Total Quality Management in Aviation Operations

Introduction

Total quality management (TQM) is a popular approach to managerial practices used to improve efficiency of operations. Its flexibility allows a wide range of applications and usually yields considerable increase of productivity. The following paper aims at determining the applicability of TQM to aviation operation management field. This is done in the form of secondary research of available literature on the subject and an inquiry of the airline company from the UAE to strengthen the findings.

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Total Quality Management Overview

The foundations of the concept of total quality management (TQM) were laid in Japan in the first half of the twentieth century. TQM was originally devised for manufacturing industry. The central idea behind the concept was that of continuous improvement of quality by using quality measurement tools and incorporating a set of principles and guidelines collectively known as culture (Kiritharan 2013). The principles were soon popularised in the United States and several European countries. Thanks to high rate of success associated with it, TQM became influential enough to be partially incorporated in many modern quality standards, such as ISO 9001 (Kiritharan 2013).

It is important to understand that TQM is not presented with a rigid set of steps or well-defined actions. Instead, it is a philosophy which suggests general directions and a unified vision of quality pursuit. Several interpretations of TQM exist which usually emphasise common core: the comprehensive allocation of all organisational functions to focus on meeting and surpassing the demands of customers and the goals set by the organisation (Kiritharan 2013).

Another way of looking at this is the direction of the effort of every employee towards finding ways of bringing quality of the product to the level where it meets (or exceeds) customers’ expectations and ensure that this is an ongoing process rather than a short-term intervention (Kiritharan 2013). Aside from the obvious emphasis on the customer as a central determining factor, most definitions of TQM specify managerial commitment as a key success factor and stress the necessity for change as an intrinsic component of the process (Kiritharan 2013). All of the described features align well with the needs of the service sector. The universal and non-rigid composition coupled with flexibility and applicability of the philosophy reinforced the success of its transition, which eventually led to wide adoption of total quality management by the industries whose main product is customer service.

TQM in Operation Management

Operation management in aviation field covers the responsibilities such as airline administration, safety of functioning, and planning of airport operations. Aside from the evident involvement of the question of safety, all three components directly target customer satisfaction rate, with safety being among mandatory customer expectations (Lazur et al. 2013). Therefore, the two main fields in aviation operation management, where TQM is arguably the most prominent, are quality of safety and customer satisfaction.

TQM and Customer Satisfaction

Today’s aviation industry is a competitive and dynamic field. It is thus expected to see the shift of attention of management from the functionality to customer experience. Therefore, many aviation companies are displaying the tendency to downscale the pursuit of the speed and capacity of their equipment and turn instead to addressing the needs of the customers (Lazur et al. 2013). Such experience is ensured by airport’s security measures, capability of emergency response, and, most importantly, customer’s perception of the quality of services. This is commonly achieved by determining the needs of customers and providing them with services of required quality. One of more intuitive ways is regulating the cost of airline tickets.

The aviation industry is easily among the most expensive means of travel. Because of this, most airlines emphasise the accessibility of their pricing model (Arif, Gupta, & Williams 2013). However, such approach is limited by the cost of the equipment and increased attention to safety. Therefore, in the aviation management, it is even more common to provide top quality service throughout the customer’s visit. For instance, because of the complexity of flight schedules and their vulnerability to weather conditions, the delay and cancellation of flights are relatively common practices. To mitigate dissatisfaction, many airports introduce notifications which update customers on the progress in a dynamic and accessible manner (Arif, Gupta, & Williams 2013). Recently, the service has expanded to include the customers who reserve tickets through booking agencies to notify them of changes using contact information.

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Finally, as a part of total quality program, it was established that the absence of explanations for the reasons behind the changes is perceived negatively by most of the customers. Thus, this information is also included in the details on information screens (Arif, Gupta, & Williams 2013). The customer care services in most airports also specify the obligation to deliver baggage on time. Since the surveys indicate that the system often fails to comply with this statement, many leading airlines now incorporate a set of policies which allocate additional resources to address possible shortcomings and deliver the lost baggage within a short time frame (usually less than 24 hours) (Arif, Gupta, & Williams 2013). The design of facilities on board the plane is also directed at exceeding expectations.

Most airlines equip their planes with entertainment and leisure facilities, such as individual media devices, ensure superb dining experience by including lounges and serving fine foods. Companies such as Emirates Airline take it one step further by modifying foods to regional needs and expectations (Arif, Gupta, & Williams 2013). Since the UAE depends heavily on tourism industry, this move covers the needs of culturally and ethnically diverse population that uses its services. Finally, the recent advent of portable devices prompted the airline companies to update the interior of their aircraft to allow the charge of laptops and smartphones on board. In some instances, the companies also modified their business-class seats to account for the possibility to work with during flight (e.g. larger tables to accommodate the laptop) (Arif, Gupta, & Williams 2013).

It is important to note that while most of these practices and outcomes are consistent with the concepts of total quality management, the operation management of these companies does not necessarily use these principles directly. For instance, research by Obaid et al. (2015) revealed that most of the managers involved in the aviation industry in the UAE do not use SERVQUAL model which allows measuring the difference between customers’ perception of the service quality and their expectations. This undermines the assumption that the successful improvements in service quality can be attributed to TQM. On the other hand, the industry uses ISO 9001 standard, which is based on the TQM principles and relies heavily on the Dubai model of service improvement, also known as Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohamed model (Obaid et al. 2015). This model is also consistent with total quality management approach in its principal points. Finally, many interviewed managers report on using tools such as five whys, fishbone analysis, and cause and effect analysis for improving quality (Obaid et al. 2015). These details allow us to conclude that despite not being stated explicitly, the total quality management plays a significant role in customer service segment of aviation industry and its influence can be tracked down in most individual practices.

TQM in Airline Safety

Despite being primarily associated with functionality and reliability of equipment, safety in airlines depends on the variety of factors, such as communication, training, and teamwork capacity. The specificities of public perception combined with high cost of maintenance created the situation where the companies seek for the most cost-effective solutions to guarantee the desired level of safety. Therefore, the providers of maintenance services are expected to incorporate formidable pricing policies without sacrificing quality, which becomes possible thanks to the TQM implementation. For instance, the providers establish reliable communication channels to ensure the synchronicity of information between pilots, dispatchers, managers, and the public.

This, in turn, assures the compliance with safety standards and minimises the possibility of error. Examples of such communication facilitation include improved accessibility to technical and administrative documentation which contains information on aircraft maintenance and eliminating complexity to ensure the comprehensibility of the documents (Lazur et al. 2013). Next, most of the aviation companies introduce teamwork within each department. Coupled with positive workplace culture, this approach raises the chances that a mistake caused by human factor is timely detected, reported, and addressed before leading to consequences (Lazur et al. 2013).

Finally, the training of technicians is currently prioritised to exclude the possibility of unqualified staff performing important operations. The quality criteria for maintenance staff is established on several layers. The enrolment and short-term training are carefully managed to allow only the suitable employees to qualify for the job. The trainees are required to demonstrate substantial and integral knowledge of the specific field they are applying for and a potential for improving in the future. The described approach is a fairly recent addition to the practice of technician licensing. Previously, licenses were issued based on less strictly defined criteria which led to the inconsistencies in their application (Lazur et al. 2013). The current version improves on the previous model and allows for a more focused and consistent training without sacrificing the quality.

It is worth mentioning that unlike customer service, the safety segment of the aviation industry displays a less unanimous shift to total quality management, with many firms still relying on more traditional means of management and quality improvement (Lazur et al. 2013). This, however, presents good opportunity to examine the relative impact of TQM on safety. For instance, the civil aviation industry in the UAE, which is known for utilisation of TQM principles throughout its operation, is currently rated as the most compliant with the safety standards of the International Civil Aviation Organization and is assigned the score of 98.86% (Obaid et al. 2015). Such high rate is attributed to continuous efforts of improving quality standards and dedication of operation management team, as stated by the President of the Department of General Civil Aviation Authority (Obaid et al. 2015). The results of inquiry by Obaid et al. (2015) are consistent with this rating, demonstrating the industry’s implementation of total quality management as means of improvement and quality control.

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Analysis of Benefits of TQM for Emirates Airline

To determine the effect of total quality management in aviation operation management field, we can look at a specific example of Emirates Airline and apply gap analysis to evaluate the practices of the company against an optimal excellence model.

Overview

Emirates Airline was started in 1985 with limited resources and only two airships. Since then, the company continuously pursued its goal of offering the level of services relevant to the industry. Through persistent expansion, constant introduction of new destinations, and up-to-date service offerings, the company managed to maintain its status of the leader in aviation industry. In the year 2016, Emirate Airlines was named the world’s best airline and received the 12th consecutive award for best In-flight Entertainment (Emirates Airline 2016).As is the case with other UAE companies, Emirates Airline, which is government-owned, must comply with the standards and regulations of General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA), an independent governing body responsible for all aspects of flight safety in the country (Obaid et al. 2015). In addition, the open skies policy created a highly competitive environment where major players of American aviation industry prompted an active expansion and search of partnerships to sustain its development.

Among the most prominent of its innovations aimed at improved customer experience are the new facility dedicated to secure transport of pharmaceuticals, the introduction of 24-hour social media customer support in English and Arabic, and the US$9.2 billion order with Rolls-Royce, one of the leaders in aviation equipment. Thanks to the ceaseless pursuit of quality, the company demonstrates a series of achievements, including the leading position in popularity among social media users and the brand value US$7.7 billion (a 17% improvement over the previous year) (Emirates Airline 2016).

Optimal Excellence Model

To determine the role of TQM in operation management activities of Emirates Airline, the optimal excellence model can be utilised. Such model can be described as a framework used by the company’s management to create a structured, systematic process directing the effort of employees toward the improvement in performance (Mitchell 2015). Various versions of TQM utilise different optimal excellence models adjusted to particularities chosen by the authors. For our analysis, a model consisting of seven criteria is to be used.

Leadership

Emirates Airline must demonstrate a unified effort of operation management team aimed at establishing meaningful contact with its employees and communicating its vision, values, and chosen goals and objectives to ensure commitment and involvement of the staff. With proper leadership practices in place, the company can expect from its employees’ readiness to improve all of the aspects of their activity and boosting performance.

Customer-centred approach

As was previously established, airline industry is a service-based business, and its success depends largely on the customer satisfaction. Therefore, it would be reasonable to expect from Emirates Airline to demonstrate the ability to understand the current and predict the most likely of the emerging expectations of their customers, as well as the ability to meet (or exceed) their expectations.

Continuous improvement

Rather than introduce changes and interventions on a discrete basis after the situation demands improvement, TQM requires a seamless, uninterrupted effort by all staff members directed at improving the outcomes of company’s operations. Given the harsh competitive environment of the UAE aviation industry, this aspect is expected to be featured prominently throughout the Emirates Airline’s strategies.

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Stakeholder involvement

Contrary to the intuitive assumption, the success of the company does not depend solely on its direct staff and customer base – instead, a multitude of stakeholders is usually involved in the process, including, but not limited to, the government, suppliers of materials, and social entities such as environmental organisations. TQM requires consistent effort to involve the stakeholders in improving the results.

Systematic approach

To maintain consistency, comprehensibility, and transparency of managerial practices, it is recommended to systematise them accordingly. Given the complexity and interrelated nature of the aviation industry, the systematic approach becomes a requirement for its successful, effective, and efficient management.

Process approach

To effectively manage a process in a complex environment, its components are to be isolated and its resources determined and monitored to avoid unpredictable effects. Therefore, a process approach would allow the company to eliminate unnecessary complexity and streamline its activities.

Evidence-based practice

To avoid haphazard and inappropriate decisions, it is necessary to base managerial practices on rigorous analysis and responsible assessment. Such approach allows to eliminate decisions not based on facts and ensure stability of results.

Gap Analysis

To determine the presence of TQM in Emirates Airline’s operational management, we are to compare the current state of the company’s operations to the described optimal excellence model and determine whether there is significant gap between the two (Mitchell 2015).

The rapid growth of the company and constant achievement in its financial performance can only be achieved through total commitment of the personnel to the mission and values. This allows us to conclude that the leadership practices are in place and maintain the necessary level of involvement. The fact that the company actively broadens its list of available routes and expands its services (e.g. transportation of pharmaceuticals) demonstrates the customer-centred approach by the firm. The fact that Emirates Airline produce a five-year succession of brand value growth and a streak of various awards (e.g. Skytrax Award for In-flight Entertainment) serves as proof of the continuous improvement, especially given the presence of formidable competitors (Emirates Airline 2016).

Next, the company is compliant with environmental standards and collaborates closely with environmental initiatives aimed at promoting sustainability. This fact, along with other successful partnerships (e.g. with Rolls Royce) illustrates active involvement of all stakeholders. The process approach and systematic nature of business practices can not be definitively established based on the available information. However, the stable performance indicators confirm the high level of managerial integrity, which is usually achieved by fulfilling the above criteria. Finally, the pace and dynamics of innovations introduced by the company point to the fact that it constantly revises its policies. Since most of them are met with acclaim, we can assert that they are based on responsible market research, which, in turn, suggests the reliance on evidence-based decisions. As can be seen, no visible gaps exist between the provided optimal excellence model and the quality of operations by Emirates Airlines

Conclusion

Aviation is a complex and multifaceted industry, and one heavily dependent on the customer experience. Both factors necessitate high level of quality and therefore present an opportunity for TQM implementation. The overview of literature confirms the popularity of the approach among the existing airline companies. The gap analysis of Emirates Airline allows us to conclude that TQM plays an important part in the company’s operation management. Judging from its long streak of achievements and steady growth in the recent decade, as well as its status as the world leader in civil aviation, we can stipulate that TQM is at least partially responsible for these achievements. These findings align well with evidence of benefits of TQM implementation in other companies. Thus, we can safely conclude that TQM is applicable to aviation operation management and contributes to improvement.

Reference List

Arif, M, Gupta, A, & Williams, A 2013, ‘Customer service in the aviation industry: An exploratory analysis of UAE airports’, Journal of Air Transport Management, vol. 32, no. 3, pp. 1-7.

Emirates Airline 2016, History, Web.

Kiritharan, G 2013, Total quality management: A system to implement, Lulu, New York.

Lazur, B, Jagadeesh, L, Karthikeyan, B, & Shanmugaraja, M 2013, ‘An initiative to practice total quality management in aircraft maintenance’, Advances in Aerospace Science and Applications, vol. 3, no. 2, pp. 63-68.

Mitchell, J S 2015, Operational excellence: Journey to creating sustainable value, John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken.

Obaid, A, Ali, M, Saleh, M, Thani, M, & Minhas W 2015, ‘Improving employee satisfaction and customer service through Total Quality Management in the United Arab Emirates’, The Macrotheme Review, vol. 4, no. 7, pp. 1-20.

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