Effectively Plan For Irregular Ops

How the C³ methodology in ACRP Report 65 can help airports improve passenger service in any situation


Over the past decade, passengers stranded on tarmacs or in terminals have caught the attention of the media, public watchdog bloggers, and politicians. These situations, called irregular operations (IROPS) events, disrupt flight schedules and passenger travel itineraries, often negatively impacting passenger service provided by the aviation industry.

In response, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) passed legislation targeted at both airports and airlines, including the DOT’s Enhancing Airline Passenger Protections rules in 2010, and the FAA Modernization and Safety Improvement Act of 2012. These efforts intend to promote mutual assistance in the aviation industry to alleviate the effects of IROPS on passengers.

To assist airports in complying with new regulations, creating newly mandated plans, and improving passenger service, the Transportation Research Board (TRB) funded and the FAA sponsored an Airport Cooperative Research Program (ACRP) project to produce ACRP Report 65: Guidebook for Airports Irregular Operations Contingency Planning. This guidebook, released in February 2012, helps airports develop both DOT-required tarmac delay contingency plans and individual airport IROPS response plans.

One Airport At A Time

During the nearly 24 months of research leading up to the publication of Report 65, the ACRP research team concluded that airports need to focus on more than just stopgap measures to make gates available for deplaning passengers during tarmac delays. Report 65 provides tools to assist an industrywide reform, one airport at a time.

The recommendations are based on a concept first coined by Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) management in 2007. The “C3” concept, which stands for “communication, collaboration, and coordination,” challenges airports to work in conjunction with other service providers, such as reliever airports, airlines, airport tenants, ground personnel, concessions, and government agencies including the FAA, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

“C3 enables all aviation service providers to bridge the gap between going it alone with individual plans to achieving an environment of partnering for success,” says Jim Crites, executive VP of operations at DFW. “When the industry works together to distribute diversions evenly across several airports, they realize a collective success in the eyes of passengers while achieving a cost-effective solution to maintaining the balance between supply and demand.”

This C3 philosophy is the driving force behind the tools and resources found in Report 65. It shows how airports can use local IROPS committees to involve all providers to formulate collaborative contingency plans for establishing shared situational awareness. Shared situational awareness is created when information is clearly communicated between all aviation service providers as needed to help these organizations ensure passenger needs are met.

Report 65 also shows how these committees can gauge plan effectiveness, which is an airport’s ability to respond to four categories of IROPS impact situations related to passenger service. These situations include: surge (passengers and aircraft), capacity (terminal and gates), after-hours (security and concessions staffing), and extended delay.

Comprehensive Guidance

Beginning in Part 1 – Fundamentals of IROPS Planning, the guidebook’s six chapters review the necessary steps for implementing C3 to improve airport response efforts. Part 2 – Resources, provides various topics and tools that can be used to achieve collaborative plan development as well as a sample IROPS plan. Three of the sections from Part 2, including Resource A – Topics for IROPS Plan Development, Resource B – Model IROPS Contingency Plan, and Resource C – Tools, are available on the ACRP project website in a Microsoft Word format that airports can download and tailor to their own circumstances.

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