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System Wide Events: Guidance for Controllers

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Category: General General
Content source: SKYbrary About SKYbrary
Content control: EUROCONTROL EUROCONTROL


(Tactical Guidance)

Scope of the Article

This article does not deal with the Contingency planning aspects of ANSPs interruption of service instead it refers to the tactical procedures 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.

Tactical Management

The crisis management at ATC operations level (Tactical level) could be narrowed down to the following 3 phases:

Notification Phase

When an event with catastrophic nature which renders certain airports and or airspace volume unusable has been notified to ANSP it is very important to evaluate the information, particular to assess the origin of the information and gather as much details as possible regarding the nature and the magnitude of the event. After the information has been assessed as being credible and safety critical, this initial information must be passed down to the individual ATC units preferably with suggested courses of action given the circumstances to the shift supervisors and the controllers.

Air traffic controllers without delay should notify all stations which are affected by the event.

Aircraft affected by the event might include but not limited to:

  • inbound for destination within the area of crisis
  • having an alternate aerodrome within the area of crisis
  • planned their flight over the area of crisis
  • inbound for destination or having an alternate aerodrome in proximity to the affected area

A broadcast to ALL STATIONS might be necessary to share safety critical information. ATC units should be able to provide additional and more detailed information as soon further facts are accessible regarding the nature and the consequences of the event and the affected airdromes/volumes of airspace.

Information Collecting Phase

A crisis management team normally will be organised and engaged in a collaborative decision making process within the ANSP as per local instructions and national regulations. This team will monitor and manage the crisis, gather and distribute critical information and coordinate actions with the corresponding CAAs, military crisis command centers, the international intergovernmental organisations (such as EUROCONTROL Network of Management for European wide events, etc.) and adjacent flight information regions (FIRs).

At early stages of the event, airforce and military aircraft are likely to be deployed to participate in rescue operations from airbases located in proximity to the event.

In this phase a choice action and instructions should be formulated that determine the ATC operations to mitigate the effects of the unplanned event. The choice of action will depend on the type of the event and the availability of resources included but not limited to alternative aerodromes, suitable civilian military airfields, and available airspace (as necessary military restricted areas will be assigned to volumes of civilian airspace in order to increase capacity).

It is important that the ATC units quickly ascertain the scale of the event and the implication for the conduct of the service provision. The ATC units must be able without any delay to pass information to the flight crews in order to facilitate their situational awareness regarding, an example of such information might be:

  • The nature, duration and consequences of the event
  • Availability of aerodromes and alternate destinations
  • Availability of airspace
  • Significant weather along the diversion route and over the alternate aerodromes
  • Impact on ATC service provision of the affected by the event ATC units

At this stage a flow control traffic restriction is likely to be in place to limit the incoming traffic into the affected by the event area together with the adjacent areas which are very likely to be saturated with air traffic for a certain amount of time.

Implementation Phase

In this phase the ANSP deploys its crisis management plan in close coordination with the adjacent FIRs.

The ANSP must be able to quickly assess the capacity of the ATC units to handle increased volume of traffic and process numerous re-routings and diversions to alternate aerodromes. In order to achieve this, the ANSP must be prepared to:

  • Open additional sectors
  • Provide extra staffing of controllers as necessary for short-term rotation in order to mitigate the controller’s overload
  • Examine any additional possibilities for re-routing and different alternate aerodromes usage as some aerodromes and airspace volumes might run out of capacity to handle non-planned traffic
  • Design an optimum plan for alternate aerodrome allocation taking into account all the information available

The different types of ATC units will face different operational challenges and no crisis management plan can predict for every eventuality. The ATC Units must be able to deal to the best of their ability to respond in a safe and orderly manner with the system-wide crisis. Nevertheless the ATC Units must be prepared for certain common factors. Some of these expected common factors might include:

En-Route Control ATC Units The complexity and configuration of airspace could make the provision of en-route control service problematic particularly in congested areas of en-route airspace.

Expect:

  • High volume of traffic
  • High complexity of operations due non-standard traffic (diverging aircraft and re-routing actions) and missing flight plans (due possible strains on the FDP system related to the high traffic volume)
  • Congested radio frequency due clarifications requests and prolonged individual communications
  • missed radio calls (due increased discussion between the pilots and supernumerary crew and advisory messages on operator’s company frequencies)
  • Increased workload on pilots
  • Increased coordination with adjacent ATC Units
  • Increased workload on controllers

Defenses:

  • Open additional sectors
  • Provide extra staffing to ensure frequent rotations on the positions and adequate rest periods
  • Provide additional advisory only frequency as necessary for the event clarification purposes
  • Advice crews on details regarding adjacent aerodromes including the weather conditions in case of capacity problems at the destination
  • Request of information from crews about fuel reserve/flight endurance and runway length needed
  • Provide extra flight data and technical support personnel due possibility of strain and overload of the existing software systems
  • Provide any other information pertinent to the situation awareness and to crews consideration related to decision making
  • Provide information for usable military airfields to aircraft which are likely to experience fuel shortage and coordinate the deviations and establish an action plan with the military controllers

Approach Control ATC Units

The proximity of the affected by the unexpected event area and the approach control units will determine to certain extent their workload and may cause the service problematic.

Expect:

  • High volume of traffic (particularly at the terminal areas adjacent to the affected by the event aerodromes and airspace volumes)
  • Airspace capacity problems
  • Aerodrome capacity problems
  • increased coordination with adjacent ATC Units
  • Flight crews not immediately familiar with aerodrome details and procedures
  • Increased workload on pilots
  • Increased workload on controllers

Defenses:

  • Advice crews on details regarding adjacent aerodromes including the weather conditions in case of capacity problems at the destination
  • Provide any other information pertinent to the situation awareness and to crews consideration related to decision making
  • Provide any additional information related to specifics of approach procedures and the aerodrome details to crews which are less likely to be familiar with the destination
  • Provide additional staffing to ensure frequent rotation and adequate rest of the controllers
  • Provide information for usable military airfields to aircraft which are likely to experience fuel shortage and coordinate the deviations and establish an action plan with the military controllers

Tower Control ATC Units The proximity of the aerodrome to the affected by the unexpected event area will determine to certain extent the workload at the tower control unit.

Expect:

  • Aerodrome capacity problems due inbound traffic
  • Increased communication with crews requesting start up
  • Increased coordination with adjacent ATC Units
  • Crews not familiar with airport layout, slower taxi and poor situation awareness
  • Increased workload on pilots
  • Increased workload on controllers

Defenses:

  • Delay or cancel start up clearances as necessary to suspend outbound flights
  • Coordinate with ground control and airport authorities the usage of the available parking stands and consider possibilities to park aircraft at taxiways if the capacity problem is severe
  • Broadcast ATIS messages informing crews of the event and the aerodrome procedures related to it in order to mitigate the tower controller workload
  • Include in the ATIS messages information to crews to cancel their flight plans for destinations within the affected area
  • Provide additional staffing to ensure frequent rotation and adequate rest of the controllers

Preparation - Organisational Aspects

It is well known that not all catastrophic events and related scenarios can be foreseen but a variety of measures might be taken in order to ensure institutional adequacy and personal training:

Organisational Awareness - training drills should include inter-institutional communication scenarios and should measure overall response time. The fast provision of ATCOs during emergency situations should be an objective at administrative level. Periodic training and drills are likely to improve intra-organisational coordination.

Personnel Management - Any non-routine situation will require additional staff to provide ATC service to non-affected traffic or act as liaison person. Training is another aspect that increases preparedness and reduces ATCO’s stress; Personal Awareness and Adequate Reaction – ATCOs should being constantly aware of any ongoing deviations from normal operations and communications in their areas of responsibility. They should be prepared to provide any information necessary for the air crews to understand the scale of event and its related consequences.

For further information on the organisational aspects of ANSP preparation at the strategic level for dealing with unexpected system wide events, see the dedicated article: System wide events - Guidance for ANSPs

Related Articles

Further Reading

ICAO

  • Annex 11 – Air traffic services

EUROCONTROL