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US Airways uses Lean techniques to maximize efficiency in its catering programme

US Airways is taking concepts of lean manufacturing to another level by using some of these principles in its catering division to improve inventory management and create more efficient workflows.

‘Lean’ practices have been prevalent in aerospace manufacturing and maintenance for more than a decade to aid MROs and airlines in particular in better management of parts inventory to prevent idle components from becoming a cost drain.

A couple of years ago US Airways observed two larger catering companies it worked with using Lean concepts, and decided to apply the philosophy to management of its own in-house catering logistics. The airline hired consultants to help it create the framework for managing catering using Lean, and sought feedback from various workgroups about the programme’s design.

Some form of Lean principles is applied at the five commissaries that support US Airways’ catering operation. The facilities are located in Charlotte, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington National airport. Company director of catering operations and logistics Jonathan Ruman says Washington National is currently undertaking an increase in the application of “industry best practices to utilize those resources to increase the quality and reliability of catering”.

Lean applications have been particularly useful in managing catering inventory such as soft drinks housed in pallets located throughout the five commissaries, says Ruman. He explains that by using Lean techniques US Airways has transitioned to a “just in time” production scheme that reduces inventory at those five sites. Through the use of Lean, the on-hand catering inventory has been trimmed from two weeks to one.

US Airways head of inflight services Hector Adler concludes that using Lean manufacturing techniques across all of the carrier’s commissaries “allows us to make sure the catering is as accurate as it can possibly be on the aircraft”.

Other Lean techniques have been applied to the methods US Airways uses to stock its catering carts. Rather than using the old practice of building the cart all at once, US Airways has adopted new workflow practices that entail a particular employee stocking the same drawers over and over to increase consistency and quality of the stocking process, says Ruman.

He declines to offer an estimate of any financial gain US Airways enjoys from the efficiency gained by using Lean, but believes the concepts could be further expanded in the airline’s catering programme. “We continue to look at and evaluate improving quality and reliability,” he says.

There is one catering challenge US Airways faces where Lean can offer little help – providing tasteful wines to counter the physiological changes that passenger taste buds undergo above 10,000ft (3,048m).

“A nice Chablis can taste like lemon juice,” remarks Adler.

But it seems that US Airways has managed to solve the dilemma; it won kudos in 2011 for best white wine served in North America from Global Traveler magazine.

“US Airways was the crème of the crop,” the publication says. “The airline’s De Bortoli Willowglen Chardonnay, Australia, was the finest  domestic white on offer.”

The carrier did have help in achieving its mastery of white wine. It has forged a partnership with Napa Valley-based Intervine to change the way it procures its wine offerings.

Adler says US Airways now offers its business-class customers a range of varieties and styles from emerging regions. ”

Article from Apex editor’s Blog, April 6, 2012

Written by Lori Ranson

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