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I. Operations Function
This chapter will introduce and describe the concept of, and the rationale underpinning, the Airline Operations Control Centre (OCC), its purpose for existence and its importance in airline usage. The structure, siting and make-up of the centre all vary considerably in terms of physical layout, complexity and participation by contributing players. A focus of the chapter will be to examine the associations among these players as well as their external affiliations, as the building and maintaining of close working relationships are key to efficient problem recognition and solving.
Although it is beyond the scope of this text to delve deeply into the regulatory specifics relating to operational control, it is nevertheless important and relevant to provide a basic framework. The need for operational control is recognised in a number of ways. First is to define the term ‘operational control’. According to Chapter 1 of Annex 6 to the Chicago Convention, operational control refers to ‘the exercise of authority over the initiation, continuation, diversion or termination of a flight in the interests of the safety of the aircraft, and the regularity and efficiency of the flight’.1 Thus, operational control relates to all phases of a flight. Chapter 3 of the Annex also clarifies that the operator or its delegate is responsible for operational control. The Operations Control Centre (OCC) then (or whatever name an airline uses) assumes the responsibility for operational control on behalf of the airline. It is important to note that the OCC needs to conform to regulations not only at international level, but must also take into account national government regulations of each State (as defined by the International Civil Aviation Organisation - ICAO) into which operations are conducted, and be fully aware that these regulations can and do vary between States. These pertain, for example, to such areas as crew duty hours, requirements for maintaining flight watch, as well as numerous requirements regarding engineering activities.
Within the OCC, the tasks of operational control are then delegated to roles such as, for example, an Operations Controller (so called in many jurisdictions) or Dispatcher, as in the case of the licensed Dispatcher (see Flight Dispatch in the next chapter). Beside the airline’s legal requirement to provide operational control, a key objective of the OCC is to satisfy commercial expectations (i.e., conduct of a schedule as advertised to, and expected by, its customers and other stakeholders). Hence, the OCC is tasked with ensuring the network of schedules is achieved as closely as possible to the planned operation. How it accomplishes this is then the focus of both the current and following chapters.
Several terms have been used to describe an airline’s Operations Centre. The obvious and probably most commonly used has been, and still is, the OCC or perhaps the AOC (Airline Operations Control). Some airlines, though, have preferred AOCC (Airline Operations Control Centre), SOCC (Systems Operations Control Centre), NCC (Network Control Centre), or NOC (Network Operations Centre), while some smaller airlines may use the term ROC (Regional Operations Control or Centre). More recently, and for very good reason, the participation and structural inclusion of a growing number of key departments within the Operations Centre has led to the evolvement and formation, and hence terminology, of the Integrated Operations Centre or IOC. The term ‘integrated’ is deliberate to emphasise the synthesis of purpose and activity contained within the one authority. This organisational entity has developed significantly over time and its key role in handling the airline’s operational movements can never be overstated. With full recognition of airlines’ preferences and rationale of terminology in mind, the term IOC will be used throughout this text (apart from the historical perspectives below) to refer generically to any airline’s OCC or system, to avoid any confusion.
Defining the IOC
As discussed above, there is a regulatory requirement for an airline to conduct operational control. There is also a fundamental need for oversight of the airline’s planned network flight schedules on a day-to-day basis to ensure the actual operation mirrors as closely as possible the schedule that was intended for operation. Of course, the schedule is what has been presented to, and is therefore relied upon by, the travelling public. Whether an airline is a small charter or regional carrier with a minimal number of aircraft, or a major company with hundreds of aircraft and a sophisticated network of operations spanning several countries, the necessity for a ‘nerve centre’ with responsibility for the legal, safe and efficient operation of the fleet is manifest. Thus, airlines manage their operational control through this centralised department. The centre is tasked with monitoring the airline’s diversity of flights from pre-planning, departure, en route, and arrival stages, for its entire network, handling not only regular, scheduled services,2 but charters and special operations as required. IOCs are unique to each airline. Each is differently structured, has its own systems, procedures and policies, and culture. Of course, each airline’s network is also unique - no two airlines in the world have the same route structure or fleet composition. So the IOC is built specifically to drive the goals of its own airline.
Besides this role to coordinate and manage the airline’s operational activity, the IOC serves another key function within the airline. Its centrality, elaborate structure, inclusive representation and extensive reach into many areas of the operation give it unique characteristics. Nowhere else in an airline is a department more in touch with the occurrence of operational events, and with other participating stakeholders. Accordingly, the IOC is a natural hub of communication. External parties can access and listen in to events unfolding or provide advice as required. Outward communications can also be readily disseminated to a wide range of recipients.
In the event of a significant abnormal or extraordinary incident which may evolve into a crisis situation (e.g., security, safety or otherwise), the initial handling of the event will most likely be managed by the IOC. However, the severity of an emerging situation will determine the extent to which the IOC will continue to manage it, as its impact may require dedicated attention either for a short duration, or if a major event, a substantial length of time. Hence, management of such an event may well be given to an offshoot of the IOC such as a crisis management centre, which is usually physically located away from the IOC and is typically comprised of specialist team members including senior management, experts from various key functional areas of the airline, other nominated airline personnel and external authorities as required. Part of the team will include specialist expertise representation from the IOC itself. It is important to recognise that alongside an emerging crisis (depending on its nature and gravity), the balance of the airline’s network is likely to be unaffected by the specific event, and therefore still needs to be managed. In other words, the IOC still needs to continue its normal activity.