IATA is coordinating efforts to ensure airlines, airport authorities, air traffic control (ATC) authorities and other key aviation stakeholders communicate critical information better when there is an incident that causes severe operational disruption at a major airport.

The effort stems from the chaos that was experienced at New York JFK Airport in early January when the US east coast was hit by a snow storm. During that so-called snow “bomb cyclone,” JFK saw more than 140 aircraft diversions and 1,000 cancellations. The operational chaos continued over two days, with passengers left stranded, separated from their bags and with no information on their flights.

An independent investigation, led by former US Transportation secretary Ray LaHood, was launched into the causes and background of the JFK’s storm-related failures, which included backed-up incoming aircraft waiting for available gates, a water pipe break and flooding of Terminal 4, a shutdown of Terminal 1 as ground equipment froze, and even an aircraft clipping incident outside T4.

In a speech Feb. 22 at the Aviation Day conference in New York, IATA director general and CEO Alexandre de Juniac said the association was working with stakeholders to dissect what happened and be better prepared for future extreme weather results.

“I think all stakeholders would agree that our collective response did not meet the expectations of the traveling public,” he said.

“I won’t pre-judge the results of these efforts. But one thing is already clear. We did not have enough processes in place to ensure that all parties had timely access to the same information on which effective and coordinated decisions could have been made.

“And it is imperative that we work with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the terminal operators, the ground service providers and others to create a more integrated approach.”

The JFK chaos was not unique in recent major US airport severe operational disruptions. In December, Atlanta Hartsfield was hit twice, first by a snow storm and then, 10 days later, by a complete electrical power outage. Former US Transportation secretary Anthony Foxx, who was among passengers stranded in an aircraft for hours during the power outage, tweeted that it was a “total and abject failure.”

A focus area for the IATA initiative is on improving communications between the airlines, airport authorities and ATC organizations.  

IATA regional VP-Americas Peter Cerda told ATW meetings are planned with FAA and the New York Port Authority. The goal, he said, is to align everyone better and take a proactive, system approach to communications when there is a major operations disruption. He pointed out that to get aircraft in the right place and to be able to get delay and cancelation-related information quickly to passengers, airlines must have useable information from the airports and ATC authorities.

De Juniac said, “Better communications is key in any disruption and it’s a weak point. The focus is on getting the right information to the right people at the right time.”

Karen Walker/ATW karen.walker@informa.com