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Regular Operations

Every day in every airline is different. Even if all is seemingly quiet with no or minimal disruption, the schedules, weather, maintenance requirements, air traffic flows, port resources, crews, aircraft, payloads, operating restrictions, and of course customers are different each operating day. So, no two days will ever present in the same way. In addition, people’s psychological states, moods and behaviours all change from day to day, so the way they prepare, approach and carry out work, of course, varies. Even if the network is quiet (i.e., flights are operating on or very close to schedule), the day-to-day operation still demands attention. In airlines, the incidence of regular operations usually means handling the schedules as presented but always with the mindset that things will go wrong. That is, the expectation on shift is that irregular operations are really the norm. However, on the assumption of no current disruption evident, the following sections reveal the levels of activity that should be taking place.

Proactive Approach

Following the handover from the previous shift, which may have concluded at any time around the clock, a whole new set of people will start to brief themselves on the status of the operation; checking company policies, current status boards indicating any issues concerning maintenance or weather conditions, or route or airport restrictions, as well as gathering any other information as necessary from a number of appropriate sources. Status indicators may also reflect current airline performance in terms of delays, cancellations, congestion, load factors or similar items. At a quick glance, Controllers can get a feeling for the overall condition of the airline. If the handover consists of a screen (or paper record) of historical logs and alerts for the upcoming operations, these will be assessed with some priority. As the current primary tool, the status of the Gantt chart and other key resources will be a key focus at this stage, as Controllers seek to build initial awareness of the current schedule. If the operation is sound, there should be nothing out of the ordinary on the utilisation. Typically, previously operated flights may present on the Gantt chart as dimmed or greyed out, and unless the handover process draws attention to any significant issue, are not likely to be of any regard in the briefing process.

In the case of a domestic, short-haul or predominantly day operation airline, the handover in preparation for the morning shift (which could begin anywhere, for example, from 0500 to 0700), requires a level of scrutiny and emphasis on specific aspects that may differ somewhat. For example, with much of the network operation commencing at about 0600-0700 (as this is the time range that demand - especially business travel, typically warrants and curfews allow) there is a substantial focus on ensuring this ‘first wave’ gets under way. Thus, the Controllers and the functional specialists in the IOC will all be particularly interested in factors such as weather that might affect departures, aircraft serviceability, crew ‘sign-on times’, airport terminal activity, АТС issues and so forth. In general, though, the familiarisation stage for the new shift calls for a proactive approach which means a fairly rigorous examination of the Gantt chart, taking into account several considerations. The points below are all important, but their order of inspection or priority really depends on the Controller.

  • a) Scanning the utilisation on the Gantt chart will provide a general overview. The Controller assesses each line of aircraft pattern of flying, looking for potential delays or any unusual precursors that might lead to problems. Besides focusing on the flight blocks themselves, what should also attract attention are the size of the gaps between flights. These are turnaround (or turn) times. If they are very short; that is, an aircraft is only on the ground between flights for a minimum time, this would indicate to Controllers that a delay to the first service is likely to result in a consequential delay to the subsequent one, unless some change can be invoked. On the other hand, if they are long, this presents opportunities to recover late-running flights by absorbing some of the excess ground time or presents opportunities to change aircraft patterns for any number of reasons.
  • b) Patterns that are running delayed may also be threatening to break curfews at the end of the day in specific curfew ports (note: most curfews commence at 2300 and end at 0600 - see Chapter 3 for further description). In some regions, rather than curfew restrictions, control towers may close. The effect is the same, though - operations generally cease at closure time. Due attention will be given to these patterns and the flights therein will be monitored across the day, with a view to preventing any curfew/tower breach. On some patterns, changing aircraft is impossible without causing delays, as multiple aircraft patterns may never coincide during the day, but in such cases this or more significant action may be required, such as accepting a sizeable delay or, in extreme cases, cancelling a service.
  • c) The Controller will also need to be aware of any planned maintenance work to be carried out on aircraft. For international (flag) carriers, as the schedule operates day and night, and turnaround times can sometimes be extensive (e.g., 15 hours), some maintenance work will be carried out during the daytime. In contrast, schedules of domestic carriers tend to be conducted within a day, with far less call in general for overnight flights. That, and the fact that many ports may be curfew restricted, result in a large proportion of maintenance work (e.g., service checks, engine and other component changes) being carried out at night. This work will display as icons or some other symbology on the Gantt chart to alert Controllers should disruptions affect the specific aircraft. Controllers also need to consider the arrival times of the last flights into those ports where the maintenance work is to be performed, so as to ensure sufficient overnight time and without any consequence to departures the next day. Naturally, the Maintenance Watch personnel will also be aware of planned work and will therefore be monitoring flights during their shift.
  • d) Flights that are lightly loaded (i.e., small number of booked customers) may be identified as being potential candidates for delays or cancellations in the event of any future disruption. This is because the customer load will usually be able to be accommodated on other flights, and there is a greater need tor the aircraft on an alternative service.
  • e) In contrast, flights that are heavily loaded may be deemed as being given priority over other flights as accommodating those customers on alternative services is more difficult. Of course, selecting flights to be delayed or cancelled doesn’t just rely on the passenger loadings. There may be several other considerations such as the next commitment for the aircraft, crew patterns, or maintenance issues, for example.
  • f) Special operations (see Chapter 3) may include charters (e.g., Antarctica), searches, ferry flights (positioning flights with no passengers), delivery flights (for new aircraft) and so forth. Controllers will be aware of the numerous organisational factors and personnel involved in each of these and the need to give them due attention. Although commonplace, ultra-long-range flights draw the attention of Controllers and Dispatchers alike due to the critical nature of their operation. Monitoring of these operations is continuous and exacting as disruption recovery brings about significant challenges. Awareness of operations into politically sensitive or dangerous ‘hotspots’ of the world also calls for careful consideration. Most often the briefing given to Controllers includes updates from the appropriate authority, as well as current airline management policy. Nevertheless, operations into or across these regions need due deliberation.
  • g) The Commercial or CJM areas may be sensitive to disrupting specific routes or flights due to the frequency or effects of previous disruptions, so some protection may be afforded those flights by Controllers in the event of disruption. Part of this team’s work is to identify and monitor the VIP/CIP lists, advising Controllers where appropriate. Although carriage of such important passengers may not necessarily pre-determine a particular decision, it may certainly have some influence.
  • h) The introductory section above raised the question of weather conditions affecting the first wave of departures. Part of the briefing includes a thorough assessment of any weather situations likely to affect the operations over the forthcoming period. Clearly, the forecast of a blizzard, or typhoon (or equivalent name), for example, will be well known prior to the day of operation, as described earlier. But of more regular concern for day-to-day operations are conditions such as fog, thunderstorm activity, strong winds and high temperatures.

Subject to the seasons, mornings and afternoons may also produce significantly different weather phenomena. A potential problem area might include a weather front with thunderstorms and heavy rain expected to pass through a major port, which would instigate a preemptive assessment of likely impact. Another may be a customer offload situation several hours away in relation to a scheduled long-haul flight operating from a high elevation or high-temperature airport. This is likely to initiate discussion between the Controller and Flight Planning/Load Control or Dispatch areas, for example.

As they explore the vagaries of the information at hand, Controllers actively use this opportunity to build pictures in their minds, getting a ‘feel’ for the airline, judging if any threats appear to exist, or weaknesses that may be exploited, and playing out ‘what-if’ scenarios, should disruptions occur. The intuitive, experienced Controller makes the most of this effort, and the result pays dividends when disruptions eventually occur, as they are already ‘armed’. This is valuable time. The more sustained the proactive work during such unusual periods of quiet, the better prepared all Controllers will be in the event of disruption. Once sound awareness of the operational status is gained, Controllers can then become a little more relaxed and confident of the initial control gained, at least until an event occurs. Of course, beginning a shift in the midst of turmoil, can be quite different and is more the focus of the second part of the book.

Downtime

There may also be times during a shift when ongoing or emerging disruptions are either negligible or fairly innocuous, at which point the task then becomes largely a monitoring (and wait and see) approach. The level of activity across the IOC falls and inter-communications quieten as well. This downtime enables routine tasks to be fulfilled amid a quieter environment devoid of the intensity that often prevails during disruptions. These are valuable opportunities and may indeed serve as short recovery periods for fatigued or drained staff. Accordingly, it is important that Controllers are not side-tracked or diverted into involvement in other undertakings. Circumstances such as these are rather rare, and the respite needs to be protected somewhat. A further consideration is that even if the schedule is operating on or close to on-time, this doesn’t mean that personnel are idle in the IOC. Even if there are no disruptions current, a lot of other work is still being performed. For example, the Crewing function may be busy covering crew sickness or other shortfalls, and Maintenance may be re-organising work packages or changing maintenance planning commitments due to other influences.

 
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