Roissy Airport (France) (AFP)
Geopolitical crisis, cyber attack, meteorological event, passenger discomfort ... The Air France operations control center (CCO), with highly secure access, is the airline's "flagship" and manages all the vagaries possible, like the virus in China.
More than 500 people from 17 different trades take turns 24 hours a day in front of advanced tools, under the responsibility of a shift manager, to ensure flight safety - a thousand a day for Air France - and their smooth running.
Air France has suspended until further notice its service to Wuhan, the city in central-east China where the new coronavirus appeared, following a "Notam" (notice to airmen, message to airmen) by the Chinese authorities. A company flight, which arrived at Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport on Thursday, was one of the last to leave Wuhan, now confined.
It is at the CCO, located at the company's headquarters in Paris-Charles de Gaulle, that cancellations are organized and commercial measures implemented worldwide.
For the past year, a social media unit has been integrated into the center to monitor and feed social networks.
"Air France is closely monitoring the development of the situation and informing its passengers to and from China of the precautions recommended by the authorities," the company tweeted Friday morning.
It is also the most secure place in the company. "We filter the entrances and in times of major crisis we may have to close armored doors to make the place completely airtight," said Jean-Yves Chaumet, director of operations control at Air France.
- Crew contact point -
"The CCO is in a way the Air France control tower", from which we ensure that "all internal or external hazards have the minimum impact on our flight programs" for the comfort of passengers and the economy of the company, according to Mr. Chaumet.
Delays and cancellations weigh heavily both in terms of image and financial repercussions since they can generate compensation paid to passengers. The diversion of a flight will also have a financial impact.
There are many hazards: breakdown, sick crew somewhere in the world, airspace congestion, meteorological crises linked to typhoons, storms or heavy snowfall, volcanic ash, geopolitical crises, health crises, strikes, malaise passenger, or drone flying near an airport.
It is also at the CCO that the routes are prepared, then submitted for air traffic control approval. They will not, for example, avoid areas of turbulence and traffic jams in the European sky, explains François Roppé, supervisor of the "dispatch" unit.
Within the CCO, the "dispacher" is "the first point of contact of the crews" with the ground, once the doors of the plane are closed, continues Mr. Roppé.
It is in communication with the crew via the Acars system (Aircraft Communication Addressing and Reporting System) and over the long haul by satellite telephone link. It intervenes in particular in the event of major changes in the weather on the way.
Three times a day, a bell rings on the large platform to discuss hot spots.
"We are the beacon of the company, the CCO is always open and we must be able to manage storms," added Mr. Chaumet. "There is always something going on somewhere in the world," he adds.
But in the event of a major event - IT failure, climatic event, crash, etc. - the even more secure crisis center is open.
It was then an "army of the shadows" which was mobilized with around twenty experts on standby.
In 2019, this center will have been opened three times. Twice for computer breakdowns and once for health reasons, each time without consequences for passengers, says Mr. Chauvet.
© 2020 AFP