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Tools for Traffic Management in Storm Season

May 22, 2012

Imagine this scenario: You’re standing on the tarmac, trying to explain to your passengers that you will be delayed because of strong thunderstorms between you and your destination. With a confused look, your passenger points out that there’s not a cloud in the sky. How, then, can you be worried about the weather?

“The crew understands because they can pull up the weather radar and see the situation for themselves,” said Dean Snell, NBAA GA Desk assistant manager. “But explaining to the passengers that there are severely limited routes out of the area is not always easy to do.”

The strategy for getting around storms can be quite different for business aircraft crews than for their counterparts at the airlines.

“Business aviation is more flexible and may be able to accept different routings,” said Snell.

In an attempt to help facilitate business aircraft operations, the NBAA GA Desk, which is located within the FAA Air Traffic Control System Command Center, is busiest on days when the weather is the worst. The group's efforts to help subscribers find the most efficient and timely routes around bad weather are augmented by tactical route coordinators (TRCs).

For example, the TRC at New York TRACON is used to provide reroutes during Severe Weather Avoidance Plan (SWAP) events for airspace over the New York region. The TRC establishes a phone bridge with tower personnel at the small airports most often used by business aircraft and New York Center personnel, as well as flight plan service providers. The coordination among the parties helps smooth departure rates and make options available for operators able to adjust their departure plans.  

As for the storm cloud brewing over the frustrated operator’s head as he contemplates a delay, Snell offered the GA Desk’s assistance there as well.

“The GA Desk tries to get a feel for how the reroutes will look. When we see a day where significant weather is expected to emerge in the afternoon, we’ll go so far as to tell flightcrews that they should let their passengers know about the possibility of delays. They might decide to change their departure time. But in any case, it certainly can help crews keep passengers informed.”