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Potential Disruptions

In the vast majority of cases, problems can be identified and assessed as to their likely impact on the network. A large and highly proactive role of the IOC is scanning ahead to explore potential areas of risk for the airline. Potential disruptions may occur for any number of reasons, such as, for example, threatened industrial action in three days’ time (e.g., a looming Air Traffic Controller strike within one of the countries to which the airline operates or overflies), an approaching major weather pattern such as a typhoon (termed cyclone or hurricane subject to the region of the world) that is building 200 kilometres off a coast, an extensive snowstorm moving toward an airline hub, an active volcanic eruption, or perhaps a manufacturer’s or regulator’s early warning to impose some maintenance AD (Airworthiness Directive) requiring aircraft rectification by a certain date. Each of these events calls for due attention in terms of the likelihood of eventuality and contingent effect on operations. Thus, the IOC will summon a number of resources and conduct a risk analysis, with the intent to mitigate the effect of, or better still if possible, circumvent the occurrence altogether.

IOC response Patterns (general)

In the descriptions below of potential and imminent disruptions, the IOC responses allude solely to the category of disruption. This is to avoid overly repetitive material. However, it needs to be clearly signified first that any disruption that occurs leads (or at least should lead) Controllers to consider a fundamental set of questions. These are as follows:

  • a) If a flight is delayed, what is the effect on the customer? (This is now the first and foremost thought - the rest may be contingent upon the answer to this question). This includes the question of customer tranships (connecting customers to other flights). If connections appear to be threatened by the delay, what is the next availability for customer recovery - either with this or an alternative airline?
  • b) What consequences for other flights will be caused by this delay and can they be contained or limited in some way?
  • c) What is the aircraft’s next commitment? Can this be changed if necessary?
  • d) What are the Technical crews' next commitments and their ToD limitations? Are there alternative crews?
  • e) What are the Flight Attendant crews’ next commitments and their ToD limitations? Are there alternative crews?
  • f) Is any curfew threatened? If so, what are some options to avoid this risk?
  • g) What planned maintenance tasks may be affected? Can these be retrieved?

There are many more areas for consideration, but these primary ones serve to underpin the basic question set applicable for any disruption. Given these responses, the additional actions pertaining to the management of specific events are more localised. In some cases, responses may be common, but in others, they can be unique.

Weather

Weather situations are probably the most challenging for the IOC. Several types of weather conditions affect operations, including fog, cloud, winds, temperatures, thunderstorms, tornados, en-route icing conditions, typhoons/cyclones/hurricanes, ice and snow. Weather situations occur somewhere within an airline’s network on a daily basis. An IOC is either planning for, or is already operating in, such an environment. Weather conditions may fluctuate slightly or change significantly; either having an impact on operations. For example, should an aircraft be ready to depart, or worse, have already departed, and the weather, say, at the destination, deteriorates to near or below minimal landing conditions, subject to the amount of fuel uplifted the aircraft may have to return to the gate, or if already airborne, consider returning to the departure port, or divert to an en-route port. Weather can also have a compounding impact. For example, the weather at a port may be at or above minimum conditions at the time a number of aircraft arrive on station (in the area), but a combination of required instrument approaches and the subsequent build-up of air traffic due to АТС holding, means that they may need to divert without even attempting an approach. The aircraft may well have uplifted sufficient fuel to allow for the weather situation, but not to cater for extensive АТС holding imposed as well. Any one of these options is disruptive, which is a key reason that Meteorologists, Dispatchers and Controllers in the IOC, as well as the operating crew and airport staff, need to be aware of these sorts of conditions and hopefully any worsening trends. Despite the considerable planning to avoid situations like this, occasionally airlines can get caught (as this illustration depicts).

An aircraft departed a port compliant (i.e., carrying sufficient fuel with reserves but not carrying alternate fuel) in accordance with current and forecast weather at the destination. While en route though, the weather (fog) at the destination worsened considerably, and it was determined the aircraft did not have sufficient fuel to hold at the destination, return to the departure port, or reach any other major ports. Accordingly, the aircraft diverted to a smaller regional airport within range. However, the weather at that alternate airport had also deteriorated (fog), and the airport did not have appropriate navigational equipment for the aircraft to perform the necessary precision instrument (e.g., ILS) approach. After one missed approach, the aircraft declared an emergency and eventually landed safely.

The situation may be more critical for flag or international operators with long-haul flights, where poor weather conditions at the destination raise the likelihood of diversions. Some operators will carry whatever fuel is necessary to cover the trip and alternate requirements, at the expense of payload, whereas others work to a decision-divert policy. In this case, rather than return to their origin, or divert early in the flight, they are likely to continue as far as operationally practicable. The weather can be quite changeable (worsening or improving), and in some cases, the flight may not even have to divert if conditions improve sufficiently. But, if they do divert en route, they will usually choose from a number of possible listed (i.e., company stipulated) diversion ports nominated during the flight-planning stage, and will elect to use one of these, all things being equal. Sometimes, though, in an extreme situation, it may be necessary to divert to a non-listed and even a non-airline serviced port. The latter brings about a whole raft of new problems such as ground-handling concerns, passenger accommodation, and recovery of the aircraft and crew to resume the flight as soon as possible. In the case of diverting into an airport in a country not normally serviced, or with particular security or other concerns, another issue is the approval processes that need to be exercised in order to depart that airport and traverse the foreign airspace; sometimes requiring government intervention.

 
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