It could have been worse!

Posted: 14 June 2013 | EUROCONTROL | No comments yet

The Network Manager was at its highest level of operational mobilisation in dealing with the considerable disruption caused by recent industrial action in France…

The Network Manager was at its highest level of operational mobilisation in dealing with the considerable disruption caused by recent industrial action in France. There were unprecedented levels of delay but excellent collaboration with the airlines, the military and air navigation service providers (ANSPs) helped mitigate the impact.

Aircraft operators and passengers sighed with relief when the two days of industrial action in France ended at 04.00UTC on 13 June 2013, a day earlier than initially planned.

The impact was unprecedented: 216,358 minutes of delay were recorded on Tuesday 11 June (this is equivalent to 57.2 minutes per delayed flight throughout the network) and 325,049 on Wednesday 12 June (an average of 78.7 minutes per delayed flight). To put these figures into context, since the beginning of 2013, only 18,434 minutes of delay average per day were recorded for the network.

On Wednesday the situation was even worse than it had been the day before and French airports started to face heavy congestion and stand rotation problems. As a result, thousands of passengers were stranded in airports.

But it could well have been worse!

The Network Manager and its staff in the Operations Centre (NMOC) were on the alert throughout. They held regular teleconferences with airlines and ANSPs to provide clarification and support as the situation evolved and as feedback from the French authorities were communicated to them.

Effective operational initiatives were taken as opportunities arose. The NMOC coordinated with all adjacent ACCs in coming up with these mitigating actions:

  • Several hundred rerouteing proposals were sent out on 11 and 12 June to help operators avoid French airspace – out of these, 50-60% were accepted
  • The oceanic routes – the so-called Tango routes avoiding French airspace to the west – were coordinated and made available for use with increased capacity to help traffic between Ireland, Spain, Portugal and the Canaries
  • The national authorities in Algeria and Tunisia approved a high number of flights through their airspace, so facilitating the workload of aircraft operators
  • Neighbouring ACCs generously offered their support, e.g.: Maastricht and Langen provided enhanced levels of staffing and took on extra traffic, which gave the network extra flexibility
  • The North Atlantic eastbound and westbound tracks structure was modified to avoid French airspace (except for flights to/from French aerodromes)
  • The Military Liaison Officers (MILOs) worked with all the stakeholders to reduce military activity in France, Belgium and Germany throughout the strike period
  • NMOC helped to prioritise departures to reduce stand congestion at major hubs and to allow inbound aircraft to disembark.

As all French ACCs had been requested to provide minimum service throughout the notified strike period (more or less 50% of the usual capacity), the industrial action translated into a significant number of regulations applied: 159 on Tuesday and 136 on Wednesday.

Those air traffic flow and capacity (ATFCM) measures are usually applied to resolve tactical capacity/demand imbalances which impact on the ATFCM daily plan (e.g. slot allocation, constraining airborne traffic etc.). On average, only 40-50 regulations are applied per day for Europe.

The aircraft operators were requested by the French DGAC to reduce their flying programmes by 50% at the most affected airports; the operators were able to choose which flights to cancel. In total, there were more than 5,000 cancellations over the two days, according to the French DSNA.

“The teleconference facility has greatly improved compared to previous telecons” commented United Airlines. Flybe provided feedback too: “Telcons were useful and well managed, with the right people on the line to answer questions. NOP very useful for running update of the situation, reference to relevant NOTAMS and the Q&A info along with the telecon minutes was helpful”.

This week gave the Network Manager an opportunity to measure just how far the network-centric mindset has evolved.

“The close, transparent contacts established with all partners helps fine-tune the global picture of the situation and facilitates efficient management; it enabled the Network Manager to come up with a coherent plan. There are still areas for improvement that have been identified and these will now be followed up”, said Joe Sultana, Chief Operating Officer of the Network Management Directorate.

“We thank all our partners and colleagues for the excellent spirit of collaboration. Your energy and expertise helped the aircraft operators and their passengers considerably, preventing a very bad situation from becoming a dreadful one”.

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