Alerting based on Flight Plans

The concerned mother-in-law  

“Will you phone to let us know you’ve arrived safely?” Really you think it unnecessary, after all what can happen during the drive from Zwolle to Amstelveen? But you don’t want your mother-in-law to worry, so you do it anyway. 

We do exactly the same in aviation. Each flight submits an arrival report to air traffic control once it has landed so we know that everyone has arrived safely. Yet what happens if the arrival report is not submitted? In that case, an alert should be triggered at air traffic control. We call this alerting based on flight plans.

The challenge 

In the Netherlands, the alert task lies with LVNL and Military Air Traffic Control (Air Operations Control Station, or AOCS Nieuw Milligen). This is an obligation laid down in ICAO and EASA regulations. If an aircraft has still not submitted an arrival report 30 minutes after its expected arrival time, the uncertainty phase starts. This means that an immediate investigation is held into the aircraft’s location. Failing to submit an arrival report in time occasionally happens in recreational aviation. On behalf of Stichting KDC, To70 studied how the alert task works in practice and what improvements could be made.   

It could be improved 

Vincent Bijsterbosch of To70 explains: “The current processes, as long as they are implemented correctly, should work properly. Yet in practice these current processes fall short.” This has been demonstrated by an extensive questionnaire among pilots, airport managers at several airports and flight coordinators at aviation clubs. And by individual conversations with operational experts at LVNL. “Things generally go wrong when processing and addressing flight plans. People are also not always fully aware of their responsibilities. Finally, notifications to start the uncertainty phase are frequently not triggered.”   

System solutions could help 

System support can help, where necessary, to provide an alerting service in all cases.  Examples of this are available whereby notification of flight plans is processed automatically and sent on to the relevant airports. This type of system uses this information to check whether an aircraft has landed on time. If not, the person responsible for starting the uncertainty phase receives automatic notification. There are also systems on the market that compare the flight plan and the actual route flown.  

What is the next step? 

Bijsterbosch: “This preliminary study enabled us to chart the bottlenecks in the alerting service and to seek potential solutions. LVNL will use the KDC recommendations to decide which steps it will take to better embed the alerting service.”