The European Aviation Crisis Coordination Cell (EACCC) is actively engaged in ensuring an improved level of preparedness in Europe for any kind of crisis potentially having an impact on air traffic. The main role of the EACCC is to support the coordination responses to network crises impacting adversely on aviation, in close cooperation with corresponding structures in States and aviation operational stakeholders. Its role also includes proposing measures and taking initiatives to coordinate the response to crisis situations, and in particular acquiring and sharing information with the aviation community decision makers in a timely manner.
Establishment of EACCC
The eruption of the volcano Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland in April and May 2010 demonstrated the vulnerability of the European aviation system in terms of pan-European coordination between States for emergency situations affecting safety. The level of disruption and impact on the air transport industry was unprecedented and required urgent action at both the European and global level.
Europe, led by European Commission (EC) and EUROCONTROL, moved swiftly in the institutional area and used lessons learned in this crisis to establish the EACCC on 19 May 2010. In addition to the founding members, EC and EUROCONTROL Directorate Network Management (NM) that were joined very soon by EASA, EACCC’s composition included the EU Presidency and nominated representatives of airspace users, air navigation service providers (ANSPs), military and airports. Along with other regulatory authorities and industry stakeholders the EACCC is actively engaged in ensuring an improved level of preparedness in Europe for volcanic eruptions and other crisis situations. The main role of the EACCC is to support coordination of the response to network crises impacting adversely on aviation, in close cooperation with corresponding structures in States. Its role includes proposing measures and taking initiative to coordinate the response to crisis situations, and in particular acquiring and sharing information with the aviation community decision makers in a timely manner.
EACCC Activities Since May 2010
Since its establishment in May 2010, the EACCC has been on alert on several occasions due to a number of major disruptions to the European aviation network. Over time, an additional role for the cell was identified – crisis aversion. Working closely with key players and decision makers, the EACCC seeks to ensure that communications are proportionate to the gravity of the event and its impact, in order to prevent overreaction and chaos in the network.
To maintain its level of readiness the EACCC participated in ICAO volcanic ash exercises, VOLCEX 11/01 in April 2011 and VOLCEX 12/01 in April 2012, alongside EUROCONTROL, EC and EASA together with a number of airlines, ANSPs, CAAs and VAACs. The eruption of Grímsvötn in May 2011 required full activation of the cell. On that occasion the EACCC applied collaborative decision making to ensure comprehensive and coordinated actions across a number of aviation domains. The EACCC demonstrated its ability when formulating recommendations on actions to be taken in case of another volcanic eruption, recommendations that were the basis for the successful outcome of the VOLCEX exercises and the Grímsvötn eruption. Moreover, the cell has played a key role in facilitating the coordination and assurance of consistent messages on the status of the crisis, its management and evolution amongst the EACCC members.
Possible Crisis Situations
A non-exhaustive list of possible threats adversely affecting aviation (directly or indirectly), which can be declared as a crisis and would involve activation of the EACCC, was created as a part of the development of EUR Doc 031: ICAO Crisis Management Framework Document (see Further Reading below). The events are broadly divided into three main categories related to the main cause:
- Natural. This category includes events related to e.g. fire, flood, earthquake, severe weather, space weather, space debris and volcanic ash.
- Infrastructure. This category includes events related to the unavailability, disruption or degradation of electrical power, fuel supply, communication networks, GNSS, ATM, airline operations services, airports and meteorological services.
- Man-made. This category includes events such as pandemics (due to the related man-made decisions), terrorist attack, armed conflict, political tension/conflict, cyber attack, nuclear/chemical incident and drone activity.
EACCC Drives Crisis Management Evolutions in Europe
Guidance on the role of State Focal Points
The role of the State Focal Points has been established in the EACCC Rules of Procedure to facilitate the involvement of national competent authorities and the close cooperation of the corresponding structures at Member States level with the EACCC from an early stage of a crisis event. Therefore, through a wide consultation process the EACCC has developed guidance for the State Focal Points to assist them in preparation for future crises, and also build consistency in approach to crisis management across Europe.
In broad terms, the State Focal Point is the individual(s) who will act as the conduit between the NM/EACCC and his/her State. Patently that individual needs to be suitably senior to command authority, and suitably experienced (in aviation preferably, but in crisis management if not) to engage at short notice with the EACCC.
In the times of crisis the State Focal Point should ensure that the NM/EACCC is notified of major disruptions and crises in his/her own State, or region, share known and forecast information with the NM/EACCC, provide a link with internal structure at the national level and, where appropriate coordinate response and mitigating actions at the national level in accordance with national procedures, provide a link to enable consistent messaging in media lines at the national level, etc.
Furthermore, as the work of the NM and the EACCC moves along in times of 'non-crisis', the State Focal Point should provide feedback to the NM in its follow up of actions/lessons learned from previous crises and exercises, be aware of measures to be taken at the national level in the event of a crisis, contribute to, and when required participate in, NM/EACCC organised exercises, establish and maintain relations with relevant expert organisations at the national level (e.g. nuclear experts), that could provide information sources/portals, etc.
Driving a harmonisation in Europe – example of Safety Risk Assessment (SRA) approach
Following the 2010 volcanic ash crisis the ICAO Secretary General established ICAO International Volcanic Ash Task Force (IVATF) in 2010 and tasked it to propose enhancements to the ICAO guidance relative to volcanic ash. The task force held four meetings and completed its work in June 2012. One of the key deliverables of the IVATF was the Doc 9974 “Flight Safety and Volcanic Ash”. This document provides guidance which States may recommend to aircraft operators when there is forecast volcanic ash contamination, placing the responsibility for decision making on the operator, under the oversight of the State regulatory authority.
The EACCC in consultation with its partners has been promoting the implementation of this approach. Moreover, the methodology set out in ICAO Doc 9974 has been used by EASA in their rulemaking process to establish standards in Europe. The EACCC has been playing a key role in promoting a harmonised application of the SRA approach across European states.
Therefore, in 2012 Network Manager, in consultation with EACCC, addressed a questionnaire to European States on the progress of implementation of the SRA approach. At the time of writing of this article (March 2013) it appears that, despite some progress, Europe has not yet achieved full harmonisation in respect of the application of the SRA concerning flight operations in volcanic ash events.
A harmonised method would consist in leaving the responsibility for decision making to AOs based on their SRA as accepted by their national supervisory authorities (NSA). Moreover, States should not close their airspace due to volcanic ash contamination with the exception of the airspace in the immediate vicinity of a volcano. Finally, States should recognise SRAs of AOs registered in other States, as adopted by their NSA. As a result Network Manager will be requesting relevant bodies of EUROCONTROL and European Commission to propose guidelines in order to progress towards the implementation of a harmonised SRA methodology in Europe.
EACCC maintains high level of readiness for possible crisis events
To ensure high level of readiness for possible future crisis events, Network Manager in consultation with EACCC, is taking necessary measures particularly in two fields: developing crisis management awareness training and organising crisis management exercises.
Crisis management awareness training
High level objectives of the crisis management awareness training, for all categories of participants, include awareness and understanding of the aviation crisis management arrangements in Europe, including the role of the EACCC, understanding their role and how they can support the aviation crisis management arrangements in Europe, awareness of how to access contact details of key players and relevant documents on the aviation crisis management arrangements in Europe and awareness of where relevant information on the crisis development may be found. In addition, the training should assist State Focal Points to understand their role in the aviation crisis management arrangements in Europe both in times of crisis and “non-crisis”, to understand their role at the national level and be prepared to perform their role both in the event of an aviation crisis in Europe and times of ‘non-crisis’.
As mentioned above, to maintain its level of readiness the EACCC has been participating in ICAO VOLCEX volcanic ash exercises.
Since 2013 EACCC has organised a number of exercises simulating various risks and evaluating the effectiveness of the coordination between the EACCC/NM and the other stakeholders. The following list provides a brief description of these:
- CYBER 13 (May 2013). The exercise consisted of a simulated isolation of NM and some states from the AFTN network caused by a cyber attack.
- NUCLEAR 14 (November 2014). The exercise simulated a nuclear power plant meltdown and its impact on the airspace and air operations.
- SECURITY 15 (initially scheduled for November 2015 but held in February 2016). The exercise simulated bombs going off at two European airports simultaneously.
- POWER 17 (February 2017). The exercise tested the response of full loss of power in four states.
- CYBER 18 (Martch 2018). The exercise tested the preparedness in case of a cyber attact targeting multiple ATM centres.
- PANDEMIC 19 (February 2019). The exercise tested the preparedness in case of high mortality flu-like illness and the coordination between aviation and health authoriries.
- SPACE WEATHER 23 (November 2023). The exercise involved degradation of HF communications and GNSS as well as passenger exposure to radiation and potential ground effects on electricity networks.