SYNOPSIS A number of short-term, catastrophic failures of ATC system components e.g. Voice Communication Systems (VCS) and Flight Data Processing (FDP) at various European area control centres have occurred during recent months. In each case the ATC staffs have responded promptly and efficiently to ensure that safety was not jeopardised.
These successes serve as a useful reminder to other ANSPs of the value of being properly prepared to deal with emergency, degraded modes of operation and other unusual situations that might threaten the provision of safe air navigation services.
Provisions for dealing with emergency, degraded modes and unusual situations are covered by, inter alia, the following:
ICAO – Training Manual for Air Traffic Safety Electronics Personnel (ATSEP), Doc 7192. Advanced Edition 2009), Part E-2, Chapter 12 states, "Consequently, the requirement to provide periodic emergency training for all ATSEP is necessary to…ensure a timely response to a major failure or emergency situation that could jeopardize air traffic safety".
EU – EC Regulation 1108/2009 Annex Vb, 4 (c ) states that "an air traffic controller shall acquire and maintain the practical skills appropriate to exercise his/her functions. Such skills…shall cover…abnormal and emergency situations". It goes on to say at Annex Vb, 5 (a) (iv), "the service provider shall establish and implement a contingency plan covering emergency and abnormal situations that may occur in relation to its services''.
ESARR 5 Chapter 22.214.171.124 requires controllers to ''undertake periodical refresher and emergency training''.
Guidelines for the Competence Assessment of Air Traffic Safety Electronics Personnel says at para 8.2, ''Operational ATSEP should receive emergency/unusual situation training on a regular basis''.
Guidelines for Contingency Planning of Air Navigation Service, Edition 2.0, Chapter 10 states, ''it is essential that operational controllers and supervisors and their engineering/technical counterparts can react instantaneously to emergency events and unusual situations''.
Catastrophic failures of complete ATC systems (or parts thereof) are rare. Nevertheless, to maintain tolerable levels of safety during periods of abnormal operations (i.e. the ability to ''fail to safe''), it is essential that personnel connected with the provision of ATS are properly prepared to cope with a full range of situations. Recent experience has identified a number of common success factors:
Strategies, plans and procedures to deal with emergency, degraded mode and contingency operations should be in place. These need to be regularly reviewed and tested/exercised against relevant operational scenarios, e.g. equipment failures, airspace closures.
Formal refresher/continuation training regimes help prepare controllers, technical staff, supervisors and managers.
Controllers must have a basic awareness and understanding of the main ATC system components, their functionalities and limitations. Equally, engineering and technical staff must have an appreciation of the operational impact of system disturbances – intentional and unintentional. Teamwork across all disciplines is essential.
Swift communication (internal and external) is critical.
Inform neighbouring sectors (could be in another country) so that they can help relieve the situation if needed.
If necessary, inform the CFMU as early as practicable so that appropriate ATCFM regulations can be applied quickly and efficiently.
Letters of agreement, MoUs etc, checklists, emergency telephone numbers, standby facilities must be kept up-to-date if they are to be useful in potentially safety-critical situations.
In-built fallback capabilities improve overall ATM system resilience.
NSA oversight of contingency plans helps provide a focus on the investigation (severity and repeatability) and reporting of ATM Specific Occurrences as required by ESARR 2, Appendix A – 1.3.
YOUR ATTENTION IS REQUIRED
Air navigation services providers are invited to note the subject and share any relevant operational experiences concerning the issue described.
ICAO – Training Manual for Air Traffic Safety Electronics Personnel (ATSEP), Doc 7192. Advanced Edition 2009), Part E-2.
ESSIP Objective GEN 01 – Implement European ANS Contingency Measures for Safety Critical Modes of Operation.
ESARR 5 – Chapter 126.96.36.199.
Guidelines for Controller Training in the Handling of Unusual Incidents.
Guidelines for Contingency Planning of Air Navigation Service, Edition 2.0.
A White Paper – Resilient Engineering.
Managing System Disturbances in ATM, Edition 1.0.
Guidelines for the Competence Assessment of Air Traffic Safety Electronics Personnel.
ESARR 2 – Reporting of ATM Specific Occurrences
Risk Analysis Tool
ASSIST DVD – Emergency/Unusual Situation Training for ATCOs. http://www.eurocontrol.int/esp/public/subsite_homepage/homepage.html
Emergency and Contingency
Aircraft Emergency & Unusual Situations
Guidance on Degraded Modes Safety for Operational Engineering.
Scaring Engineers with Degraded Modes: The Strengths and Weakness of Action Research in Air Traffic Management.