On the morning of Monday the 18th November, the long dormant volcano Vesuvius erupted. Among all the consequences of the eruption and following ash cloud that quickly formed, parts of the Italian airspace initially closed for all traffic and Italy activated their National Aviation Crisis organisation. The eruption continued over to Thursday and increased the ash cloud affecting all of Italian Airspace. When the cloud was predicted to eventually cover a larger part of southern Europe, the European Commission activated the European Aviation Crisis Coordination Cell (EACCC) to start coordinating state actions towards minimising consequences to aviation by Wednesday morning. The EACCC activated the Aircraft Operators Crisis Coordination Cell (AOCCC) to be operational at the same time.
This was the start up scenario for the ICAO Volcanic Exercise 2019, or VOLCES19. As an annual exercise, some of this year’s key objectives were:
- Testing the effectiveness of national and local procedures.
- Exercise origination, dissemination and use of aeronautical/metrological information such as VA SIGMETS, NOTAM and Special Air Reports from aircrafts via VHF, CPDLC and SATCOM.
- Exercising and evaluating crisis coordination between various stakeholders through the EACCC and the AOCCC and testing the ATM responsiveness to needs of Aircraft Operators operational flexibility.
The European Commission created the EACCC as a consequence of the uncoordinated actions throughout Europe following the eruption of Eyafjallajökul in 2010. The intention of the EACCC is to coordinate actions taken by states in a situation that disrupts air traffic significantly and affects a major part of EU airspace. The EACCC is chaired by the Network Manager. Simultaneously, the AOCCC was created by initiator IATA to have aircraft operators’ representatives in the Network Manager Operations Centre (NMOC) during a crisis as an additional resource for the NM and operators to effectively deal with a crisis to the ATM system.
The AOCCC desk was manned by two AOCCC members for this exercise, Johan from EBAA and Nigel from United Airlines Chicago dispatch office. Both are recent members of the AOCCC and it was the first time they participated in an AOCCC exercise. The specific duties for AOCCC are to maintain a general info flow to/from aircraft operators, contribute to operational teleconferences management, assist in follow up of help desk incoming queries, ensure that flight planning info is sent out appropriately and assist with flight planning suggestions to circumnavigate closed areas.
There was participation to a various degree by many of the European airlines, big and small, unfortunately there was no participating business aviation operators this year. Participation varied from just testing their own internal information channels and organisation to actively engaging. Participants had their crews send prepared special air-reports on ash and requests for relaxation of restrictions during the coordination conference calls.
The practical work during the exercise for the AOCCC members involved liaising with participating aircraft operators and with the Aircraft Operators Liaison Officers (AOLO) in the NMOC, a function that is part of the day-to-day work in the NMOC. Also, the exercise duties included updating and working with the NMOC and EVITA tool in a hands-on way. One thing that emerged as a representative for EBAA was that NMOC does not have contact details for many of the Business Aviation operators in its system, especially not their crisis or emergency response contacts. EBAA have offered to collect those details and make them available to the NMOC. If you as operators have an email contact and/or a phone number to be used in cases like this send that to email@example.com and we will keep an updated list available. More on tips and tricks for our operator members regarding contact with NMOC and flight planning not directly related to VOLCES19 in another article in BSafe.
Next year there will be a bigger exercise VOLCES20, 10 years after Eyafjellajökul, where the EU Commission have taken a leading role. It will be a longer exercise with planned media coverage. The scenario will be based on the same event as it happened 10 years ago. Giving the possibility to compare actions taken and the consequences then to now with the, since then updated and implemented, new measures such as EUR/NAT Volcanic Ash Contingency Plan, SRA procedure, EACCC, AOCCC etc.