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Navigator: New, Better Ways to Manage Air Traffic

Feb. 29, 2016

Everyone has had one of those days, when convective weather and air traffic volume conspire to make it difficult to fly from Point A to Point B, especially in the seemingly always busy Northeast.

There’s no guarantee that weather and other factors won’t snarl air traffic in the future, but thanks to more planning and an increasingly collaborative approach to traffic management, operators can expect a more focused and strategic use of traffic management initiatives, including customized airspace flow programs, this summer, which may mean fewer delays.

Navigator: New, Better Ways to Manage Air Traffic

The enhanced collaboration between industry and air traffic managers started a couple of years ago, when the FAA’s Air Traffic Control System Command Center (ATCSCC), which manages the flow of traffic throughout the entire national airspace system, created a working group called NAS Vision. This group – which is composed of FAA management, air traffic specialists and industry representatives, including airline officials and NBAA Air Traffic Services (ATS) – is tasked with finding new and better ways to move the maximum number of aircraft as safely and efficiently as possible, while incurring the least amount of delay.

NAS Vision members talk about the season that just ended, discussing how to improve the air traffic management processes for the next season.

Updated training, which is provided to FAA field facilities and ATCSCC staff, focuses on increased communication and collaboration between the ATCSCC, the field facilities and airspace users. This includes briefing traffic managers on the needs and concerns of the business aviation community, such as crew duty-time and rest-time limits.

Also, ATS is encouraging the ATCSCC to provide additional options for business aircraft operators, such as routes out of airspace flow programs or the ability to go “over-the-top” so that operators can retain as much on-demand capability and flexibility as possible.

As one might imagine, some of the most important collaboration occurs during thunderstorm season, as the ATCSCC specialists try to determine the best way to maneuver the flow of traffic around the areas affected by storms.

This isn’t too difficult when the storms are in Montana, but when you have them in Chicago, New York, Cleveland or Washington Center, it can take some real planning to figure out where the traffic has to be moved to keep it away from the threatening weather. This is challenging, especially in the Northeast, where closing a single fix can quickly overload neighboring fixes. And that is really the biggest issue – where to put the extra traffic, especially in already congested areas.

Progress has been slow at times, but NBAA is encouraged by small successes over the last year, such as the Plain-English portion of the Operations Plan in the Advisory Database (www.fly.faa.gov/adv/advAdvisoryForm.jsp), which enables the reader to understand the reasoning behind some of the decisions made by the ATCSCC. NBAA expects more improvements will be forthcoming, as ATS plays a pivotal role in the ongoing process of improving the efficiency of the NAS.

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This article originally appeared in the January/Febuary issue of Business Aviation Insider.