ACI event facilitates the sharing of industry challenges and recognises how mutual co-operation is key to a successful future.

Top airport and industry experts convened in Seoul last week for the ACI World Annual General Assembly at a time when sharing lessons learned through experience and working in co-operation is seen as the way forward.

This year’s event was held in Seoul, with the theme of ‘Airports: Serving the customer and the community’. ACI members represent 95% of the world’s passenger traffic and over 1000 attended the event that included presentations, panel discussions and an exhibition hall bringing together airports, service providers and other businesses.

I spoke at the event on the topic of airspace resilience and the way we handle disruptive events and some of the lessons we have learned from, for example, the Olympics and the Icelandic volcanic eruption in 2010. We all learn lessons through experience and it’s important to share this with colleagues from across the globe to help address similar challenges we each face.

Eyjafjallajokull in Iceland erupting.

Eyjafjallajokull in Iceland erupting.

Disruptive events can come in the form of the good, those that are planned and therefore can be controlled. The bad, such as natural disasters and unforeseen events that have to be dealt with immediately, and the ugly, which include system failures and events within the service provider’s control.

As part of the London 2012 Olympic games we knew that half a million overseas spectators and 70,000 Olympic attendees would be arriving on scheduled services. Planning for this took four years of intensive partnership working that included engaging with the UK military, airports and airlines in order to manage the surge in air traffic and our provision of services. Maintaining levels of safety whilst minimising delays is something we all strive to achieve on a daily basis but this becomes more critical for the success of global events that require services to operate beyond a ‘normal’ schedule.


In contrast, the eruption of the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull in 2010 was the most disruptive event ever to affect European airspace, causing a 75% cut to airline capacity in Europe (and 30% worldwide) over 22 days. Up to 19,000 flights were cancelled every day across Europe leaving 10 million people stranded. Although it’s impossible to plan for the exact timing of natural disasters and how the impact might be felt there is always the possibility to build a contingency based on lessons learned from similar passed events.

Preparation and planning – the key to success

Some solutions lie in the use of temporary controlled airspace and others by co-working with the military but all require open, on-going communication.

In complex airspace the more you plan for both specific occasions and any unforeseen events, the more you can minimise the negative impact on operations.

Collaboration and communication with customers, neighbours, regulators and policy makers is essential. In the UK we have ATICCC (Air Traffic Incident and Co-ordination Cell), a single point of information for air traffic management, which is effective for both planned and unplanned events and ensures all parties are kept updated throughout the course of events.

It is not always possible to predict a disruptive event, particularly in the case of natural disasters. However, with effective communication and collaboration across the industry, we can plan the most effective actions to take and ensure we are well prepared to handle any challenges that the future might hold.


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