Learning from airport terror attacks

14 July 2016

What lessons could be learned from the latest European Aviation Crisis Coordination Cell (EACCC) crisis exercise in February 2016, which looked at the impact of terror attacks on a major airport and on the European Air Traffic Management (ATM) network - and on the role of the EACCC in formulating a European network response to the Brussels Airport terror attacks of March 2016?

These were the twin themes of the 9 June 2016 workshop held at EUROCONTROL’s Brussels headquarters, which saw EUROCONTROL/Network Manager crisis management experts work closely with EACCC members, the European Commission, aviation crisis management State Focal Points (SFPs) from 23 States, as well as airport and airlines representatives.

The timeliness and value of the February exercise was emphasised by participants. Henrik Hololei, Director General DG MOVE, underlined in his keynote address how “the management of the response to the events that occurred on March 23rd at Zaventem would not have been as good if the EACCC had not organised the "Security 15" exercise in February.” “The immediate activation of the EACCC, the holding of five teleconferences and the precious input of the SFPs have successfully enabled the impact on the network to be limited,” he added.

On this occasion, EACCC workshop participants analysed the work of the SFPs, with EACCC co-chairs Joe Sultana, EUROCONTROL Director Network Manager, and Olivier Waldner, Deputy Head of the European Commission’s Single Sky unit, noting the SFPs’ fundamental role in mitigating crisis when they occur, by sharing with the EACCC as much information as possible and thereby enabling the EACCC to be well informed about security measures taken at national level, and their impact. This was particularly the case in the Brussels attacks, where presentations by the Brussels airport authorities, the Belgian SFP and the OPS manager from EACCC all highlighted the importance of information collection, analysis and timely dissemination despite severe emotional, operational and political pressure – and the central importance of learning from past crises in order to be better prepared for future ones.

The June workshop also provided a good moment to look back on what the EACCC has achieved since it was jointly established in May 2010 by the European Commission and EUROCONTROL to coordinate the management of crisis response in the European ATM network. Mr Hololei praised the “great deal of progress in the establishment of a successful EACCC” which has seen “stakeholders determined to act together in a productive and collaborative fashion” as the EACCC helps coordinate an appropriate pan-European response to network crisis situations that could impact adversely on aviation. “Crisis management,” he emphasised, “is of great concern to all the EU Member States and transport industry, and has become a priority in the Aviation Policy and in the implementation of the Single European Sky.”

Joe Sultana, Director Network Manager, in his concluding remarks highlighted the importance of close links of the SFPs and EACCC, and thanked all participants and particular representatives of Brussels airport, Belgium and Israel for their valuable contribution to the event. The meeting concluded that the work of the EACCC would be strengthened by further improving the general level of participation of SFPs, as some geographical areas require more attention. As Mr Hololei observed: “The EACCC is a collective body acting for the network as a whole: each of you has a precious and indispensable role to play; missing links are to be avoided.

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