Towards improved efficiency on every level

With 30,3 million passengers in 2019, Copenhagen Airport is Scandinavia’s busiest travel hub. Despite the high number of travellers, this airport has a reputation as extremely reliable. Secret to this success: hassle-free service with no surprises. In order to maintain this positive reputation, a sophisticated Asset Management System & Governance model is being implemented. Resources are steered towards taking strategy and continuous improvement initiatives, rather than focusing on operations and maintenance efforts only, a process that will mature even more after the Covid-19 setback.

Copenhagen Airport has executed in-house maintenance ever since the first plane took off from its grounds. Obviously, this kind of work happens under very strict conditions, as the safety of the airplanes and the on-ground operations must remain guaranteed at all times. “Throughout the years, we managed to implement some very solid asset management projects”, explains strategic asset manager Tim Vansgaard Hansen. “But we came to the conclusion that ‘doing maintenance right’ is not necessarily the best way forward. Our maintenance team consists of highly skilled specialists who know exactly what they are doing. The issue however lurks in the fact their processes and techniques remain unchanged, as there is hardly any room for training and innovation, nor is there much gusto for new solutions. The strict legislation they have to comply with does give rise to a rather conservatist culture. As a result, openness towards new ways of leadership or novel technical solutions launched on the market tends to fall by the wayside, so when it comes to the adoption rate of modern ways of working in infrastructure companies, we lag behind compared to other sectors.”

Cost saving as trigger

With the airport expanding at a high rate, the costs of maintenance started to mount to an unsustainable level. “For years, we managed to deal with the situation”, continues Tim Vansgaard Hansen. “We were fine until the global economic crisis in 2008. The extreme impact on the aviation sector demanded severe cost cutting effort in order to safeguard Copenhagen Airport’s future. This led to the implementation of another way of maintenance and the move towards an asset management philosophy. Unfortunately, the team was only small and the asset management project was primarily regarded as a mere pilot; cost cutting prevailed over evolving.”

Working on real policy

From 2014 onwards, as the economy picked up, Copenhagen Airport succeeded to accomplish considerable growth once again and management decided that the time was right to transform Asset Management from concept into a real policy. “We started to develop support processes in order to preserve our reputation as a very reliable airport, even with a significant growth in the number of passengers,” explains Tim Vansgaard Hansen. “We set up asset systems based on modular and centralized infrastructure design, in combination with an asset reinvestment methodology that helped pinpoint required investments in areas most in need of refurbishment (such as drainage, pavement lighting, buildings, …) and correctly allocate available capital to the expansion of the airport. In addition to this funds allocation decision mechanism, we also implemented RCM (reliability centred maintenance) to prolong the life of those assets maintenance was postponed on. The end goal now became clear: introducing more digital solutions as an aid in daily decision making, and to pro-actively optimize our processes based on collecting live data. We also want to establish Asset Management as a solid management system that serves as the basis to run operations for the entire O&M organization. Last but not least, we are busy to set up collaborations with technical schools and institutes to provide training for our team and future-proof their skills.”

Dealing with continuous evolution

Trying to attain these goals of course is a work in progress. Throughout the years, the initial asset management strategies have been adjusted and refined. “Our sector evolves at a rapid speed,” adds Tim Vansgaard Hansen. “In order to keep Copenhagen Airport successful, corporate strategy has to evolve too, which implies the need to regularly assess whether existing processes are due adjustment or new processes are required. We try to learn from the past and keep abreast of new developments in technology. That enables us to keep our asset management strategies up to date. Every day, we become smarter in tackling our challenges and managing hurdles throughout the transformation process.”

Learning from pilot projects

The strategy starts from an agile project management approach for areas where the project goal cannot be designed because of high level of uncertainty, lacking competences or just because it is uncharted terrain. “Transformation cannot be planned, but the vision can,” explains Tim Vansgaard Hansen. “Continuous adjustments are a necessity to render the goal authentic. As the asset management and digital solutions mature, the feedback we receive from both customers and employees also gains speed and volume. Some unexpected findings forced us to ramp up our asset management efforts and allocate more and different resources. That is why we are currently re-designing the asset management strategy, again using an agile inspired approach. First, we determine the vision: what does the future of the airport look like? Then we identify the ‘must win battles’ as quick wins. Once we completed a concrete strategy, we implement pilot projects to check if the solution actually materializes as intended or not. All lessons learnt from these pilots are then used to upgrade our vision and strategy.”

Covid-19 changes everything

Changing a huge organization such as Copenhagen Airport takes time. The entire process will take five to seven years. “We started slowly and had to move the goalpost a couple of times”, Tim Vansgaard Hansen clarifies. “With Covid-19 we were made to adapt the strategy again. Although the future of airports will always remain very unpredictable, nobody ever saw a crisis as the one we have been and still are confronted with today coming. As we lost 99% of our customers and with forecasts predicting a very long recovery period, we cannot but redefine our strategy drastically. Maybe we will have to adapt it again, and again, and once more. Nobody knows what the future brings. Nevertheless, we still strongly believe we are heading in the right direction towards a bright future. With an adequate asset management strategy, we can provide our customers ‒ airlines, handlers, passengers, concessionaires and tenants ‒ better services at competitive prices. Furthermore, we have now set out improved risk management mechanisms in operations and in business. We are convinced we will improve performance rates of our O&M activities, with the same volume eventually being dealt with in a more (cost) efficient and accurate way by introducing new and renewed techniques and processes, based on data and technology.”