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How the U.S. Airlines Navigate Hurricane Season

The 2017 Atlantic Hurricane season has been particularly challenging, especially knowing that many of our friends, colleagues, and acquaintances have been directly impacted. For this reason, we are thankful to be in a position where we can help make a difference.

The A4A Air Traffic Management Desk serves our member community in many ways; however, our largest commodity is information. Coordination among the airlines, FAA and other agencies, along with local airport authorities moves at a fast and furious pace during an abnormal event such as a hurricane. Facilitating effective communication is critical.

For instance, FAA may base operational decisions regarding staffing and equipment on the projected schedules of the carriers. The carriers will plan their operations based on services available from a particular Air Navigation Service Provider (ANSP), conditions at the destination airport and demand for air travel and relief services. The airports in turn are responding to local and state officials and may be ordered to evacuate based on safety concerns–and we are all at the mercy of the weather. Everyone has a goal and purpose in this scenario. It’s our job to help maintain common situational awareness.

This is where the flow of communication begins. Aviation is a team sport, so long before a storm hits we work with the National Weather Service, airlines and FAA to monitor potential storm tracks and possible impact. We report up, down, and side to side knowing that the information we provide is making its way to executive levels within the industry and government. We make no assumptions. Speed counts, but accuracy is more important. We take pride knowing that we are a trusted source of information for many in our industry.

Hurricanes and other natural disasters have no schedule, but they do dictate ours. It makes no difference if a storm chooses to hit at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, or 4 a.m. on Sunday. We are prepared to adjust accordingly and work with our industry colleagues who demonstrate the same professionalism and dedication.

Taking apart an airline schedule is no small task; putting it back together is a monumental undertaking. After a storm hits, communication becomes more challenging as infrastructure is lost and service levels reduced or curtailed. How is the airport? Are employees safe? What was the extent of the damage? Are Air Traffic Management services affected? Can we operate to and from the airport to provide relief flights? So many things must happen to enable air service. Aviation is a vital link for those in the wake of the storm to begin a recovery process that may often take months or even years.

Getting the right information in the hands of those that need it is a very fulfilling task. The days can sometimes be stressful and long, but pale in comparison to the experience of those in the direct path of a hurricane. Watching the recovery efforts from the Command Center provides a look at many things I would have never considered before starting to work here. Now as events take place, whether it be a hurricane, blizzard, tornado, earthquake, fire, flood, or other man-made disaster, we have a very different perspective and a newfound appreciation for the efforts that take place behind the scenes by so many.

We are proud to represent, and advocate for our member airlines and partners from the operations floor of the FAA Air Traffic Control System Command Center.

This post was written by Frank Oley, Director of Airline Operations at Airlines for America.

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