New procedures for bad weather over Alps

Multinational air traffic management experts working in some of the busiest, most congested airspace in Europe have come together to develop a set of cross-border procedures to deal with adverse weather conditions in the Alps in an effort to lessen their impact on Munich Airport.

Arrivals from the south of Munich Airport are regularly impacted by very specific weather conditions in the Alps which often occur unexpectedly.

Flights to Munich Airport have to be routinely re-routed to the upper airspace controlled by Karlsruhe UAC at short notice which increases the operational complexity of already overloaded sectors as these flights do not fit into the standard profile of Munich’s inbound traffic streams.

Thunderstorms in the Alps have also been increasing over recent years. In the first half 2018, traffic to Munich Airport was affected on 17 days – a far higher figure than the 16 days experienced during the whole of the previous year.

To deal with this situation, experts from the control centres in Karlsruhe, Munich, Padova, Vienna and Zurich developed new procedures to stabilise the network, to reduce the workload in Karlsruhe UAC and – most importantly – to increase safety under adverse weather conditions.

Under the new procedures, controllers working in Padova, Vienna or Zurich distribute traffic to three additional fixed routings via airspace controlled by Karlsruhe, Zurich or Vienna. In addition, descent areas have been defined to ensure a smooth inbound flow to Munich airport.

To increase predictability, an automated data exchange has been set up and briefings organised to agree upfront on the scenarios to be applied. All partners involved have signed specific Letters of Agreement.

Andreas Pötzsch, director of en-route and approach at DFS said: “This is an excellent example of how operational experts are working in common and across borders to develop tailored solutions for the benefit of the network.”

Gaetano Longo, head of Padova area control centre at ENAV added: “Bad weather operations often need a coordinated cross-border management. The weather initiative permits early predictability that creates increased operational flexibility, not only at local level but among adjacent units too.”

Martin Pötsch, operations manager at Austro Control said: “Severe weather operations remain one of the biggest challenges across the Alpine region. With this new procedure, five ACCs/UACs are able to improve their service quality for flights arriving to Munich airport during severe weather, while keeping high safety standards. The co-operative approach of all stakeholders involved may be seen as a role model for other airports or areas effected by frequent weather disruptions.

René Lehner, head of skyguide’s Zurich area control centre, added: “Operations in the Alpine area are become increasingly interlocked. We welcome this co-ordinated approach to resolving problems by making use of available data exchange technologies which benefit the whole network.”

The weather initiative is an example of member countries of Functional Airspace Blocks or FABS coming together at an ‘interFAB’ level. Austria is a member of FAB CE, one of seven ANSP sitting in the heart of Europe and managing critical air traffic flows across the continent while Germany and Switzerland are members of FABEC – one of the busiest and most complex airspace regions in the world while Italy is a member of the BLUE MED FAB.