ATC design, procedures, limits and technology a mystery to many in the airlines
NBAA has successfully implemented tactics at the FAA Command Center benefiting system and individual efficiency
Delta has stationed staff @ ATCSCC,too, and its collaboration a win/win
The national air traffic control system is infinitely more complex and its operating rules are not necessarily intuitive. To better manage the ATC on a macro basis, the FAA created an Air Traffic System Command Center (ATCSCC) where they plan and regulate the flow of air traffic to minimize delays and congestions while maximizing the overall operation of the National Airspace System (NAS). When significant events impact an airport or portion of airspace, the Traffic Management Specialists adjust traffic demands to meet system capacity. Significant events include:
The Warrenton, VA facility is the largest, most sophisticated facility of its kind in the world. Along with direct communication with its partners, the use of advanced automation tools enables the ATCSCC staff to manage the NAS efficiently and cohesively.
Since many of the variables dealt with are short term in nature, the airlines have not sent representatives to the facility. The carriers cannot reduce its schedules in response to these events. As explained below, Delta Airlines has realized that there are tactics which it can employ to move their tracks to avoid these problems.
Business aviation, however, has some flexibility in the departures/arrivals of their aircraft. NBAA’s Air Traffic Specialists have been embedded in the FAA’s Command Center for years. They are able to engage in ongoing collaborative planning and information sharing with ATCSCC staff to help manage the flow of air traffic in the NAS.
For example, the FAA managers (Deputy Directors Systems Operations (DDSOs)) periodically brief all in the facility about major weather and operational changes that they anticipate will impact the system. They also brief when the ATC systems do not appear to be subject of major condition alterations. Traffic flow management (TFM) decisions provide actionable directions.
An Airspace Flow Program (AFP) is a traffic management initiative (TMI) that identifies constraints in the en route domain of the National Airspace System (NAS) and develops a real-time list of flights that are filed into the constrained area, distributing Expect Departure Clearance Times (EDCTs) to meter the demand through the area.
Armed with that information the NBAA representatives share it with members known to be in areas where the Command Center is likely to issue stops or delay programs. The aircraft crews can offer their passengers options of departing early to avoid the delay or departing later. The businesspersons may be able to do work where they are or may need to get to their destinations on time.
This NBAA service benefits the efficiency of the NAS and the needs of their members.
Now how Delta has determined to use its presence at ATCSCC to produce similar dual benefits—NAS and their customers?
The New York area is home to some of the most congested airspace in the world. Every day, thousands of flights are funneled through constrained corridors in the sky to arrive and depart from three of the busiest airports — JFK International, LaGuardia and Newark.
With Delta’s significant presence at two of the three airfields, maintaining a high degree of safety while also improving reliability and minimizing disruptions prompted by weather and the sheer volume of flights has been a primary focus of Delta’s operational teams, leading them to take a unique approach to address the complex challenge.
For the first time this summer, Delta has embedded two Operations and Customer Center employees into the Federal Aviation Administration’s Air Traffic Control System Command Center — a facility similar to Delta’s own OCC — to better collaborate, exchange operational best practices and delay mitigation tactics with the government organization that manages traffic in the skies across the U.S.
“We’ve worked to navigate the challenges of the New York airspace for years, and each year we see incremental improvement,” said Mark Hopkins, Delta’s director of Air Traffic Management, who has led the airline’s efforts to improve Northeast operations. “Positioning our own teams in the FAA Command Center to share insights and better understand how traffic is managed system-wide will undoubtedly improve our ability to operate more reliably and safely.“
Having embedded teams in the FAA’s central command is particularly important this summer as runway construction at JFK has challenged an already complicated operation. While the focus will be on the Northeast operation, Delta will be able to share and glean insights on how the rest of the U.S. airspace is managed as well share airline operational practices.
For example, Hopkins noted that often when weather affects the New York area, air traffic control may hold departing aircraft on the ground based the original route the flight was filed on, even in instances when Delta is prepared to accept an alternative routing that safely takes the plane around the storms. Holding the aircraft on the ground, he said, isn’t always ideal as Delta would prefer to get the flight in the air, even if the routing means a slightly longer flight — to keep the operation flowing.
“Our goal is to apply learnings in both directions,” said Hopkins of Delta and the FAA. “We want to build more consistency and resiliency into the operation, working together to improve how the entire system operates for the benefit of our customers.”
Hopkins expects the partnership will result in more departures and arrivals per hour — especially during inclement weather — as Delta and the FAA work more closely together. Ultimately, improving the throughput of flights into and out of the New York area airports, with an intense focus on safety, will improve operations across both the National Airspace System and the Delta network.
The NAS and the scheduled airline industry can collaborate through an effort like Delta’s. The air carrier staff at the ATCSCC can recognize that their preferred departure or arrival track goes through a sector with problems can be rerouted to another vector and operate. These options provide win/win results for both.
To many, the ATC system is a mystery; basic knowledge of its technical parameters, route architecture, staffing and operational limitations is not common among airline management. Delta’s initiative demonstrates how, with insight and outreach, collaboration can improve the efficiencies of both. It need not be a zero sum game!!!
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