Technical Infrastructure: The Special Observing Period of the Mesoscale Alpine Programme started Sept.7, 1999, after a preparation period of less than 2 years. Details of requirements of the participating groups became available only during spring and summer of 1999, so that detailed planning of the infrastructure at the MOC, comprising the premises at the airport and at the Student Hostel could not be finalized until June 1999. The hot planning and installation phase was thus reduced to about 3 months. As many of the rooms were not available for installation of the technical infrastructure until July, these installations had to be carried out within a few weeks only.
Accommodation, Services: Requests for office space, rooms, vehicles and personal facilities (mobile phones, equipment etc.) again kept coming in and were subject to modifications right into the beginning of the SOP, making the provision of these a sometimes hair-raising exercise. Thanks to the flexibility and helpfulness of all our partners, most problems could be solved in time, however.
Figure 1. Main entrance to the student hostel—located at Innsbruck airport—which hosted the main briefing room and the scientist’s room at the MOC. It also provided convenient accommodation and private office space for the par-ticipants.
Administrative Preparations: Requests for dropsonde deployment permission, diplomatic clearances, fuel tax waivers, airport operating hours extensions, and customs regulations were made during spring and summer of 1999, but some procedures took considerably longer than expected. All permission and clearance, however, came just in time for the experiment, although some required considerable extra efforts and interventions to have them in a timely fashion. A request to the supervisory board of Innsbruck Airport to have the extra fees for landings after 8 p.m. waived came in after the start of the experiment, but oral assurances were given in time that the request would be granted.
Preparations for aircraft support crews: Spare parts, computer equipment, and workshop facilities were delivered by seatainers and airfreight containers some days before the SOP and were cleared through customs without a hitch.
Setting up the procedures: The weather at the start of the SOP was exceedingly kind to participants and organizers alike, giving us almost a week of stable high pressure without much chance for an IOP. This gave us the chance to fine-tune the daily operational procedures, get everyone used to the local facilities, have security passes made, find their cars etc. without undue pressure to deliver highly important scientific output during the initial stages of the field phase.
Wiring up the Workstations: Unforeseen problems with missing or incomplete shipping documents brought some serious problems for individual participants trying to get their equipment out of bond. This meant that many days were characterised by frantic efforts to have the equipment cleared and delivered to the scientist and briefing rooms at the hostel, with considerable financial burden on some scientists, and disruption of meetings when deliveries finally took place
A lesson learnt from these problems: In the future, it would be worthwhile having a check-list of required documents and clearances filled in and returned to the operations centers before the equipment is despatched.
Some problems were also encountered with incorrect IP-addresses being used and dynamically allocated to PCs and workstations. The lack of a dedicated network manager was felt to be a big problem there. All efforts by the MOC management to find such a person at affordable cost had unfortunately been in vain.
Arrival of the research aircraft: Due to a rather un-cooperative hurricane at the beginning of the SOP, the NOAA WP-3-D was delayed by several days, but again the lack of serious IOP-weather limited the ill effects of this delay. Both the Electra and WP 3D arrived without any problems, the crews quickly settled in and familiarised themselves with the Innsbruck approach and departure procedures. A private plane was hired to get the Electra crew to Milan to discuss the coordination with the Italian Air Traffic Control (ATC), which helped very much in setting up an excellent working relationship with ATC.
Aircraft Operations: The coordination with the ATC authorities both locally and in the other Alpine countries proved to be excellent. The Innsbruck AIS office supported the work by the MAP aircraft operations support managers in a highly competent and friendly manner, so that refusals due to ATC were extremely rare and did not compromise the research activities during the SOP. Noise abatement considerations, availability of alternate airports, and endurance limitations precluded night-time operations, but this had been discussed and accepted long before the start of the SOP. Minor problems were encountered with the operation of (noisy) ground power units, leading to minor delays in some take-off times. Communication with the aircraft using the specially installed MAP-frequency was satisfactory, but the use of this facility was probably somewhat less than anticipated.
Daily Briefings: The communication between the MOC and the POC had been planned to use internet facilities, and tests carried out pre-SOP had indicated that this would work satisfactorily. Unfortunately, the extra load on the network during the SOP quickly proved this method unworkable, and a telephone-based solution had to be installed. At the beginning, sound quality and reliability of this link was less than satisfying, but modifications on both ends of the line after the first 2-3 weeks led to a more stable, albeit not ideal situation.
Network performance: Again, the difference between `dry runs' at low loads undertaken prior to the SOP was found to be dramatically unrepresentative of the conditions during the SOP. Although it has never been possible to identify beyond any doubt the cause for the network problems encountered by the scientists working at the hostel, IP-address conflicts and a probably unstable network connection to the university computing centre acting as internet gateway were prime suspects for a series of very annoying network problems. A thorough check-up performed by a network specialist and the installation of a new, dedicated point-to-point radio link of high band-width installed at very short notice by the Austrian Telecom practically solved the problem.
Lesson to be learned: Never trust line-tests performed before the full load is on the network. Relying on nearly-free infrastructure (provided by a cable TV network) may seem attractive at the time, but limits the possibility to enforce proper performance when problems arise.
Decommissioning of the infrastructure: Dismantling the infrastructure, despatching the equipment back to the operators home bases, and final clearout was surprisingly smooth and efficient. Minor problems with customs documents were encountered, but were in no way comparable to the troubles seen at the beginning. Refunding of deposits, however, proved a nightmare for some researchers concerned and the MOC staff. Bureaucracy seemed to reign supreme one last time.
Lesson to be learned: As for the preparation, a documents checklist could have avoided most of these problems.
Returning hired equipment, cars etc.: This was one of the greater disappointments of the project: The local car hire company took a very hard stand on even minor damages to the vehicles, charging large amounts to a majority of renters. All interventions from the MOC management were to no avail, and so we have another:
Lesson to be learnt: A lot of effort had gone into the provision of low-cost rental arrangements, which in the end did not prove that cost-effective and left a feeling of unfair treatment on all sides. Such arrangements are probably better made with major companies, the higher initial charges are compensated by less trouble at the end.
Accommodation: The cooperation with the student Hostel management has been excellent throughout, and provided very reasonable quality accommodation for the majority of participants. Most of the rented apartments and hotel rooms proved very reasonable and adequate. Serious problems were encountered with the management of one hotel nearby, where several complaints had been received, and none could be resolved in a civilised manner.
Lesson to be learned: It is not always possible to ascertain that commercial partners in a major project will live up to their promises, and it is not easy to predict which ones are going to let you down.
The project was well received by the locals, the media and representatives of the administration. All reports have been outright positive, and only minor complaints about aircraft noise were registered at some occasions.
The small number of people involved in setting up and running the MOC meant sometimes extreme workloads and operating at the personal limits of all involved. On the other hand, the very small but compact team had virtually no overheads in terms of large meetings, friction or misunderstandings. To work with a handful of good personal friends was immensely satisfying and highly efficient compared to the possibility of having to manage a large team. The excellent co-operation with scientists, facility managers, and individuals was the foundation for the unqualified success of the experiment and the operation at the MOC. Not only were the objectives fully achieved, accidents and serious problems avoided, and financial targets adhered to, but the wonderful team spirit, warm friendship and good humour of all involved will remain unforgettable. Not only data were gathered, but also insights in the mysteries of Alpine weather gained and wonderful friends found. If asked whether I would do it again, a resounding YES would be the answer !