At the heart of flight operations
The lights never go out on first floor of the Eurowings building on Cologne’s Waldstraße. This is the Integrated Operation Control Center (IOCC), the 24/7 nerve centre of the airline’s entire flight operations.
The IOCC team has everything in its sights: all Eurowings’ planes are in constant view, day and night, whether the aircraft are flying or on the ground. Monitors dominate the open-plan office, with at least six screens flickering on most of the 50 or so desks. Some have even more, and all of them are necessary so that staff can see what is happening at all times. The challenge for them is to be able to immediately react to the smallest unanticipated alterations in flight operations.
Each day, around 3,000 flight schedules are produced and given via tablet to the pilots on their journeys. Each schedule includes a route plan, fuel calculation, other current information and much more. The IOCC watches over everything so that millions of passengers a year arrive punctually at their destinations.
The Control Center’s tasks are strictly allocated. “For example, the Operation Control Center, OCC for short, makes sure that every plane is in the right place at the right time,” explains IOCC director Jörn Messner. “Plus, the availability of pilots and cabin crews for each plane also has to be coordinated. That is the Crew Control (CC)’s responsibility. But that’s not all: we also have a PCC, meaning our Passenger Control Center. Among other things, it serves as an interface for local bases, foreign airlines, operators, call centres and passenger/ground services during daily business, and offers local base support on all passenger-related issues.”
The OCC, CC and PCC are all united under the IOCC roof in Cologne. There is also close collaboration with colleagues in the Maintenance Control Center (MCC) who are responsible for aircraft technology and maintenance. “Because safety is always the top priority,” Messner says. The many things that can be planned include the number of aircraft, flight destinations, dates such as the start of holidays, and much more. But much is out of the IOCC team’s hands. The experts call them “irregs” meaning unforeseeable irregularities. “For example, it can be that a bad weather front forces us to amend our schedule,” explains Messner. And the weather is not the only unknown. The IOCC boss points to a radar display that shows the airspace over Europe. “We are not alone,” he says. “The first half of last year saw the greatest ever number of flights in German airspace. This is causing increasingly frequent bottlenecks, like traffic jams in the sky. They also mean we cannot always keep our quality promise with regard to punctuality.” The weekends in particular are affected when everyone seemingly wants to travel to the Mediterranean at once in fine weather. “But regardless of the cause, if the system gets disrupted, our goal is to get the schedule back on track as fast as possible,” says Messner.