Saturday, December 02, 2017

The heart of an airline: Inside Allegiant's new control center

LAS VEGAS (KSNV) — At the Allegiant ticket counter, the afternoon rush is about to begin. The folks checking in have no idea that much of the work that gets them to their destination happens miles away in Summerlin.

“Currently, we have 61 airplanes airborne. We use around 70 today. 292 flights, that equals roughly 36,000 passengers,” says Mike Wuerger, Allegiant’s Vice President of the Operations Control Center, as we look at a huge computer map showing every plane the airline has in the sky.

Wuerger runs what’s known as the “OCC.” We’re standing on what’s called the “bridge,” where the heads of the airline’s various control room sections are seated, looking out over banks of computers monitored by dozens of Allegiant employees.

This room is located at Allegiant’s Summerlin headquarters. It is highly secure and highly important for an airline that runs at least 300 flights a day.

“This is the heart of the airline. Everything starts and ends here,” says Angel Morales.

Morales runs dispatch, in charge of the flight plans for every Allegiant aircraft.

“Our job is how will the plane get from point A to point B,” he tells me as we stand by his bank of monitors.

Running an airline is a logistical symphony, coordinating 2,000 pilots and flight attendants, and also maintaining its more than 90 aircraft.

The airline says maintenance, which had triggered an FAA review last year, is a big priority, coming after a handful of mechanical issues over the past couple years that put the airline on the defensive. In 2016, the FAA said it found some minor issues, but no systemic concerns. Allegiant has said it is a safe airline to fly and getting safer.

“I think we're improving every day,” Wuerger says.

One way its improving is by ditching its aging fleet for newer planes.

By the end of next year, every aircraft will be a new Airbus that will virtually talk to mechanics.

“It downloads 2,700 different items and with the help of Airbus, it can tell us that down the road the next couple days, weeks, or months, that part needs to be replaced,” Wuerger says.

It is technology which makes the airline run smoothly like it was on the Thursday I was visiting. America, it turns out, was having pretty cooperative weather.

“Really good day so far. Running about 90 percent on time, pretty strong day coast to coast for us,” said Rick Barth, an operations control center manager.

It's not always like that. In September, a hurricane hit Florida, Allegiant's other hub.

Blake Kline was on duty.

“We had 42 planes we had to move out. And so we had to get the planes out of Florida, get the passengers out of harm's way,” says Kline, the OCC’s Senior Manager.

And they did.

Which here, is just another day.

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