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Southwest Airlines Community

The Kiss Theory...Keep It Simple Southwest

Not applicable
One would expect simplicity from a Company whose business plan was sketched on a beverage napkin, so allow me to let you in on one of the most basic things Southwest does each and every flight that helps us save time and money, which gives the traveling public consistantly low fares. But first, some background information... Before any aircraft can be allowed to takeoff, a "weight and balance" calculation must be made. Information about the aircraft's empty weight is added together with the weights of the passengers, fuel, cargo and checked baggage along with the location of the baggage and cargo (Is it in the forward cargo compartment or the rear compartment?). At most airlines this information is fed into a massive computer system by numerous individuals from lots of different locations. All of this is then sent electronically to an operations center usually housed at the carrier's main hub where the numbers are "crunched" and then sent via radio to the individual aircraft in the form of text messages or voice data. Pilots use this information to tell them what speeds they are to use for takeoff and to "trim" the aircraft (much like you trim a boat depending on if Beverly and the grandkids are in the front of the boat or sitting in the back); an aircraft is very sensitive to weight and the location of that weight. If the particular airline has a lot of aircraft departing from locations all over the world at about the same time, the computer can be slowed down and the aircraft have to wait their turn to get the information for takeoff. If a last minute change happens, the whole process has to start all over again, and you go to the end of the line. So how does Southwest do this simpler and more cost effectively? For each of our flights, our point person to gather all of the aforementioned information is the Operations Agent. The "Ops Agent" collects the boarding documents in order to get a passenger count, is given bin slips from the Ramp Agents telling him/her how much weight is loaded and where, and receives a fuel slip to show how many pounds of jet fuel has been loaded on the airplane. (Again, weight is what is important to the safe operation of the flight so the airplane cares that there is 31,000 pounds of fuel aboard, not 4,626 gallons.) Until just a short time ago, the Ops Agent literally took a #2 pencil and filled in all of this information on an 8 1/2 x 13 inch form, added everything together, and gave it to the Pilots. The Pilots take a couple of pieces of information from the load sheet, enter it into our onboard performance computer, and in 4-6 seconds have all the information needed for the flight. So instead of a massive and expensive worldwide computer system, we have an Operations Agent armed with a stack of forms, a couple of sharp #2 pencils, and an unbelievable ability to add big numbers really, really fast. Recently the form and pencils have been replaced by a laser printer, but the old standbys are always within reach just in case of a power outage. So the next time you fly the World's Greatest Airline and you notice we are taxiing past other airplanes parked to the side of the taxiway, it might just be because the other guys are "waiting for their numbers."
Explorer C
Your ops agent needs a Tablet PC. They can write in the numbers using a stylus and have the computer compute everything as they work. I'll bet you could even have someone create a little graphical application that shows where weight has to be moved from and to. Now wouldn't that be cool?
Explorer C
Do ticket agents "size" people up when they check in, to enter data on average weight, below-average weight, and above-average weight? Or, is an average weight per person (albeit upped in recent years) used for passenger weight calculations? Seems like if a plane would have a higher-than-normal number of obese passengers, that would have to be factored in to aircraft performance. Maybe you keep this secret! Heh.
Explorer C
David, Any stories about times when the numbers given to you were, um, not as accurate as they should have been, or do these errors usually amount to "rounding error" in transport-category aircraft like the 73'? This is the only report I could find: Any more technical details on the OPC? Sounds very interesting. This is a perfect topic for a blog entry. Maybe some screen shots?
Explorer C
The OPC does another money-saving thing for SWA. It contains the electronic Minimum Equipment List (MEL) Manual ... an 800-page (approx) book that is required for the airplane to fly. Not having to print thousands of copies saves considerable dollars and there's also less weight in the pilots' book bags.
Adventurer C
David Evans said - we have an Operations Agent armed with a stack of forms, a couple of sharp #2 pencils, and an unbelievable ability to add big numbers really, really fast. That isn't real assuring. Mis-adding small number would make for small mistakes, mis-adding big numbers makes bigger mistakes. I don't want big mistakes made on the load calculations for the plane I am flying on. Please tell me that, A: a calculator is used, or B: at least three people add the really large numbers.
Explorer C
I am an ops agent. Thanks for letting the public know that we do alot more than just take boarding passes. My job in a nutshell (ha ha) is to make sure that the plane is safe and legal before "pushing back" from the jetway. Yes we use computers and calculators. We "preplan" the flight before it gets to the airport. That means plugging in estimated numbers so we can make any necessary adjustments in advance. Yes there are formulas for the weights, but we also count all those gate checked bags, strollers, all that stuff that we have to take from you in the jetway. When I turn my paperwork into the Captain, I am confidant that everything is accounted for and that the plane is safe and within legal limits for flight and landing. A tablet pc would be great, cause I figure I run up and down the jetway maybe 20 or so times per flight. The computer does make our job easier, but I miss the #2 pencils and the original forms!!!!
Explorer C
Explorer C
Time to rehash an old subject. With regard to trim, it does make a difference how many people are sitting in front of and behind the wing. Is this taken into account? It must be a pain with an open seating policy.
Explorer C
More specifically I was talking about the ramp loading cargo fwd or aft. Having to deal with MIn Max and Target tail weights.
Explorer C

I joined the community because I wanted to see what I could learn about the outage from a technical point of view.


The technical community (even outside of aviation) needs to know the lessons learned.


This post reviewed just how backward the technology is at present.  I know that some might feel this shows some transparency, but I hope the rest of the SWA infrastructure isn't so back-of-the-napkin.


Luv, Mark 

Explorer C