuries and turbulence-induced maintenance. The app is also expected to reduce the airline’s carbon footprint, as it arms the pilots with better information to make less altitude and speed changes, thereby reducing fuel burn.

This unique approach for delivering live turbulence reports and forecasts to the flight deck has been patented and recognized by the NTSB, FAA and NCAR. Between 2013 and 2014, the FAA supported a demo to validate this new technology.

Delta currently has the turbulence reporting algorithm installed on its fleet of 737s and 767s and plans to expand to its larger aircraft that fly internationally by adding the 777 and A330 fleet in the near future. In phase 2 of the app project, developers expect to add detection for several other types of weather disturbances, such as lightning, hail and even volcanic ash.
All images by Delta.
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