Behind every Emirates flight that arrives and departs on time, there’s a control centre that never sleeps.
Dubai-based Emirates airline carries the most international traffic of any airline across the globe. This translates into more than 3,600 flights each week and 520 flights each day to 158 destinations across six continents. Each flight is monitored by its 24×7 Network Control Centre, also called its ‘nerve centre’.
“For the financial year 2018-19, we carried approximately 59 million passengers across the Emirates global network. Each one of those passengers would have been managed and watched over by the Network Control Centre here in Dubai,” said Nathan Thomnas, Manager, Operations Control at Emirates airline. “The busiest times of the day for our operations are undoubtedly in the morning from about 6:30am to 11:00am. We are also very busy during the night with arrivals from about 10:30pm to 1am. After that we immediately get into a busy departure period from 1am to 4:30am.”
The control centre has 65 staff on duty at any given time. Each of them works four days a week in 12-hour shifts. They ensure flight planning, scheduling, ground-handling, baggage services, airport services, air traffic control and other support departments work in unison to keep the operation running seamlessly. The centre keeps a close watch on breaking news, weather patterns and traffic flows around the world.
Last year, Emirates operated over 192,000 flights, with its fleet of 274 aircraft travelling more than 908 million kilometres across the globe. It also moved close to 36 million pieces of baggage to its global network.
Next time you fly Emirates, keep in mind that behind every flight that arrives and departs on time, there’s a control centre that never sleeps. Here’s a look at some of its key services.
The flight dispatch team continuously monitors on route weather and airport conditions including last minute runway closures due to activities at the airport that’s out of Emirates’ control. Network Control Centre keeps a close watch on these elements to provide support to their operational crew and ensure that those flights operate on schedule.
The centre has uses a number of tools, both in public and private domain, to continuously monitor any change in the weather both on route destinations and departure stations. This enables the flight dispatch team to plan and react, if need be, to elements such as reduced visibility, strong wind conditions and thunderstorm activity.
Flight diversions and emergency landings
In case of any diversion, the centre coordinates and finds out the best suitable alternative as the airport chosen for diversion must be able to handle up to 600 passengers on an aircraft, one of Emirates’ high density A380s.
Thomas said “We would certainly have a medical diversion at least once or twice a month, considering that we carry 59 million passengers a year. Customers with a suspected stroke or heart attack are generally the most common cause for an immediate diversion. We at Emirates have access to two resources: an in-house medical assistance service is based at the Network Control Centre and we also use the services of a company based in the United States that is able to provide us with in-flight medical guidance. It allows us to make a well-judged decision about whether or not a passenger needs urgent medical assistance or whether the condition can be monitored and contained till we reach our destination.”
He added that the primary reason for any diversion in Dubai to Dubai World Central (DWC) is more often that not low visibility. “In this modern day and age, all of our aircrafts and airports are capable of landing in almost zero visibility. The only challenge is that we cannot maintain the same arrival flow rate into Dubai under those conditions. So as opposed to being able to land approximately 35 or 36 flights per hour, we are restricted to landing 12 to 14 flights per hour. This is because of the increase in separation. We basically don’t have enough fuel in an aircraft to wait for that long. Consequently, the aircraft diverts to Dubai World Central, uplift additional fuel and return to Dubai as quickly as possible. The fog generally arrives from 4am to 6am and it clears no later than 10am. We can expect 5 to 10 diversions because of that extended inbound holding.”
The crew control team at the Network Control Centre looks after approximately 27,000 crew members on duty including 22,000 cabin crew and 4,000 flight crew. They deal with last-minute sickness, flight disruptions and they are responsible for finding suitable replacements for crew members who they are not able to make it to a certain flight.
If you think of 59 million passengers travelling, you can safely assume that each passenger has a bag. Some travel with a lot more and some travel with less. The control centre’s baggage services team spends a lot of time in planning where the bags are loaded on the aircraft. They also make sure that passengers with tight connections have their bags loaded in a convenient place that can be easily accessed on arrival.
The hub control team is responsible for monitoring and managing all the transfer activity in Dubai. They look at late running services, liaising with appropriate personnel if passengers need hotels because of missed flights. The team ensures that the staff meeting that flight have that information in advance and are able to provide the best level of customer service to the passengers who have been displaced due to a late running flight.