Careers on the ground - Operations Control Centre
When passengers board an aircraft, they know its destination. But the route the plane will take to that destination is dependent on many variables so each journey must be planned with precision.
Our flight planners carefully consider the changing weather conditions, multiple countries' airspaces and fuel considerations to guide each aircraft efficiently to its destination. The team in the Operations Control Centre need to react quickly to change and think on their feet under time pressure.
There can be a lot of change, and a lot of things to take into consideration. Ireland is at the edge of Europe. Five minutes after take-off, a plane is probably in UK airspace, which is very expensive. Our flight planners are constantly monitoring our planes are allowed to fly and where there are restrictions which could be imposed either by International Air Traffic Controls or by weather. And then, once they know the possibilities, they must chose the most efficient and economical route.
They vary. Sometimes there might be air show restrictions. There could be military zones. Air Traffic control in one particular country might be on strike. And sometimes there are restrictions in areas for other special events like for example the Olympics. Things can actually change from hour to hour, especially when you do take the weather into account. So there can be all sorts of reasons for us to have to take an alternative route.
Well we try to be clever about how we manage our costs. We are an industry leader when it comes to negotiating constantly with Air Traffic Control about the cost of airspace. We also try to be as innovative as possible about minimising other costs. We have a fuel analyst, working constantly on how to get the best value on a particular routing, and we are always looking at ways to lighten the load on any given aircraft. Changing to lighter glassware, printing menus on both sides, and putting lighter paper into the menus all help to bring our fuel costs down.
Well, we make sure to wash the engine to get better performance, the same with the body of the plane. We clean the carpets regularly so they won't retain heavy dust, and we don't carry water that we don't need. We are always looking for ways to lighten aircraft payloads, and thereby save on fuel.
Running late costs money. There are overtime costs if we go out of crew time. So we do everything we can to optimise punctuality. We keep an eye on boarding times also. It is really important to get a plane turned around and to pushed on time for its next departure. We have to keep track of how the schedule evolves on a daily basis, and then try to analyse and resolve issues as they arise. It's a bit like being a detective.
Absolutely. So many things can go wrong that we just can't control: snow, ash clouds, a crash somewhere, a broken aircraft, or there could be a fuel leak at an airport. But if that leak leads to a closed runway, it means a big disruption. So we are very aware of the fact that when there is a disruption, we need to recover. We do a lot of work on building a really strong recovery model and constantly developing our emergency response plan. A team of 300 people is available in the case of a major crisis. We do a major crisis dry run twice a year, and a minor dry run twice a month.
That is our problem too. We get the schedules some time in advance, but if, on the day, someone can't make it, it is us that they call, and it is up to us to get a replacement. So we have someone working on crew resources all the time. They would also be the person to organise putting crew up abroad if a plane breaks down, and they would hire in a plane with a crew if we are short.
We are. We are the people who make sure that all the correct documentation is on every aircraft.
We find it quite hard to recruit flight planners. There is a requirement for a real understanding of flight and an airline's operation. Flight dispatchers have that, and some of our planners come from that area. We also have some people who perhaps have done some pilot training and are interested in that area. We do give our planners a very comprehensive training ourselves however, and we believe we offer them an exciting, exacting and really fulfilling job at the very heart of a great airline's operation.