NBAA Air Traffic Services (ATS)

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Tips to Help Operators Minimize Holiday Flight Delays

December 21, 2012

Although general aviation isn’t a cause for aviation system congestion, inclement weather and other factors can make the holiday season one of the busiest times of the year for air travel, often prompting various air traffic control initiatives to help manage constraints and reduce delays.

NBAA’s Air Traffic Services (ATS) has guidance to help pilots and operators anticipate and avoid some of the common delays that can occur at this time of year.

First and foremost, file flight plans early. “Filing in advance allows flight-demand information to go into FAA’s systems early enough to help with planning,” said Ernie Stellings, NBAA ATS manager. “It also ensures that operators won’t be impacted by ‘late-filer’ penalties when programs [airspace flow programs or ground-delay programs] are implemented.”

Next, file file flight plans accurately. “Filing accurate flight plans is important so that the FAA has a clear picture of when excess demand will be an issue,” said Stellings. “Filing accurately also ensures that operators will not end up with expect departure clearance times (EDCT) that they cannot accept because they are earlier than the planned departure time.

Stellings also advises operators to:

  • Monitor the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) current reroutes web page, which offers a summary of all required, recommended, or FYI reroutes that are in place at any given time in the FAA’s National Airspace System (NAS).
  • Monitor the real-time NAS status web page for an overview of what is happening across the country.
  • Review the Operations Plan. “This is an advisory that is created every two hours following the FAA Command Center’s planning teleconferences (held beginning at 7:15 a.m. EST through 9:15 p.m. EST).”
  • Utilize the Winter Weather Dashboard developed by the Collaborate Decision Making Weather Evaluation Team (an industry/government group) and the National Weather Service. It provides information about potential winter weather impacts at key airport locations and for longer-range time horizons.

While issues can arise throughout the NAS, there are a number of areas where air traffic constraints and/or delays are more likely. “Trouble spots” that operators should pay particular attention to include:

  • Traffic along the East Coast, where higher volume between the Northeast and Florida (sometimes called “snowbird traffic”) is common during the winter months.

Stellings said common reroutes that are used to help mitigate this are:

  • Snowbird 5 and 7
  • Atlantic South 1 and 2 (out of NY to FL) – used when Virginia Capes Operating Area (VACAPES) are inactive
  • Atlantic North 1 - from FL on Sun up to the New York Air Route Traffic Control Center (ZNY) - used when VACAPES area are inactive
  • AZEZU (offshore deepwater) route (if aircraft is equipped to fly over water)
  • FL to NE 1 2, 3, 4
  • FL to Ohio Valley
  • Ohio Valley to FL
  • Midwest to FL

In addition, airspace flow programs are often used, such as the ZJX AFP (FCAJX1), which controls traffic between Florida and the rest of the U.S.

Stellings also advises operators to be aware of the following potential issues:

  • New York-area airports – Much of the nation’s air traffic flows through this area’s airports (JFK, LGA, EWR, TEB and HPN). During winter months, all of these airports are susceptible to delays, including ground stops and ground delay programs, due to winter weather and other factors.

Ski country airports – special traffic management program (STMP) days include:

  • Arrival slot reservations will be required at Colorado’s Aspen-Pitkin County (ASE), Eagle County Regional (EGE) and Rifle/Garfield County (RIL) airports on Dec. 22, 26 and 27, as well as on Jan. 2, 5 and 6.
  • Salt Lake Center (ZLC) plans to manage its ski country airports using ground delay programs, as opposed to STMPs. This includes the following airports: Sun Valley (SUN), Jackson Hole (JAC) and Bozeman (BZN).

Operators should utilize the FAA’s e-STMP web page for slot reservations. Reservations can be made 72 hours in advance. Operators must confirm reservations 24 to 12 hours prior. “Operators are strongly encouraged to cancel slots they know won’t be utilizing so that other operators can utilize those slots,” said Stellings.

Guidance for Caribbean travel includes:

  • Make early contact with fixed-base operators for information about parking availability, fuel availability, and other needs.
  • Plan fuel stops carefully because in previous years fuel shortages have occurred at certain locations during the holidays.
  • Consider the use of a flight plan service provider that can assist with handling issues.