Atlanta International Airport is the busiest airport in the world, serving 80 million passengers and employing over 10,000 people. The Operations Director must ensure that all of the process, procedures and organizational structures enable the airport to be efficient, effective and always improving. This paper will discuss the Atlanta Airport in the context of its operations management success and will also work in an example from the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan as well.
Allen (2009) outlines the transformational model as a set of seven variables that need to be aligned for a business to be successful. The seven variables are environment, strategy, culture, core processes, systems, structure and results. The core processes at Atlanta International Airport include baggage handling, aircraft maintenance, air traffic control, security, designing passenger flow, passenger information systems, loading and unloading the aircraft and providing information and basic services.
For the customer, these activities should appear to be seamlessly integrated, so that the overall travel experience is smooth and easy. That there are 80 million passengers every year indicates that a very high success rate for all functions is required in order to achieve high levels of customer satisfaction. If any one aspect of operations is not successful, the airport as a whole will look bad and the operations department will be unsuccessful.
The airport's operations consist of two sets of resources, the transforming resources and the transformed resources. The former includes the different resources used in converting inputs to outputs, therefore the buildings, the equipment, the staff and the information systems. The concept of transformed resources refers to those that are turned into end products or services. This includes everything from the food, the information, the passengers, the cargo, the baggage, jet fuel and other resources of that nature that are taken from a raw state and delivered to the airport's passengers and customers (The Times, 2011). A further example of the different types of resources can be drawn from the Jordanian Tourist Board. The public-private agency has a number of transforming resources that include staff, sites such as Petra, Amman, the Dead Sea and Wadi Rum, and financial resources. The transformed resources include the tourists that visit, hotel stay, meals and other service (VisitJordan.com, 2011).
All of the different processes can also be broken down as micro- and macro-level operations. Macro-level operations refer to broad sets of systems and processes that bring a transformed resource from its input state to its output state. Along the way, a number of micro-level resources will need to be delivered as a means of executing the macro-level operation. An example can be used with respect to delivering information about a flight. A flight leaving Amman for Atlanta takes off late because of a spring storm in the Mediterranean, and continues along its flight path. The macro-level operation with respect to the information about this flight is to take the raw information and convert that into something useful for the passengers awaiting their friends and family at the arrivals area in Atlanta. The pilots of the flight must first make a determination, in coordination with the relevant aviation authorities, of their new time of arrival. This information is also coordinated with the control tower in Atlanta. The control tower must process the information it receives about the flight's position and speed, and schedule an arrival. At that point, the flight is going to be delayed.
The operations department would ensure that adequate information systems are installed that can relay that data from the control tower to the information boards throughout the airport as quickly and accurately as possible. Some of the different micro-level operations that are required to make this happen are that the control tower must send the information to the central information processor. The processor must then update the information screens. The systems by which this information flows are designed by an IT team, and a maintenance team is responsible for the upkeep of the physical infrastructure by which the information travels throughout the airport.
The value chain is another concept in operations management that can be applied to the Atlanta Airport. Michael Porter in Competitive Advantage explained the value chain as five principle activities that "create value that exceeds the cost of providing the product or service, generating a profit margin" (QuickMBA, 2010). Operations is often considered a support function for a business, but the value chain concept can be utilized to demonstrate that this is not so. Atlanta Airport earns money a number of ways, but attracting passengers is part of that equation and successful operations ensure that passenger growth continues to rise. Indeed, several components of the value chain relate directly to the operations side of the airport: inbound logistics, operations and outbound logistics in particular. Airplanes, supplies, baggage, cargo, passengers, staff and other goods are all affected by the inbound logistics, operations and outbound logistics of the airport, especially as an airport is a logistics hub. The Operations Manager is responsible for all of this activity, and is therefore critical to the ability of the airport to earn revenues from its various streams.
A similar situation exists with the Jordan Tourism Board. The Tourism Board's activities go beyond promoting, to include ensuring that tourists can easily enter the country and get to the different sites. The Tourist Board works with hotels, restaurants and attractions to bring them up to tourist standards so that they can earn more revenue per visitor. The Tourism Board's support role in the operations side of the Jordanian tourism industry allows for the key resources -- tourists -- to be transformed through this process of experiencing goods and services.
Both businesses, catering to travelers, are examples of open systems. This means that these systems are subject to constant interaction with the external environment. In the case of the Atlanta Airport, the operations system interacts with not only passengers and customers, but also with regulators and other government officials, and with airlines and other variables, including weather. It is critical, then, that the Operations Manager is accountable for developing an organization that can adapt to changes in the different variables. If the system only works when all of the inputs are optimized and there are no unexpected circumstances, then the system will not work for an airport. Likewise consider the case of the Jordan Tourist Board, which must be able to adapt to changing circumstances in its external environment, such as changes in the region's political situation, which can have an impact on demand.
The Operations Manager at the Atlanta Airport therefore must be able to design open systems that add value in the value chain processes for which operations is responsible. There are dozens of macro-level operations that must be conducted at an airport the size of Atlanta, and hundreds if not thousands of micro-level operations that all contribute to the airport's overall goals. It is necessary that the Operations Manager is able to put the financial and human resources in place to design the systems that can not only perform the different micro- and macro-level operations at the airport at a high level, but can do so under a variety of different external conditions, as befits an open system.
The emphasis of the position of the Operations Manager, therefore is on building the best procedures and processes. This entails understanding all of the micro-level operations and elements that go into the procedures, and ensuring that the right people are in place to design these processes, but also to train the 10,000 employees to ensure that they can execute the processes even under adverse or unusual conditions. This highlights the role of training in operations management. The best procedures and systems in the world are useless if people cannot execute them. Therefore it is essential that training becomes part of the macro-level operations that must be implemented by the Operations Manager, in conjunction with the Human Resources Manager.
That the Operations Manager must work in close conjunction with other managers at the airport highlights the leadership necessary in the role, and it highlights the limitations of the operations department in general. At Atlanta International Airport, the Operations Manager will work with Marketing, Human Resources, Flight Control, IT and a host of other departments, many of which are not under direct control of the Operations Manager, in order to deliver service excellence. Operations at the airport also does not have jurisdiction over the contractor companies that operate within the airport, including the 200 retail shops and restaurants. They have their own systems and staff, and it is necessary not only for Operations to work with those companies to ensure excellence but also to provide support. Similarly, the Jordan Tourist Board must work with its partners in the industry in order to ensure positive outcomes for tourists who are visiting the Kingdom.
In conclusion, the Operations Manager role at Atlanta International Airport is a complex role that involves managing both macro- and micro-level operations. The role overseas three key activities in the…