I've just returned from a sensational week working for Air France in their 'Centre de Controle des Opérations' (CCO or OCC for us in the UK/US). I experienced all of the various roles around the area, including the commercial desk, working the short/medium/longhaul sectors, dispatching and working with ATC to monitor slots etc.
I'll begin with Monday 5th July 2004:
Monday - 0900hrs
I reported to the security department downstairs and handed over my passport to get my visitors' pass for the day. I was promptly met by the PNT for that day, Eric. The PNTs are basically part-time pilots who fly for part of the month, and then work in the CCO for some days to have experience in both ground and air jobs. They are all very high up in the airline, and so have many responsibilities and need to make decisions etc.
To begin with I was assigned to the long haul sector to work with a lady there. The workstation has a number of screens, usually 4 and sometimes 5 in places. One screen shows any delays for the specific division's flights, so for the long haul it was all the heavy aircraft such as the 777, 747, A330 and A340. On the next screen there is a very clear, informative program Air France use called SIROCCO. Basically this is a programme which gives you a pictorial view of the flights that your division is scheduled to do, on each different registration for the aircraft in the fleet. They are all colour coded, and so the whole screen is very easy to use. More about that later... On the centre screen you have a program that can be used to check loads, times of flights and comments related to a specific flight. You can also send messages via ACARS, and read ACARS messages aircraft send back to you. The fourth screen is a simple computer screen that is predominantly used to browse the CCO Intranet for any problems or to search for anything specific that the team may need to access.
The centre of the desk renders a comprehensive phone system, and on some stations around the CCO there is VHF radio to transmit messages to pilots. The phone has a heck of a lot of numbers in it of various people, for example the ROC (they handle customer relations when a flight is cancelled...within limits), the stations around the CCO and also Air France managers at all the airports they serve, so there is everywhere from Heathrow to Hong Kong and so on.
I cant remember dates now really, so I'll just write what I know
I also worked over at the Orly side of the CCO for an afternoon. They basically mimic what the CDG Mediumhaul people do, monitor flights and make sure everything is running ok etc. The SIROCCO system I mentioned previously comes in very handy for these parts of the CCO. Simply hover the mouse over a specific flight and you get information on the ETA, passenger capacity, passengers expected...turnaround time etc. For example, say a flight was delayed out, the scheduled time that the flight missed when it departed late goes light blue, and the real times a navy colour to show that the flight left late. Subsequently, one can look at the new estimated ETA and check to see if there is enough time to turnaround the aircraft without delaying the onward flights etc.
The SIROCCO system is also used to switch assigned flights for an aircraft around. The workers there can see if a switch is feasible and the best option. One feature of the system means that you can simulate the changed flights and predict any problems that may happen before they occur. Also if a flight needs to be cancelled due to weather for example, the users of the SIROCCO system can look at a flight and view how many passengers have connecting flights, their departure times on the same screen and to which destination they are traveling to (also the registration but that's not so important).
Another (very neat) feature of the CCO is the dispatch section. Several people work here, and one is assigned to monitor Americas flights, another for Asia etc. Their middle computer screen has a map of the world on it, zoomable to their operating region. On that map the most current weather can be downloaded, so for example say AFR006 to New York was going on NAT Charlie and the dispatcher noticed that there was severe (orange/red) turbulence on that specific track, he may send a message via ACARS to alert the crew and then its up to them if they want to change etc. However, dispatchers have no responsibility at all for any given flight, they simply watch and advise flights to help the pilots out by using an extra pair of eyes.
On Thursday I visited the PPV, this is the place where flights are planned. I worked with a lady to check a route and send it off to ATC in Brussels for a HKG-CDG flight. We checked the weights of the aircraft, checked the conditions for takeoff and landing and also the airports enroute in case of a diversion. We also needed to check the NOTAMs for airports enroute to make sure that they were available to be used, for example as enroute alternates or as ETOPS alternatives. We were working a 777 for the flight, and so we needed to check the route on the plotting chart and find suitable airports to nominate as ETOPS alternatives. Once the NOTAMs were checked for these airports and the green light given, we checked the TAFs as far ahead in advance as we could to make sure the weather would be suitable if it did come down to the aircraft having to divert to one of the alternates. Once again the weather was checked to be ok, and so we printed off the flightplan with calculated fuel for the trip burn, taxi and reserves (incidentally AF use a 3% figure when there is an ETOPS alternative selected and 5% when there is not) and sent it off to Brussels.
Anyway that's basically it. I just want to take this opportunity to thank absolutely EVERYONE I shook hands with during those 5 days. Thankyou for your hospitality, care and attention to an Englishman right in the heart of a French airline's operations! It really was an experience I will never forget, thankyou so much! Also to all the people I met who I haven't mentioned by name, thankyou also!
The week was designed to give me an insight into how the CCO works and what roles it plays in the running of the airline. The CCO is vital to an airlines' success, and those people who work there at CDG, and also those responsible for ORY are truly remarkable. They don't often get recognition because you would think that the pilots fly the flights and that's that. However, in fact there are literally tens and hundreds of people behind the scenes to make every effort possible to stick to the schedules and avoid delays and cancellations. Hats off to you!
Once again, thanks for the week and all the resources you kindly gave to me, also here is a photo I took out of the window whilst on a drinks break
Henry Lidster (next week BAA @ LHR )