System wide events - Guidance for ANSPs

System wide events - Guidance for ANSPs

Scope of the Article

This article does not deal with the Contingency planning aspects of ANSPs interruption of service; instead it refers to the strategic planning of air traffic control service provision as a direct response to a system wide catastrophic event which compromises the safety and continuity of air travel.

System wide events in the context of the article include, but are not limited to, events related to volcanic eruptions, nuclear fallout, earthquakes, floods, acts of war and terrorism or any other catastrophic events which might render many airports and extensive airspace volumes unusable in wide geographic area for uncertain amount of time.


A crisis can be related to some of the following situations:

  • Fast decisions are required;
  • Lack of action may result in serious consequences;
  • Possible lines of action are limited;
  • Communication decisions may have severe impact;
  • Wrong decisions can be disastrous;
  • Involved parties may have opposing interests;
  • The crisis has developed as a result of a rapid succession of events and/or series of mistakes;
  • Delay in response may compromise safety of air travel and lead to incidents and accidents
  • Delay in response may damage the image of the organisation;
  • The news is of interest for the media;
  • Rumours and speculations develop and may be perceived as truth.

Safety management processes are intended to ensure that the crisis handling provisions do not result in a decrease of the achieved level below the target level of safety for normal operations under service continuity.


Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) must be able to deal with unexpected events and critical situations. It is the ability to respond to these in a safe and orderly manner which provides the overriding rationale for the development of contingency plans rather than the legal obligation to do so. Safety is, and must remain, the first-ranked priority.

These provisions are in line with Article 28 of the Chicago Convention, under which States are responsible for the provision of air navigation facilities and services in their airspace. This responsibility covers situations of crisis and determines the necessity to maintain where possible the provision of services and a sufficient level of safety.

Crisis Management

The ANSP crisis management policy should address the following aspects:

Identification and notification of crises - Identification and notification of a crisis or a potential crisis may originate from almost any source. However received, this early information must be forwarded without delay to the Crisis Management Focal Point. Depending on the size of the organisation, the number of Focal Points may differ. Large organisations may have a Focal Point in each department. However, the clear definition of the role of the Focal Point is crucial.

Preliminary assessment of the crisis - Upon first receipt of information, the Crisis Management Focal Point should make a preliminary assessment of the crisis, and should assume responsibility for the coordination of all available information and for the activation of the initial stage of the relevant local crisis management plan. Not all information might be available immediately. Where any doubt exists, or the information cannot be verified immediately, where there is legitimate room to suspect that a crisis exists, the crisis management plan should be activated without delay as a precautionary measure.

Leadership during a crisis - Responsibilities and accountabilities must be defined and allocated without ambiguity in all crisis management plans and a clear chain of command (and line of communication) must be specified. It is recommended to have a clearly established leadership during a crisis.

Local Crisis Management Plans

The different service areas of an organisation should produce local crisis management plans based upon the policies and guiding principles contained in the ANSP crisis management policy.

Local crisis management plans should in principle contain:

Organisation related aspects:

  • Description of local crisis management organisation;
  • Clear management structure;
  • List of members (and alternates) of the Crisis Management Team (CMT) with updated telephone contact details;
  • Individual roles and responsibilities;
  • Procedure for liaison with CEO;
  • Location: a meeting location for CMTs should be included in local CMTs. Although a dedicated location may not be required, it is essential that all facilities are available on-site;
  • Plans should also identify an off-site fall back in the event that the primary site is untenable.

Action related aspects:

  • Process for notifying activation of the crisis management plan and the persons to be notified;
  • Establishing facts: it is essential the facts are gathered promptly; List of immediate actions with related checklist;
  • Business continuity plan;
  • Recovery plan;
  • Ending the crisis.

Recording and investigation:

  • Details of any investigation process;
  • Process for recording information: an adequate record of events (i.e. a log book) should be kept, primarily to aid the CMT but also to assist with post-crisis analysis and any subsequent formal inquiry.

Communication aspects:

  • Communication with staff;
  • A clear link with the corporate policy for dealing with media and public relations.

Lessons learned:

  • Activities to get the lessons learned from the crisis management whenever a crisis management plan is activated in practice or for real – a post-crisis audit should follow to identify the lessons learned
  • The lessons learned should then be circulated within the organisation as relevant (e.g. to the owners of other units’ crisis management plans).

Other aspects:

  • Other aspects where relevant, e.g. legal support.

The Global Experience

Besides the local crisis management plans, information management of the wider network is a crucial aspect of system wide events.


Spurred by the Single European Sky (SES) initiative, EUROCONTROL announced a major re-organisation, which inter alia establishes a new Directorate Network Management (DNM). This Directorate includes the Network Manager Operations Centre (NMOC) in a wider scope, which ranges from airspace design, strategic ATM planning and Network Operations to post-operations analysis and performance monitoring and crisis management cell.

European Air Traffic Management master plan provides establishment of the System Wide Information Management (SWIM) which has the following objectives related to the crisis management:

  • Shared Situational Awareness - SWIM will help to provide shared situational awareness so that all appropriate parties are privy to the same complete set of information;
  • Collaborative Decision Making - SWIM will help to enable collaborative decision-making which means that once all parties have access to the same information, they can efficiently make real-time decisions and quickly reach agreements.

United States

The SWIM programme is also an integral part of the National Airspace System (NAS) Enterprise Architecture roadmap and will close the performance gap by promoting the development of a secure NAS-wide information web to connect FAA systems. One of the benefits of SWIM during crisis situations is the aspect of shared situational awareness so that all appropriate parties are privy to the same complete set of information.

For further information on the tactical aspects of ANSP crisis management of unexpected system wide events see the dedicated article: System Wide Events: Guidance for Controllers.

Related Articles

Further Reading


  • Annex 11 – Air traffic services




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