Cooking up a voyage schedule

Antarctic weather and ice conditions –the 'A' Factor – create numerous scheduling problems for AAD logistics staff. Following is their recipe for planning Antarctic voyages.

Gather the ingredients: For high-quality research we need time to prepare and a plan (voyage schedule) to follow. Scientists' assessment of the relative priority of research projects, and the major programs for the season, determine the timing and route of particular voyages.

Take those programs, add station resupplies as permitted by ice and weather, when the resupply activity is least likely to impact on the native environment, and you have the basic recipe for an annual voyage schedule.

Prepare mixing bowl: However we draft the schedule, ingredients must fit the budgetary mixing bowl, of which shipping costs are a major component. Select activities to match budget, rejecting activities which cannot be accommodated. The shape of the mixing bowl is also restricted by the time limits to our charter agreements and ships' capabilities (range, speed, cargo and passenger capacity, ice capability). Polar Bird's ice classification restricts its effective operation to relatively light ice conditions, while Aurora Australis can operate earlier when ice is more prevalent. Stagger their use so that we can extend the summer ice window to its practical margins.

Stir ingredients: Mix in the demands to deliver summer scientists to continental stations before the penguins and other wildlife arrive and bring them out after the last penguin leaves. Blend delivery of summer trades teams to support science or environmental projects. Ensure ships arrive at stations in the right order so that essential resources are delivered where and when they are needed. Carefully add the preference to deliver wintering station personnel soon after completion of training. Add helicopters and the occasional fixed wing aircraft to taste. Minimise transit times, maximise time for marine science. Ensure that voyages use the most economical route and remember environmental implications for voyages calling at Heard or Macquarie Islands. Blend in changeovers and resupply activities to allow enough familiarisation time for incoming personnel and for safe cargo removal. At times the stirring requires a large wooden spoon when demands exceed practical possibilities.

Place in hot oven: The secret to an acceptable schedule is to open the oven door at least twenty times, each time allowing the schedule to be revised to meet changing program needs. The variation might be by only a day or two but small changes can have dramatic impacts on other programs and as many as 40 versions of schedule drafts may be needed for consideration by interested groups, each version accompanied by an estimate of charter hire, fuel, victualling, helicopter and other related costs.

Keep in refrigerator: Preparing a schedule two years in advance requires a calculated risk. Even though historical ice data is referenced in drafting schedules, it is almost inevitable that a ship will find ice conditions (like those off Casey and Davis in recent years) waiting to frustrate our efforts.

Serve with side-salad: Don't forget that ships deliver fresh fruit and vegetable supplies to stations, so plan the schedule to minimise the delivery time. They have to still be fresh on arrival.

Add condiments to taste: Publication of draft schedules brings a generous sprinkling of add-on programs to support. Proponents of those programs are happy to accept that they will only be supported if an opportunity presents itself during the voyage, but they still require preparation and planning if the most of those opportunities are to be made. Proponents never lose expectation that they will get the support they need. Select and brief voyage leaders on the range of programs they need to support, share the frustrations of those waiting at a station for the ship to battle its way through the ice to retrieve them, placate those waiting at home, listen to the plaintive and often complaining messages left on the shipping message service (1800 030 744). Be prepared to cut the cake into smaller slices when ice or weather causes delays that can't be made up.

Geoff Dannock, Logistics Manager, AAD