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Location

The actual location of an airline’s IOC is, ironically, not crucial. However, access to appropriate corporate staff, and the numerous affiliated departments that depend on, and/or influence operational processes, really determines the optimum locale for such a key department. Hence, IOCs tend to be established within or close to the airline’s head office in a major city or airport, and in particular, the airline’s main hub. While city locations may facilitate corporate access when needed, the proximity to crucial operational resources (such as Pilot and Flight Attendant Scheduling, Maintenance Control, Airport and Ground-Handling personnel) may be regarded as more advantageous. Hence, they are often but not always sited at, or close to, an airport environment. Physically, the IOC is assembled on one or more floors within a state-of-the-art, secure building, in which access is usually restricted to appropriate personnel. The evolving IOC over years has drawn several different functional areas into the core group, which has resulted in a physical structure of considerable size.

In some large airlines, a fit-for-purpose building houses the IOC functions usually in some form of concentric design or similar array over one floor, with oversight provided for senior duty management via a raised bridge or platform area. Crucial on-the-day decision makers are located closest to the centre, with more supportive or resource- based roles positioned further away. This sort of clustered structure lends itself to high noise volumes in times of intense activity, but the close proximity of key areas far outweighs any disadvantages due to the critical nature of shared problem awareness, dynamic information, and collaborative decision making. To provide redundancy due to power or systems failures, or perhaps due to any situations of a security or other nature, an alternative or back-up IOC is sited at a different location. Although the back-up centre may not comprise the same infrastructure and layout as the main one, it needs to be capable of providing full operational control until activity in the main centre can be resumed. Temporary transfer of control to the back-up centre is usually tested annually or biennially.

Purpose and Philosophy

The prime purpose of the IOC is to oversee the provision of the end- to-end customer experience and meet each customer’s expectation for a safe, legal and efficient flight from point A to point B. Safety is paramount in the industry and any airline that does not subscribe to the highest levels of safety is in the wrong business. Legality refers to the myriad regulations that determine the means by which airlines operate and the need for compliance across licensing, operating standards and procedures, maintenance, and service provision, for example. These occur at international and national governmental levels as well as at airline policy level. Efficiency implies that the airline will achieve schedule integrity through delivery of on-time performance, and in doing so, will deploy resources judiciously to ensure their optimal utility, while maximising revenues and containing costs. Cost control, as mentioned earlier, has become of immense concern given rising charges across industry (e.g., fuel, aircraft purchases, salaries, landing fees and overflight charges), increased competition, stakeholder interests, and a continual focus on the bottom line.

Considerable and widespread planning processes determine the state of readiness of the airline as the day of operation approaches. But of course, despite these efforts, no airline schedule operates exactly as planned, and disruptions need to be very carefully managed to mitigate their effects on both immediate and intending customers. The ways in which the IOC goes about this are many and varied, reliant on a combination of highly skilled, expert staff, the philosophical approach to delivering customer service, and the innumerable constraints accountable within the decision-making processes. Where possible, the IOC operates proactively by forecasting and acting upon potential disruptions, thereby averting threats to the network, but much of the nature of their work is reactive, requiring rapid assessment, precise communication and efficient resolution of situations. Thus, the aims are twofold: first to resolve problems, and second to connect effectively with both internal and external stakeholders. To satisfy the relationships among the IOC team and others, the user investment in the IOC is rewarded by a strategy of sound communications and reporting procedures.

Autonomy

No matter what reporting channels are employed, a key necessity for an IOC is for a high degree of impartiality and autonomy required for operational oversight and management. Interwoven with this is the key to the IOC model: that is, the necessity for the innermost group to have authority for decision making within their own jurisdictions on the day of operations. If individuals cannot make authorised decisions without having to refer to more senior personnel within their functional areas, then the inclusion of those individuals in the IOC is valueless, as decision making in such a complex and challenging environment cannot be served by a committee approach. Given this authority, so it is that the centre operates with a suitable level of independence, and any undue interference in operational decision processes is prevented. Of course, this is not to say that the IOC operates in isolation; far from it. The nature of the IOC demands that close and intense communications with key stakeholders from various areas both within and external to the airline, inform its processes appropriately. But crucially, this communication is two-way. Of course, the IOC needs to gather accurate, reliable and timely intelligence to underpin its decision-making processes, but also needs to disseminate outcomes and associated information promptly to a wide range of stakeholders. In disruption management, the window of opportunity may often be quite narrow, so the need to channel communications promptly and concisely is critical.

Hierarchy and Reporting Lines

The IOC usually is contained within a larger departmental structure variously called Central or Network Operations and, occasionally, the IOC may be part of a Flight Operations Department. Direct reporting lines may be to a Vice President-Operations, an Operations Director or General Manager-Operations, or perhaps Flight Operations Manager depending upon the company structure. Whatever the size and make-up of the operational structure, reporting lines need to be unambiguous and ensure that efficient communication channels enable appropriate paths for advice seeking and direction setting. The individual titles and reporting lines may vary, but notably, the tasks still need to be performed in some way.

Notes

  • 1 ICAO ANNEX 6: Operation of aircraft, Part I - International Commercial Air transport - Aeroplanes. 10th ed. July 2016. Viewed 10/03/20. www. universiteitleiden.nl/binaries/content/assets/rechtsgeleerdheid/instituut- voor-publiekrecht/lucht--en-ruimterecht/international-air-law-moot- court/annex-6_part-i.pdf
  • 2 Abdi, M.R., and Sharma, S. 2007. Strategic/tactical information management of flight operations in abnormal conditions through Network Control Centre. International Journal of Information Management, 27, 119-138.
 
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