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The “AT” in ORAT is generally accepted as referring to “Airport Transfer” or “Activation and Transfer”. It’s a structured process designed to ensure the successful opening of an airport and is led by the airport operator. However, there is a lot of activity that lies solely in the hands of the airlines, especially the base carrier, particularly if their whole operation is moving. What this means is that the airline should, in parallel, be running their own complementary “Airline Transfer” project.

The airline’s ORAT needs to have a clear, agreed, co-ordinated and well-defined set of objectives, supported by a well-managed plan of action. Nine key questions to address are:

  1. Are airline processes going to change and how will this be documented and included in training and trials?
  2. Has future strategy been considered? For example, is the long term aim to change fleets and can the planned aircraft types be included in the operator’s testing and trials?
  3. How will the airline communicate both internally and externally, to make sure that messages are targeted, everyone knows the reason for the move, are notified of potential disruption, and equally that service improvements are marketed and promoted?
  4. How can improvements to SLAs and KPIs be introduced, for example with ground handlers? The airline needs to ensure that any test includes an element of data gathering to help them decide on what these should be and when they should be implemented. Will they need a settling in period?
  5. How can the airline influence other stakeholders who are not directly involved in the airport operation? For example, some staff may rely on public transport – is the timetable of the transport to the airport going to stay compatible with shifts? Can the airline influence the transport provider, or will the airline need to look at alternatives?
  6. Is the time to transfer between the flight operations building and aircraft including briefing and bag drops for air crew, travel time and security going to change and if so what will this mean to reporting times, shift timings etc.?
  7. What are the fall-back & contingency options for the whole operation, not just in the new facilities? How are these planned, communicated, agreed and tested?
  8. How will the airline’s bespoke systems and equipment i.e. those not supplied by the airport operator, be installed and tested whilst fitting in with the construction and operator ORAT schedules?
  9. How will staff be managed and trained through the transition period, will current staffing levels be sufficient and have the right skill mix, or is a large recruitment exercise needed?
    Failure to address just a couple of these key questions can result in operational problems with very real consequences, where the base carrier will be penalised both in terms of bad publicity and costs. The impact is potentially greater on the airline than it is on the airport – no matter whose fault it is – so the airline must be sure that they have been meticulous in their planning. The opening of Terminal 5 was a case in point, there were several issues not picked up in Heathrow Airport’s ORAT, but BA’s passengers were the ones affected and the costs, including repatriation of luggage, was a large burden for the airline, with estimates ranging from £20m to £150m. So, it pays to think of “airline” as well as “airport” when considering ORAT.

Rob Williams has been working for airlines and airports for over 25 years. He has helped manage the ORAT project for Saudi Airline’s move to the new Jeddah Airport Terminal.

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