What could impact the network?

Managing disruptions – the 360° vision

The air traffic management network is vulnerable to all kind of disruptions; weather but also industrial actions. The Network Manager has special responsibility for helping the network run smoothly when social unrest impacts on air transport.

Preparation and coordination between all relevant partners are essential in minimising disruption caused by industrial action. The Network Manager, having a central view of all operations, tries to ensure that the network runs as smoothly as it can under any circumstance.

The Network Manager proactively:

  • shares knowledge,
  • promotes best practice available in Europe,
  • provides customised tools to help European aviation professionals deal with a critical situation.

As an example, here is a number of events that can lead to raise NM alert levels:

  • volcanic eruptions;
  • nuclear accident;
  • industrial actions;
  • space weather.

Severe weather – a recurrent issue

We hear a lot about climate change. Whether or not there is a genuine climate change in Europe, we certainly experience significantly different weather patterns over the last few years, be it during the summer or the winter seasons.

The Network Management Operations Centre (NMOC) has increased its activities in this area in order to better anticipate and mitigate the effects of adverse weather on capacity.

The detailed weather forecast and assessment (precipitation, winds, visibility) published 3 times daily on the NOP Portal provides a good picture of the situation in Europe and supports ANSPs and AOs in taking and implementing appropriate ATFCM measures to minimise impact on the network and ATC in particular.

Discussions then take place with air navigation service providers (ANSPs) so that the likely effects on capacity are assessed and mitigation measures prepared for implementation at an appropriate stage, rather than relying on the traditional reactive approach.

The Aircraft Operators Liaison Officers (AOLOs) in the NMOC also play an important role in bridging the information with the aircraft operators. They provide proactive and pertinent advice to discuss potential solutions and favour reactiveness in the decision-making processes (removal of unnecessary regulations, implementation of others at an earlier stage).

Should a major or prolonged disruption occur the measures are complemented by the full and immediate activation of the Network crisis procedures.

Volcanic ash

The eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano in April 2010 and the subsequent ash cloud led to the worst ever disruption to European airspace, and the grounding of much of civil aviation in most of Western Europe between 15 and 21 April. Across the network as a whole, there was an average of 53.6% fewer flights during those seven days.

At its greatest extent – on 18 April – over 75% of European airspace was directly affected. Each day an average of 226 Air Traffic Flow Management (ATFM) regulations were applied to manage the closure of airspace.

EUROCONTROL played a key role in addressing the challenges resulting from the eruption and, consequently, in getting the aviation network back up and running.

Firstly, the OPS room (still CFMU at that time) ensured that all airlines were kept up to date with announcements on airspace closures. Secondly, the Agency also helped to ensure that all technical insights relating to the ash cloud were shared. This included detection of ash in the atmosphere and predictions of where it might move to.

The ash cloud crisis demonstrated the value of aviation to the European economy. It also showed how strong central coordination and a network approach were vital to minimising the impact of such events.

Indeed, it became very clear that EUROCONTROL was at the heart of the response to the crisis, bringing together the experts and the politicians and keeping everyone informed about what was going on. That was why the European Commission turned to us to organise the European Aviation Crisis Coordination Cell which, in 2011, has already proved invaluable.

Industrial actions

In the event of a strike, air navigation service providers notify the Network Manager up to 15 days before the strike will take place. NOTAMs, together with an early assessment of likely effects, are published on the NOP Portal. This advance warning is also published in the Headline News on the Network Operations Portal (NOP).

All partners in their areas of competence support the Network Manager Operations Centre - NMOC - in deciding on the best actions and measures to take.

Teleconferences are normally held daily from D-3 (three days before the strike) and twice daily during the period of industrial action. The areas affected as well as adjacent ACCs (area control centres) are involved in the teleconferences, as are all the airlines operating at the airports concerned.

The detailed operational and contingency arrangements could include:

  • Air Traffic Flow Management (ATFM) regulations
  • revised sector configurations and capacities
  • the implementation of flight restrictions
  • the cancellation of military activities
  • delay-sharing measures.

Whatever the cause of disruption, the Network Manager works closely with all its partners to minimise any knock-on effect on Europe’s air traffic management network as a whole.