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This chapter describes in considerable detail the processes followed on a daily basis within IOCs. With the substantial efforts undertaken to prepare for the day of operation as seen in the last chapter, the actual processes involved in running this day are in a delicate balance. On the one hand, the tools and systems are in place to operate the schedule with the expectation that everything will perform exactly as it is meant to, and that all human, technical and environmental inputs will contribute to, rather than interfere with, the plan. That’s the theory. However, anyone who works in the industry or who has flown, will be well aware that so many disruptive factors intervene. This chapter describes the processes involved in regular operations and then illustrates the sheer enormity of what can go wrong, and the cascading effects of these problems on airline assets and resources as well as the flying public.
Operational Authority and Autonomy
Given that an airline has invested in the structure of an IOC and committed to equipping, resourcing and supporting it, a vital element sometimes taken for granted is the nature of autonomy that needs to exist for the IOC to make informed but independent decisions. The IOC is a centre of expertise with substantial power to manage all aspects of the airline’s network of flights on a day-to-day basis. The approach of senior management must be to recognise the need for the IOC to have genuine authority to make autonomous decisions without the need for any intercession. In other words, they should be left to get on with their work. However, this is not to suggest that the IOC should operate in a vacuum or not be influenced by company policy or other forms of company direction. Indeed, the IOC needs to have transitioned from being a departmental function to a key instrument entirely charged with airline-focused decisions, and the nature of its integration within the airline structure is of paramount importance.
Systems and Tools
For such a key functional department, the available resources must adequately meet the needs of the task at hand. Hence, the IOC is typically provided with a number of purpose-built systems and tools, often supplied by a variety of software vendors. Although each system is likely to be tailored to suit the requirements of each function, vendors have traditionally specialised in unique products to the extent that integrating these was too cumbersome and costly for airlines. The result was that these independent systems failed to communicate properly with each other. It is only in more recent times that vendors have begun to offer more comprehensive suites of products, but even these are limited in scope or are unable to satisfy the requirements of some functional areas.
Between the IOC and Aircraft
Efficient and rapid communication is key to information awareness, processing and dissemination, and tools to aid this endeavour are vital to ensure efficiencies are translated appropriately within the operational environment. In the past, communication with aircraft was conducted typically by VHF or HF radio frequencies when available. Sometimes aircraft were out of VFIF range and at best FIF was limited. Today’s fleets are usually fitted with ACARS (aircraft communication addressing and reporting system) equipment, and/or a SATCOM (satellite phone). In non-SATCOM aircraft, crews can use portable devices with WIFI as well. Thus, communication between the IOC and aircraft is achievable continuously and virtually anywhere in the world and so becomes a vital tool in the event the crew need to inform the IOC of any circumstance in relation to the flight, or the IOC needs to make contact with the crew, perhaps to pre-empt some action. This is also a useful tool should a security event emerge during flight.
Within the IOC
Past communication between Controllers and other functional departments such as Crewing and Maintenance was often conducted either by telephone or even relied on physical visitation to those areas with handwritten information or requests - a most inefficient, time-consuming process, and highly subject to error. Modern technologies have greatly enhanced the process and, with sophisticated telecommunications devices, expeditious communication with all the key stakeholders is commonplace. Of course, the physical entity that is the IOC today also means that communication among key stakeholders is not only clear and rapid, but leaves little room for error or misinterpretation, due to the close proximity of the members. The systems shared by the players also enables common understanding of current or emerging activity as will be explained in the following sections.