Smoother approaches to the white slopes
The winter sports season is one of many special events that can have a major impact on air traffic management. During the weekends over the winter season we are faced with a significant increase in traffic to ski destinations while most ski resorts have airfields with limited capacity to accommodate the raised demand.
For several years now, the Network Manager has been running a "ski axis process" and is in close contact with the local units to facilitate winter operations.
Besides their capacity limits, these airfields are particularly vulnerable to winter weather, and bad weather can reduce their available capacity even further. So, it is important to know the diversionary capacity of each of these airfields and their neighbours.
Outbound traffic to ski resorts mainly originates from the United Kingdom, Ireland and the Benelux; France, Switzerland, Italy, Germany and Austria are the end destinations.
As demand evolves each year according to tourist trends, so does Out of Area (OOA) traffic, particularly from Russia. Indeed, traffic from major Russian airports has been growing year by year, especially on the weekends before and after the Orthodox Christmas. However due to the political situation we are predicting a 40% reduction in the number of flights originating from the Russian Federation this year.
Until 2011, the NMOC had no information on departures for Out of Area (OOA) traffic, as the Integrated Initial Flight Plan Processing System (IFPS) receives no flight information from these regions. This is an important issue as the lack of information can lead to sector overloads.
Thanks to Minsk and Moscow airports' full participation in the North East Axis, the situation has improved considerably.
As of 2014 the IFPS now receives FSA (First Sector Activation) Message information for all westbound flights, along with Departure (DEP) Message on all flights departing the Russian Federation.
The ski axis process is a coordination process for flights during the winter ski season (mainly weekends) that runs from mid-December until the end of March. Coordination meetings start as early as October and the ski axis process officially ends with a debriefing held in mid-May.
Principles of Axis Management
During the axis process, NM proposes Network solutions based on the network optimisation principles including ATFCM and ASM considerations, and agreed with the concerned ACCs. NM works actively to minimise the number of ATFM regulations, consistent with the protection of ATC sectors. With the maturing of the axis flow management, there are nowadays more options.
In general, when voluntary measures are applied, aircraft operators are more willing to comply with the alternative routes proposed. The alternative is to accept the delays imposed by normal ATFM regulations.
- The process starts 6 months in advance with aixs meetings where ATFCM measures are discussed, consolidated and published on the NOP Portal.
- A few days before the flight, the pre-tactical process is activated by the NMOC whose task is to refine the ATFCM measures according to the updated network situation and to define the optimum ATFCM plan for the day of operations, in full collaboration with ATC, FMPs and AOs.
- Next step for the NMOC is the monitoring, coordinating and problem solving of Axis matters during tactical operations. This includes the allocation of individual aircraft departure times, re-routings to avoid bottlenecks and improve flight efficiency.
The 3 Axes that operate all year round are:
- The north east axis (NE) provides a focus on the traffic flows in northern Europe and to/from the Russian Federation.
- The south west axis (SW) deals with the major weekend traffic flows between north western Europe and the Iberian peninsula.
- The south east axis (SE) deals with the flows of traffic between northern Europe and the south east Mediterranean.
The Ski axis operates during the winter season only.
Meeting airspace users' needs
This approach, based on coordination and facilitation and led by NMOC, allows ANSPs, FMPs, Airport Authorities, National Airport Slot Coordinators, Aircraft Operators and the Aircraft Operator Liaison Cell – IATA/IACA - to come together and share their operational experiences.
NOTAMS are published as requested by the relevant authorities and the information is also presented on the NOP Portal.
ATFCM measures, including city-pair flight level capping and specific RAD measures, that the Airspace Data Section (ADS) examines so as to offer a range of options which best meet airspace users' needs.
A set of predefined rerouting scenarios are also prepared taking into account the route extension that they could imply.
Every Thursday, they look at the weekend to come so as to anticipate potential capacity issues. The Demand Data Repository Phase 2 (DDR2) is the source for planned demand. When some unbalanced capacity demand is detected, the usual pre-tactical process is applied.
Teleconferences take place every Friday and the plan for the coming weekend is shared with all the network actors. The details of the agreed plan are then published in the network news section on the NOP Portal.
At pre-tactical level, specific candidate flights may be identified for cherry-picking. On the day of operations, the Tactical Network Cell (TNC) and the Aircraft Operators Liaison Officers (AOLOs) coordinate with candidate aircraft operators to take best advantage of the available options. On D-Day, the usual flow management measures can be applied to protect sector capacity. (i.e. regulations).