Shift Schedule Topic #7 – Fly-in, Fly-out Operations

A fly-out operation is one in which, due to the facility’s isolated geographic location, the workforce must be taken to work via aircraft. The arriving workers typically replace others who have been on site for anywhere from one to several weeks. The “off-going” crew is then flown back to civilization where they will take a week or more of well-deserved rest.

There are several issues surrounding this strategy.

  • The cost of transporting an entire crew via aircraft can be significant. An analysis must be performed to determine the maximum frequency of trips that can be made before this mode of transportation becomes too costly.
  • Fewer trips mean that the workers on-site must stay put longer. This can reduce transport costs but may result in lower morale and higher attrition.
  • While on-site, employees will be working several days in a row. Shift length, type of work to be performed and the ability to recover between work periods must all be considered.
  • Most employees prefer to work as many hours as they can while on-site. In general, the more hours they work, the longer the break will be when they return to civilization.
  • Working several days in a row is a certainty. An 8-hour schedule would provide 56 hours of work a week and require that three crews be on-site at all times. A 12-hour schedule would provide 84 hours of work a week and only require two crews to be on-site at all times.

Shift Schedule Parameters:

  • Coverage: 168 Hours/week
  • Staffing: Balanced from Shift to Shift
  • Shift Length: 12-hour shifts
  • Number of Crews: 3
  • Skill Requirement: Equal on all shifts
  • Shift Rotation: Weekly
  • Average Workweek: 56 Hours (includes 1 week off out of 3)

Fly-In, Fly-Out Schedule

D12 = 12-hour day shift
N12 = 12-hour night shift

This shift schedule is a three-week cycle staffed by three equal crews. Each crew is assigned to start their schedule in a different week in the cycle. At the end of each week, all crews move down to the next week in the cycle (or return to Week 1). Week 1 ends on a Sunday night and week 2 begins on a Monday night, 24 hours later. The crew in week 2 actually ends their last shift on Monday morning of week 3. At that time, they are flown back to civilization on the same aircraft that brought in the crew the night before. The crew ending week 3 (the off week) will fly to the site Sunday afternoon so they are ready to work on Monday morning of week 1.

Business Issues

  • The schedule provides coverage 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  • There are two shift hand-offs each day. This normally improves communication during the period that the same crews are working –information is received from, and passed on to, the same person each day.
  • There are only three crews. This minimizes the number of employees that must be transferred each week. This also minimizes training and recruiting efforts.
  • Only two crews are on-site at a time. This means that rest and recreation facilities need only be sufficient to cover one crew at a time. It is important that the employees have sufficient time to sleep and recover after each shift. Working 14 days in a row can lead to a significant sleep debt if employees are not getting 8 hours of sleep each night.
  • Overtime costs can be high on this type of schedule. Even so, they may still be lower than the alternative of working employees fewer hours. Fewer hours of work per employee means more employees will be needed. This leads to greater housing and transportation costs which quickly dwarf the cost of using fewer workers and longer hours.

Employee Issues

  • Most employees prefer to work every day that they can while on-site. There is usually very little else to do with their time. This is why fly-in, fly-out operations usually involve schedules that call for several days of work in a row. No one wants to take an unpaid day off when they are in the middle of nowhere.
  • There are 168 work hours every week. This averages out to 56 hours a week. This high number of hours, combined with overtime rates and other financial incentives usually results in a healthy paycheck at the end of each week.
  • Income on schedules such as this can create a workforce that plans on working for only a few years, creating a nest egg and then moving on to more conventional employment. The result is high turnover.

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