by Jan Poort
Delta Airlines lost in August 2016 about $150 million in pre-tax profits thanks to computer problems that grounded flights around the globe and forced the company to make special accommodations to get passengers to their final destinations. The cause was failed switchgear, a piece of equipment very similar to conventional circuit breakers. What was particularly notable, however, was the fact that key systems and network equipment did not automatically switch over to backup systems once the outage happened. One reason for the lasting effect is that airlines have been packing planes to record levels in the past several years. The percentage of seats filled on commercial planes in the U.S., known as the load factor, was 83% in 2015, up from 73% in 2002. Because of the high load factor, airlines have very few empty seats in which to put passengers from canceled flights. Rebooking passengers into available seats will take time. Airlines also have minimized planes’ turnaround time — the window between when a plane lands and when it is supposed to take off again — in order to maximize revenue per plane. That means that a delay by one flight can throw off a flight schedule for days.
Aviation experts say computer problems are causing more delays and cancellations among airlines because the systems have become larger and interconnected — linking websites, airport kiosks, mobile apps and other components. Critics say airlines need to invest more in backup systems and staffing to ensure the systems can handle any crisis. Scenarios like this are the perfect example and case study for why maintaining a backup power network and having a preventative maintenance strategy in place can save an airline company from facing a similar nightmare. One of the factors some are pointing to is the fact that Delta seemed to rely on IT networks that have been in place since the 1990s. Outdated networks cannot only be economically inefficient, but as was the case with Delta, these systems can have vulnerabilities that make it difficult to come back online after a loss of power.
With all of this in mind, the first thing Delta should have done is to review the backup power network to ensure that it is sufficient to handle current needs. Once everything has been reviewed and optimized, including replacing outdated equipment, a preventative maintenance strategy should be implemented.