Mission Critical Events

Mission Critical Events

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8673-1.ch003
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Abstract

Mission critical events are changing operational conditions that will have a significant impact on the mission. If they are specified correctly, one can begin to design meaningful crew station responses. This chapter is about how to make decisions that are appropriate for the environment; in this case, under increased time compression. The theoretical focus of decisions shifts the conceptual design of the decision analytic structure forward to the problem definition stage. In large-scale dynamic systems, getting the problem right is often the most difficult task of the operator and operational manager. Operational decision making (ODM) stands in visible contrast to conventional decision making, and conventional decision theory, in that among all classes of decisions, an operational decision is singular, and contains a number of unique components.
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Operational Definition

Mission critical events are current or emerging situations that can be encountered during the course of air operations that will have a significant impact on mission success. All mission critical events represent, to a certain degree, a rising risk profile. Such a risk profile must be addressed by the flight crew in a meaningful way so as to reduce risk levels or at least keep them from rising.

Risk or danger levels can be plotted on a graph called a risk continuum. An operationally relevant risk continuum will contain risk levels that are extreme, very high, high, high-moderate, moderate, and low.

Extreme risk represents mission critical events referred to as “catastrophe imminent.” These events are in the catastrophe cluster. All these events have one thing in common: if decisive action is not taken without delay, mission failure will occur.

Very high risk represents mission critical events that can be referred to as operational (safety) parameters have been exceeded. These events are contained within the exceeding cluster. All of these events have one thing in common: one or more of the specified operational parameters have been exceeded. A common term for these parameters is “op spec.”

High risk represents mission critical events that have caused a marked deterioration of the operational situation such that continuing with the original mission plan is no longer advised. These events are contained within the deterioration cluster.

High-moderate risk represents mission critical events that involve a deteriorating operational condition such that preparations need to be formulated for a possible abandonment of the current plan and a diversion implemented.

Moderate risk represents those conditions where concerning mission critical events have been encountered, do not rise above moderate risk, and can be dealt with by employing some adjustments to the ongoing operation.

To enable the reader to develop an operational understanding of mission critical events, the following actual scenario is presented.

The flight was planned from Baltimore Washington International Airport (BWI) to Chicago Midway (MDW). The weather in Baltimore was good but the Midwest was experiencing a winter storm and the forecast weather for MDW was marginal at best. Operating a Boeing 737, the dispatcher and flight crew planned an approach and landing on runway 31C at Midway. The weather at the time of arrival was moderate snow falling. Visibility was one half mile in snow and the ceiling was reported at two hundred feet (200'). Because snow was accumulating on surfaces, braking action advisories were in effect and were reported to be “fair to good.” The runway in use was six thousand feet long (6000') which was not long by modern airport standards. Further, the runway did not have safety overruns installed at the departure end. The airport was a concern to most experienced pilots. Surface wind at the airport was reported to be 160 degrees at 8 knots (kn). This represented a tailwind of 8 kn which was a major factor contributing to the accident (mission failure).

The flight crew was faced with the following mission critical events: 1) adverse wind conditions, 2) breaking action advisories in effect—that is, the breaking action on the landing runway was not good, 3) weather was deteriorating and approaching landing minimums—this required the flight crew to have previously selected an alternate airport of considerably better weather, and 4) a limited length runway with no safety overruns.

A very high risk mission critical event was present: the 8 kn tailwind. With breaking action advisories in effect, the maximum allowable tailwind was only 5 kn. This mission critical event was very high risk because operational parameters were being exceeded. The mission should have been terminated. However, it was not and it represents a serious challenge for the industry to understand and determine enduring corrective action.

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