Recent technical issues across the air traffic control (ATC) sector have affected flights in international airspace but also outlined some important lessons in business continuity, software testing and communication. Here we outline some of the issues and what they mean for the wider business community.

If ATC Software Breaks

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Every Industry Needs Communication

In December, 2014, the ATC industry suffered a massive communication problem when the computer system for England and Wales used to provide information to the controllers was disrupted. The failure affected all London airport departures as well as European flights routing through UK airspace and lasted for around five hours. The post-incident report outlined how the lead aircraft pilot was receiving information via his passengers’ access to Sky News. If ever there was a lesson in needing communication in the event of a failure, this was it.

The Requirement for Resilience

The National Air Traffic Service (NATS) was informed after the incident that contingency and resilience requirements along with those for business continuity were absolutely required to be set out in consultation with other stakeholders with an interest in the system’s success. Indeed, this is a lesson for all industries, and more information on resilience testing can be found here:

Without clear agreement and communication of requirements, system failures can quickly become a huge problem. It might also seem that had more effective software testing services from organisations such as been utilised, the initial problem may not have arisen.

Technology Is Only as Good as Planning

Recently, South Africa’s Tambo Airport had its own issues following a reconfiguration of the layout of their technical centre to install new equipment. This led to a communication intermission. Communication between aircrews and controllers was interrupted, and the post-event review stated that risk mitigation was essential in ensuring the situation was not repeated.

The questions raised by these case studies have universal application across many industries. In fact, for any industry that implements software changes, three key lessons are apparent. First, that technology changes and planning go hand in hand – failure to plan really is to plan to fail. Next, that you cannot over-think your resilience testing provision, and nor can you get too much agreement from other stakeholders. Finally, if the worst happens, you need an effective and efficient communication strategy.

By ZsuNC

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