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New Traffic Management Tools to Reduce Delays Are on the Way

Can you imagine a National Airspace System (NAS) wherein aircraft operators who have submitted their route preferences in advance would automatically be re-routed around a flow constrained area (FCA) in a way that results in the shortest delay?

If all goes according to plan, that's what business aircraft operators will be able to do starting about a year from now, thanks to a new set of capabilities called collaborative airspace constraint resolution (CACR).

In 2008, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) launched an initiative to enhance traffic flow management (TFM) automation. At the heart of this effort was CACR, which is a building block to NextGen, with the goal of providing constraint resolution that takes user preferences into account.

CACR will be introduced in a series of three releases beginning in autumn 2012, with plans for full implementation by 2014. A CACR Deployment Team is currently working to define an operational concept, requirement details and procedures for CACR. NBAA was invited to be a participant on the team and has been actively representing the interests of business aviation.

How CACR Would Work

One of the core requirements for CACR is to enable the system to take into account user preferences as part of providing constraint resolution. This means, for example, that aircraft operators will be able to proactively inform air traffic control of which routes around a weather constraint they are willing to accept.

The technology that will make this possible is the Collaborative Trajectory Options Program (CTOP). Although development of CTOP began several years ago, it is now being refined and scaled to meet the requirements of CACR.

The idea behind CACR is that when traffic flow managers identify a constraint in the National Airspace System (usually weather), they build a flow evaluation area (FEA) in the area of the constraint. An FEA is basically a line in space, drawn by traffic flow managers to enable them to measure the amount of traffic that crosses that line. Once the amount of traffic across the FEA builds to capacity, the FEA becomes an FCA, which means controllers then need to meter the amount of traffic crossing the line. This is how airspace flow programs (AFPs) work today.

Once CACR is implemented, however, there will be an added component. When a constraint has been identified, operators will be able to submit – long before their proposed departure time – their route preferences, which will take them around the FCA. Alternatively, operators may choose to fly through the FCA and simply accept a delay (much like a current AFP). Regardless, once these preferences have been received by air traffic control, the Traffic Flow Management System (TFMS) computers will automatically assign the route that will provide the least amount of delay.

The interface that will enable general aviation (GA) operators to submit their route options has yet to be designed, but it is expected that various flight plan service providers and other online vendors will offer a GA interface in the near future.

Other Advanced Tools

Besides the work being done on CACR, the FAA is making significant progress on improving the weather forecasting products that traffic flow managers have at their disposal. The Corridor Integrated Weather System (CIWS) is a product that provides traffic managers enhanced information on future convective developments, enabling them to be more precise about where FCAs are built and what airspace will be affected.

Another tool being implemented is the Route Availability Planning Tool (RAPT), which enables traffic managers to identify specific routes that will be affected by weather and alternate routes available to avoid the constraint.

While all of these tools promise to help manage air traffic, a key element to their effectiveness will be the response from the GA community.

For example, there will be a need for operators to begin filing their flight plans earlier than they do now. Much of the work in managing traffic around a constraint depends upon air traffic control knowing how many aircraft will be flowing through a particular area. If traffic managers have this information in advance, they can more precise in identifying constraints and creating solutions.

Operators who file early, and are willing to provide proactive route options, soon will have a real advantage in opening up options for their flights and potentially reducing delays.

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