Unforeseen events in recent years have demonstrated the vulnerability of the European aviation system for emergency situations, in particular affecting safety. The level of disruption and impact on the air transport industry was unprecedented and required urgent action at both the European and global level.
Following the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland in April and May 2010, the European Union, led by the European Commission (EC) supported by EUROCONTROL, moved swiftly in the institutional area and used the lessons learned in this crisis to establish the European Aviation Crisis Coordination Cell (EACCC). A legal basis was given to the EACCC in Commission Regulation (EU) No 677/2011 of 7 July 2011 on the ATM network functions (under Chapter IV, Articles 18 and 19) which set the requirements for its establishment and the responsibilities of the Network Manager to support the EACCC.
EACCC is actively engaged in ensuring an improved level of preparedness in Europe for any kind of crisis potentially having an impact on air traffic. The main role of the EACCC is to support the coordination responses to network crises impacting adversely on aviation, in close cooperation with corresponding structures in States and aviation operational stakeholders. Its role also includes proposing measures and taking initiatives to coordinate the response to crisis situations, and in particular acquiring and sharing information with the aviation community decision makers in a timely manner.
The Actors: who's is in the EACCC as member?
The EACCC shall establish close relationships with States and Industry to coordinate crises activities. Permanent members of the EACCC shall consist of one representative of the Network Manager, the Commission, the Member State holding the presidency of the Council, EASA, Eurocontrol, the ANSPs, the Airports, the Airlines and the Military.
List of possible crisis situations
There is a non-exhaustive list of possible threats adversely affecting, directly or indirectly, aviation which can be declared as a crisis and would involve activation of the EACCC. These events are for example: volcanic ash dispersions, nuclear emissions dispersions, armed conflict, hazardous chemicals events, fire, security incidents (terrorism), airborne spread of diseases/pandemic, earthquakes, flooding, major failure of a pan-European function, industrial action or unavailability of several ANSPs, massive cyberattack, severe meteorological situations, shortage of fuel in Europe, threats from space (e.g. satellite, meteorite, etc…
What has happened so far? Crisis events (Volcano, Winter conditions, Ebola, MH17)
Volcano Eyjafjallajökull(2010). Since the volcanic eruption in April 2010, the European Guidance for volcanic ash disruption has been completely rewritten.
The ICAO Volcanic Ash Contingency Plan for Europe has been revised (final adoption December 2010), supplemented by the elaboration of new operational guidelines for the 'Management of Flight Operations with Known or Forecast Volcanic Cloud Contamination'.)
On Monday 23rd May 2010, the EU Crisis cell agreed to issue this operational guidance to EU Member States on how to implement the revised guidance in their response to this crisis. In practice, the new European approach provides a graduated response to ash, not one size fits all. Airlines submit safety risk assessments for their operations.
Member State Safety Authorities can then give permission (or not) to operate, based on the safety risk assessments submitted.
Guiding the work of airlines and Member States are the maps produced by the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre (VAAC) in London, supplemented by additional information from other sources as appropriate. The different risk threshold zones are clearly displayed on the maps showing: high ash density areas (red zone above 4 mg ash/ cubic metre), medium ash density areas (grey zone between 2-4 mg ash/ per cubic metre) and low ash density areas (blue zone below 2 mg ash/cubic metre) density areas of ash concentration.
Grímsvötn (2011) The eruption of Grímsvötn in May 2011 required full activation of the cell. On that occasion the EACCC applied collaborative decision-making to ensure comprehensive and coordinated actions across a number of aviation domains. The EACCC demonstrated its ability when formulating recommendations on actions to be taken in case of another volcanic eruption, recommendations that were the basis for the successful outcome of both the VOLCEX 11/01 exercise and the Grímsvötn eruption. Moreover, the cell has played a key role in facilitating the coordination and assurance of consistent messages on the status of the crisis, its management and evolution amongst the EACCC members, as well as working with the media.
MH17 (July 2014). The EACCC co-ordinated the response of the European airspace network to the partial closure of Ukrainian airspace on 17 July 2014 after Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down by a surface-to-air missile. The Network Manager has been working with surrounding countries to ensure that alternative routes are available and that there is sufficient capacity in the impacted air traffic control centres to manage the extra aircraft and ensure that there are as few delays as possible.
Ebola (August 2014-Spring 2015). The Network Manager and the EACCC were monitoring the evolution of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and its potential impact on European aviation. The focus was on coordinating, as far as possible, the actions of air traffic management partners and airports in support to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Commission and the national health authorities in EU Member States who were in the lead.
Preparedness Actions = Crisis exercises
The EACCC is used to conducting exercises to maintain the high level of preparedness for possible crisis events. Crisis exercises dealing with volcano ash clouds, cyber-security and nuclear incidents have already taken place.