Allied Air Command works with EUROCONTROL to make European skies safer

French Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Marie-Paule Verdier, an officer with the Operations Centre at Allied Air Command who coordinates joint NATO-EUROCONTROL action in an established COMLOSS task force discusses operational matters with Air Policing and Reporting Branch Head, Italian Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Maurizio Melis. Photo by Sébastien Raffin.
Jul 12, 2019
RAMSTEIN, Germany –Loss of communications (COMLOSS) of civilian airliners with civilian air traffic controllers is the main reason for the Alliance to launch alert fighter aircraft. The vast majority of these incidences are caused by human error.

In 2018, Allied Air Command via the Combined Air Operation Centres received more than 900 reports from the Nations’ about incidents where radio communications between a civilian airliner and civilian air traffic controllers had been lost. This causes a risk to other airliners because controllers are unable to control the COMLOSS aircraft and ensure secure flight operations. In almost one in ten of these incidents, Allied fighter aircraft are launched under NATO Air Policing procedures to fly up to the COMLOSS aircraft to verify the situation and visually provide instructions to the pilot to re-establish radio communications with the responsible air traffic controller.

"In February 2017, an Indian Boeing 777 on its way from Mumbai to London went COMLOSS over the Czech Republic and flew on into Germany for almost an hour without communications with air traffic controllers,” says French Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Marie-Paule Verdier, an officer with the Operations Centre at Allied Air Command who coordinates joint NATO-EUROCONTROL action in an established COMLOSS task force. "The incidents caused NATO to change the alert posture for some of their fighter jets and eventually resulted in the launch of two German Eurofighters,” she adds.

"Though the reason for the COMLOSS in this case was not reported, it is a fact that more than 75 percent of these incidents are caused by human errors, 15 percent by technical errors and 10 percent remain unknown,” explains Lieutenant Colonel Verdier. "This has huge implications for security and air safety and results in enormous costs both for civilian and military organisations. On average NATO launches their fighters six times a month to respond to reported COMLOSS events.”

A joint task force for COMLOSS has been established under the NATO/EUROCONTROL Air Traffic Management Security Coordinating Group – in short NEASCOG. The task force’s goal is to implement measures to reduce the main reason for COMLOSS: the human error. EUROCONTROL has started a campaign with airlines and air traffic controllers highlighting best practices and procedures and creating awareness among these communities.

"Since the events of 11 September 2001, COMLOSS has become a very serious security problem since controllers are unable to distinguish between simple communication failures and potentially dangerous reasons,” says Lieutenant Colonel Verdier. "Launching fighter aircraft in response to such events is a burden on scarce national resources dedicated to safeguarding Allied airspace,” she adds.

Story by Allied Air Command Public Affairs Office
 

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