Flight delays rank as one of life's big frustrations. What's even more frustrating is that a significant proportion of these delays could be avoided if human error was reduced. Safety management and human factors expert Maria Chiara Leva, says that "an estimated 70 per cent of all flight delays are caused by problems on the ground not in the air," and together with Fabio Mattei she founded Tosca Human Factors Solutions to develop a software product to tackle the problem of human error at airports.
“Airport traffic is set to double in less than 14 years. This will put unprecedented pressure on airports already near or at capacity,” she says. “This will inevitably lead to more accidents and delays for passengers and greater costs for airports. Many of the issues are often connected with human error and poor support for human performance. Ground staff work in highly pressurised conditions due to the very fast turnaround of aircraft and they have a long list of things to do. Sometimes it’s not clear whose specific task something is, it falls between the cracks and this causes a problem.”
According to data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA ) there are about 27,000 ramp accidents and 243,000 other safety incidents annually that cost the airline industry an estimated $10 billion (€9.35 billion) a year. “Tosca’s Operational Daily Journal will help mitigate the number of accidents and substantially reduce operational delays,” Leva says.
“The software is a mobile ready web application and gives users the option to connect from anywhere to their computer or mobile device at any time. If there is a problem it can be flagged immediately. This early warning will help avoid escalation.”
Tosca Solutions is the culmination of five years of EU-funded research on safety management in both aviation and non-aviation sectors such as process industry and manufacturing. The concept is based around previous research Leva and Mattei undertook at the Centre for Innovative Human systems at Trinity College Dublin where Mattei is the lead software developer. Leva is a lecturer in safety management at the Dublin Institute of Technology.
EU funding for the project was in the order of €300,000 and the start-up has since received €50,000 in commercialisation funding from Enterprise Ireland. Tosca, which is now based at the National Digital Research Centre as part of its Female Founders Programme, has licensed the intellectual property from Trinity College Dublin, which is also a shareholder in the company. The business model is software as a service (SaaS) and the pricing is based on passenger volumes. Tosca employs three people including safety analyst Yilmar Builes who has been with the company since its formation.
Leva says Tosca’s solution is different to what’s already out there in one key way. “The competition is fragmented and their focus is mainly on bigger airports and either on safety reporting or scheduling, never the two. We are offering this vital combination,” she says.
Tosca’s target market is regional and international airports but the company’s initial focus is on smaller facilities as Leva says they are struggling most to cope with the growth in traffic and rely heavily on staff to manage it efficiently. Tosca has identified roughly 400 airports that fall into this category and has signed its first customer.
"To tackle the opportunities that lie ahead we need to scale our solutions and build our service delivery capacity," Leva says. "We have also been approached by larger international airports interested in using the application. For now we are focusing on European countries where we have good connections such as Italy, Ireland, Greece and France.
“The product is already in use in one location and is being piloted in another at the moment. In addition to our aviation product we are also developing a second product for use in industrial settings called the Operational Safety Supporting Tool.”