How much should ATM contingency cost?

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The UK is famous for stuttering to a standstill at the first sight of snow whilst our Nordic neighbours revel in it for most of the winter.

When it comes to paying our taxes we are pleased not to pay for a snow plough that hasn't been used for years; but when it actually snows the local Council is flooded with angry tweets long before the snow has thawed.

Risk investment strategy for low frequency events is always problematic – more so in aviation where the consequences of a failure to invest can be catastrophic.

Air traffic management is a very safety-conscious business – systems have built-in redundancy, back-up generators, continuous monitoring etc, all to ensure a high level of service continuity. But no system is 100% fool proof. Abnormal events will occur and ANSPs have to be ready to deal with them … as well as the backlash from service disruption.

In the same way that national policy informs investment decisions for snow clearance, policy-makers have a role to play in establishing investment levels for ATM contingency.

Do you invest in technical resilience or contingency arrangements or both? Computer hardware is getting more reliable and generally system failures are rare. So ask yourself, rather than have a costly contingency alternative that is never used, could you invest more in 'resilience' and accept that a 1 hour per year disruption is an acceptable cost for the saving you make?

If you do go for contingency arrangements, what level of service should be provided? 100%? 50%? This is not a decision solely for the ANSP – the impact of the on-going disruption is borne by the national economy, the passengers and the airlines. It is up to policy-makers to ensure that the proposed solution defines both what it costs and the level of disruption to be endured if the contingency arrangements are required.

An unfortunate consequence of today's more connected world is that new low frequency/high impact events need to be mitigated. The one grabbing the headlines at the moment is cyber-security. How do you defend against this risk? How much should you pay? How do you integrate with national agencies defending against such attacks?

There are no easy answers: ANSPs must work with government, regulators and users to ensure that investments are understood along with the potential impact of not investing more.

My colleagues Matt Shreeve, Adam Parkinson and Glen Smith have recently written a brochure to help build understanding in this area. Please visit them at Stand #333 at World ATM Congress to pick up a copy and join in the debate.

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