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Traffic flow management (TFM), sometimes referred to as air traffic management, is a function of air traffic control (ATC). It is, however, distinct in that the goal of TFM is to control the overall flow of traffic in the national airspace system rather than control specific flights. TFM involves taking a higher-level view of air traffic.
In order to provide the control necessary, TFM specialists are trained to use any number of techniques and tools, referred to as traffic management initiatives or TMIs. These tools are implemented in order to minimize delay and provide for a smooth flow of the thousands of flights over the United States at any given time.
For those who are operating aircraft in the National Airspace System (NAS), it is important to understand the basics of how traffic flow management works. Just as athletes need to understand the rules of the game in which they are playing, aircraft operators must understand what is going on around them in order to operate efficiently.
To this end, the FAA has provided a number of online resources to allow operators to educate themselves and to be proactive in understanding the airspace issues at any given time. Pilots, schedulers and dispatchers, flight department managers and others can use these resources to more effectively plan their flights in order to minimize delays that they will encounter.
Traffic flow management is the craft of managing the flow of air traffic in the NAS based on capacity and demand. This is accomplished by using a "system approach," which is a management approach that considers the impact of individual actions on the whole. Learn more.
There is a wide range of tools and techniques that traffic flow management specialists use to manage air traffic. These include grounds stops, ground delay programs, miles-in-trail restrictions, airspace flow programs, and many others. Their goal is to use the least restrictive tool possible to manage the situation. Learn more.
The FAA has provided a number of very useful online resources to allow operators to be proactive in understanding the operation of the NAS on any given day. Understanding and using these tools will allow operators to have a much better picture of what is happening around them and what to expect as their flights progress. Learn more.