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Of course, there are numerous miscellaneous incidents that may occur that are largely outside the control of the airline, including such events as earthquakes, tsunamis and sudden volcanic eruptions, for example. Each of these is handled on its merits. However, as has been observed in various parts of the world, the incidences of volcanic disturbances can be far reaching with quite devastating consequences should the ash cloud be extensive.
In these types of events, world organisations, various governments and senior airline management become involved. In turn, the IOC will respond as these bodies determine.
The following example describes the initiation, development, approach and impact of a major weather phenomenon, and outlines some of the thought processes that underpin procedures and strategies undertaken within the IOC leading up to and during the event. In this scenario, the advice to the IOC applies either to the Duty Manager or Controller (or Dispatcher), but for simplicity of expression, the reference will be just to the ‘IOC’.
Example scenario - forming typhoon (day of operation minus 4)
The Meteorologist attached to the IOC has been made aware by the Regional Specialised Meteorological Centre (RSMC) in Tokyo of a tropical storm developing about 150 kilometres off the south-east coast of Japan. Currently the storm is moving slowly north-west, and at present not demanding any more than just an awareness and monitoring of it. The Meteorologist will continue to scan various sources of information including government sites and weather channels on world news stations and may also be in contact with the US Joint Typhoon Warning Centre (JTWC) or other authorities.
1st advice to the IOC
The advice to the IOC may be of an alert nature only, just to make the staff aware of the presence of a potential weather situation.
The IOC would be aware that tropical storms such as this are common in this area and especially for a particular seasonal period (e.g., typhoon season). Until there is a development, there is little point devoting resources at this stage.Tropical storms may intensify, track in several directions, and eventually have some operational impact, but also they may weaken and dissipate.
No action is needed at this stage. It is a matter only of being made aware. If a status board exists within the IOC, some notation may be added as a preliminary brief to relevant staff. No concern for schedules is merited yet.
Situation update - forming typhoon (day of operation minus 3)
The tropical storm has deepened and intensified over the past 24 hours, with wind speeds now in excess of 60 knots, and accordingly has now been classified as a severe tropical storm. The system continues to move northwest and is expected to intensify into a typhoon within 12-15 hours. The Meteorologists have begun to employ software to plot the movement and project the track over the next 24 or so hours.
2nd advice to the IOC
As the severe storm is expected to form into a typhoon, the Meteorologist now alerts the IOC to the changing weather pattern. Any information such as a map with track projections and possible crossings of the coast may be worthwhile.
From an initial briefing, this heightened state of awareness starts a process in train whereby the IOC starts to consider whether this situation is likely to have any impact on the operations. Much of the thought processes will be influenced by Controllers' previous experience in dealing with major weather disturbances. As the IOC is likely to have control of the next 5-7 days' flying patterns, attention may now be drawn to the IOC planning function which is responsible for examining potential operational or commercial threats to the schedule. Although the typhoon is away from the coast, tracks of flight paths in close proximity to the storm will be considered and, if necessary, alternative planned tracks will be calculated to avoid the area.
In consultation with the Meteorologist, the planner will consider the next few days' schedules in terms of aircraft and crew commitments, and the booked passenger loadings of all flights likely to be affected. Briefings will extend to senior management to forewarn of potential impact in the region as well as the key functional areas within the IOC. With the customer well and truly at the forefront of thinking, the involvement of CJM staff at this early stage is vital in considering the effects to customers of delays and possibly cancelled services to the affected ports.
Situation update - forming typhoon (day of operation minus 2)
The severe tropical storm has again intensified with sustained winds exceeding 80 knots.This is now a formidable system, and accordingly been re-classified into a typhoon. It has begun to follow a recurving path and projected to track directly towardTokyo at an increased speed. With further intensification as it draws water from the Pacific, and barring unforeseen changes, there is a high degree of confidence that it will cross the coast within 30-36 hours. Once it crosses the coast, the sustained effects of very strong winds, very heavy rain, and flooding are expected to be significant.
3rd advice to the IOC
The Meteorologist is now in a position to provide a fully informed opinion, an accurate assessment of the path and likely impact of the impending system.
The brief to the IOC changes from a message of alert, to a status of operational risk for the IOC to consider.
The thinking now is to conduct a full risk assessment of the event. To do this, it will consider what options may be available in the event of the typhoon creating disruption and monitoring the track of the storm will largely determine the most likely course of action.The IOC team will develop a number of scenarios which can be instigated accordingly.These could include the following:
The considerations will amount to a combination of what plan works in terms of aircraft utilisation, the Pilot and cabin crews concerned, and any other operational factors, and of course what is the best recovery strategy for customers. No operation will be deployed unless it is safe to do so. Further considerations must include the health and safety of the workforces in the airports themselves.
Given the sources of information provided, and the growing expectation of disruption, the main task of the IOC will be to develop and weigh up each contingency plan to cover the likely scenarios, discussing each with the key stakeholders such as Corporate Management, Crewing Management, Engineering, Airports, Flight Operations, Commercial and CJM teams. Notably, differing approaches may be adopted subject to the characteristics of the airline. For a national carrier with multiple operations into a hub structure, cancelling or diverting services may be quite acceptable, knowing that plentiful recovery options are available. However, for a foreign carrier, the decision to cancel may not be so straightforward. Using a collaborative approach, a recommended option will be agreed and actioned subject to updated information and time scale. Again though, the need for operational autonomy within the IOC is critical to provide clear and positive direction. Consensus reached by a committee approach is distractive to the process and may not necessarily support the oversight needed and already provided by the IOC. Hence, the deliberation may end up less consultative and more decisive. Once established, this contingency plan is then transmitted to all concerned to ensure continuity and complete understanding by all parties. In this way, the IOC is fully prepared.
Within a shorter time-frame but still enabling pre-emptive actions are the more imminent disruptive events such as, for example, current weather activity likely to cause extensive delays, diversions and cancellations, or a medical event on an aircraft that also may call for a diversion for immediate attention, or an intrusion into crew rest hours with a consequential schedule delay the following day. In the case of both potential and imminent disruptions, the IOC will expend considerable effort in the hope of overcoming the disruptive effects of such events.
Example scenario - imminent typhoon (day of operation minus 1)
The typhoon has intensified again and is now expected to cross the coast within 24-30 hours just south ofTokyo and tracking north-west. Expectations are much the same as the previous update, and warnings are now public as damaging winds, torrential rain and severe flooding are predicted to affect the region and of course airports.
4th advice to the IOC
The advice to the IOC now is one of imminent risk, advising of likely impact to the region, and expected duration of the typhoon.
With this development (much as expected), and input from the stakeholders, the IOC is in a sound position to select a strategy.The options may be visited again, but it is quite likely that an optimum strategy will already have been chosen and the pros and cons debated.
Given the latest information, the IOC would probably decide to delay the whole operation into Tokyo until the typhoon has passed and any damage assessed. This will come as no shock to customers who will have been advised ahead of time.The subsequent impact on successive schedules will have been mitigated and the disruption contained within the immediate region and event.
Measuring the Effectiveness of the IOC
Given the nature of airline operations and outputs affecting thousands of customers, staff and external stakeholders, and the extensiveness and expense of resource use, systems need to be in place to measure the effectiveness of operational performance. Various measures may relate to functions associated with operations such as passenger check-in efficiency, airport gate performance, mishandled passengers and baggage, aircraft turn times, efficiency of ground-handling services and aircraft dispatch reliability. But the performance within the IOC may also be captured in a number of ways. Airline policies may well dictate the extent to which specific objectives need to be met. For example, OTP (which implies departures, but really incorporates arrivals as well) is a prime measure of the airline’s operational performance, and the IOC contributes to this function through its decision processes.
It is important to point out that while 100% OTP may be desirable, a result of 50% on a highly disruptive day with numerous cancellations, diversions and delays may in fact be a satisfactory result for an IOC. Data regarding OTP are generally gathered by government instrumentalities and/or commercial and research-based organisations, and are usually available publicly, which enables comparisons to be made between carriers and may therefore influence customer preferences. The information may contain metrics for the number of flights delayed across a network, by citv-pairs, or otherwise, in terms of numbers of flights and time delayed. International standards allow for 15 minutes grace before a flight is deemed to be delayed. Another form of measurement may be the level of flight cancellations. This is typically a function of the disruptors such as weather, mechanical, АТС and many other issues. Built into these data will be associated costs, both in terms of monetary and loyalty factors, but of course airlines with high levels of cancellation often are the target of the media.