Where it all happens: the Virgin Atlantic IOCC

The Virgin Atlantic IOCC

Have you ever wondered why it might take eight hours to fly to a destination but only seven hours to fly back? What happens if a plane needs to be diverted en route? How do we calculate how much fuel to put in our aircraft? And who makes sure we have enough crew members in the right places, at the right times? The answers to all these questions and more can be found in the nerve centre of Virgin Atlantic – the Integrated Operations Control Centre, or IOCC – so we bagged ourselves some behind-the-scenes access to find out more.

Getting you ready to fly

The day has arrived. Your bags are stowed, your seatbelt fastened and your armrests are down. In a few short minutes you’ll be pushing back from the gate and taxiing towards the runway, inching ever closer to your final destination.

But getting your flight to this point is an intricate process – one that continues throughout your journey until the moment you depart the plane. And it all depends on our dedicated Customer, Engineering and Operations Control teams, who work closely together to co-ordinate every last detail.

Based at our West Sussex headquarters, the IOCC operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Most people in the Control Centre work a four-day shift pattern, working around the clock to maintain our on-time performance standards and dealing with every conceivable eventuality that comes their way.

The whole process is dependent on an enormous amount of teamwork and co-operation, with various sub-teams focusing on different aspects of your flight – but the collective goal is to make sure we deliver you safely and efficiently to your Virgin Atlantic destination.

Atlantic tracks

The tracks used by airlines crossing the Atlantic to the east coast.

The power of planning

So who can we find in the IOCC? In simple terms, it breaks down into a three-pronged effort. First of all, our Engineering team look after the logistical and supply chain issues relating to our planes, alongside planners and qualified engineers who are in constant contact with pilots and other engineers on the ground, evaluating and rectifying any technical issues that may arise. They’re also responsible for ensuring any requested parts are in the right place at the right time, and planning when aircraft come into and out of the hangar for general maintenance.

Sitting alongside Engineering, the Operations function is made up of Ops Control, Crew Control and Flight Planning sub-teams. These clear-thinking multi-taskers are the people who manage the overall flying programme, often dealing with numerous conflicting priorities at once – but always working tirelessly towards their ultimate goal: safely making sure you take off and land on time.

The pivotal Ops Control team work in pairs – a controller and an officer – and deal with everything from recording accurate departure and arrival times, to communicating with departure airports and airborne Virgin Atlantic aircraft to keep things on track and solve any issues that may arise. On top of that, they’ll also monitor global meteorological conditions to assess the impact of adverse weather on the punctuality of our flights, and reschedule sectors in real time following any delays or diversions.

The average shift is varied, interesting and can be high-pressure, especially if something unexpected happens mid-flight, like a medical incident or news of worsening weather at the arrival airport. It takes a special kind of person to do this role well, so if this type of work appeals to you, take a leaf out of Marton Sebesta’s book. As one of our Operations Officers, Marton has exactly the right skills and temperament for the job – he’s a calm lateral-thinker who’s more or less unflappable – which goes a long way when your entire day is spent managing multiple live flights simultaneously.

Operations Officer Marton Sebesta

Operations Officer Marton Sebesta

The responsibilities of our Crew Control team are equally complex. These are the puzzle-solvers and jugglers who have day-to-day oversight of our available cabin crew, making sure we maintain the correct complement of qualified crew members for every flight, in every destination. The team are responsible for adhering to Union, Civil Aviation Authority and our own company requirements when it comes to crew duty hours, as well as managing all crew hotel and transportation requirements and quickly reorganising rosters in the event of any delay or disruption.

Flight Planning is the final piece in the Operations jigsaw. This is the team responsible for efficiently planning the fuel needs of every individual flight, and providing flight plans for all aircraft operations worldwide using a computerised flight planning system as the principal tool. To say it’s a finely balanced enterprise is an understatement. Although preset criteria determine an optimised geographic route – with a number of built in, preordained ‘motorways’ across the Atlantic or other parts of the world – it’s up to the team to produce a final document for pilots and air traffic control. To do this, they’ll overlay a 30-hour long range weather forecast onto the route map and consider factors such as aircraft performance capabilities, wind speed and direction, head and tail winds, air temperature and so on. Only then can they come up with a plan which details the exact navigational route, including speed, altitude, and alternate airports in the event of an emergency or diversion. It’s another crucial and diverse role in the IOCC, and like Flight Planning Officer Luis Saward-Anderson, you’ll need to be an amazing communicator with incredible attention to detail if it’s a career you’re interested in pursuing.

Flight Planning Officer Luis Saward-Anderson

Flight Planning Officer Luis Saward-Anderson

The remaining desks in the IOCC are occupied by the Customer team, which includes a global ticketing officer and our social media department. Their primary function is to make sure you’re always kept informed about any issues which may occur from time to time, and advise you on your options  including details about your rights and compensation if appropriate. They’ll always help get you on your way if any part of your flight needs re-booking, and may organise transportation or hotel accommodation in the event of any substantial delay or diversion. It’s very much a consumer-focused team, so you’ll need fantastic people skills if you ever want to come and join them!

Keeping a careful watch over everything that goes on in the IOCC is one of the IOCC managers.

Find out more

Got a burning question about anything you’ve read so far? If there’s something you’ve always wanted to know about our aircraft operations, leave us a message in the comments below and we’ll try and follow up in a future post. And if you think you’ve got what it takes to work in our IOCC, remember to regularly check the Virgin Atlantic Careers Page to see if any roles become available.

About Maxine Sheppard

Maxine is the co-editor of the Virgin Atlantic blog. Travel and music are her joint first loves, and despite having written for Virgin for more years than she cares to remember she still loves nothing more than jumping on a plane in search of new sights and new sounds.
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