By Rajesh Kumar Singh
CHICAGO (Reuters) -Southwest Airlines Co is working on a series of updates and upgrades to its technology to avoid a repeat of the operational disruption the airline suffered in late December, a top executive said on Monday.
Chief Information Officer Lauren Woods told Reuters that the carrier is working on improvements to its crew scheduling technology, and looking to upgrade flight management system as well as buy “right” de-icing equipment, among other things.
The Dallas-based carrier’s technology has been in focus ever since it suffered an operational meltdown that resulted in almost 17,000 flight cancellations around the Christmas holiday last year, disrupting travel plans for two million customers.
Southwest has been attributing the breakdown in service to a “historic” winter storm, both in size and scale, which caused frozen jet bridges and icy aircraft engines.
It, however, has acknowledged that technology issues were a factor and plans to spend $1.3 billion this year on technology investments, upgrades, and system maintenance.
Woods, who was named Southwest’s new CIO about two weeks back, has been tasked with managing the investments.
“December was a moment in time in our 51-year history and we’re going to get through this,” She said.
“We’re going to continue to make really smart business decisions including our technology investment.”
Woods, who joined the company in 2010 and was instrumental in establishing Southwest’s cloud infrastructure, said the airline did not have enough winter operation “resiliency”, affecting its recovery from the winter storm in December.
She said Southwest has identified the gaps in its systems following the December events and is waiting for a report from consultants Oliver Wyman to finalize the next course of action.
In the meantime, she said General Electric has added a new functionality to its crew-scheduling software and is working on additional improvements to enhance winter resiliency. There are plans to carry out more than 8 upgrades to the crew scheduling system this year.
Southwest has said the software got overwhelmed after the December storm, turning a weather event into a “crew scheduling event.”
Woods said the airline is also considering upgrades to flight planning and flight scheduling systems by 2025.
To be able to better handle winter storms, she said, Southwest is looking to invest in engine covers and “right” de-icing equipment in cities like Denver and Chicago.
“We’re going to take a fresh look at these systems,” Woods said.
(Reporting by Rajesh Kumar Singh; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Nick Zieminski)