May 15, 2008

Wednesday is the new Monday.

For me at least. Whether or not I like my new schedule, one thing is for certain: My first day at work is a lot busier now than on my old schedule (Saturday night). I can't ease into my Monday anymore. I gotta bring my A-game. This Wednesday was no exception.

There was lots of training going on (5 different positions) and I ended up rotating through all positions except Albany D. I never worked anywhere for more than a half hour because there was always training resuming or ending somewhere that forced me to switch around. This does make the night go pretty quick. I spent lots of time on position, but I was always changing things up, keeping things new and exciting.

A weak front passed through the area during the shift, so the rides where crappy everywhere, and it was pretty busy (not a good combo). Pilots keep complaining, and then all the traffic gets forced into using only a few available, relatively smooth, altitudes, which makes things very complicated. Speeds get assigned when normally a different altitude would allow normal speeds. The hardest part is all the questions and lack of answers, or lack of good answers, depending on the location. Its hard to get everyone to just be quiet. The turbulence has to go on the back-burner occasionally so we can separate the aircraft first, and then worry about the rides second. And then we have to teach all the newbies how to communicate in this crazy environment.

Soon they'll learn you gotta tell the pilot as much as possible when they check in, so they don't interrupt with questions later: "United 1234, Boston Center roger, expect light chop ahead most altitudes, and I'll have lower in 15 miles clear of traffic." "United 1234, Roger thanks sir."

This long speech is required for everyone as they check in, lest the conversation goes something like this: "United 1234 with you FL350" "United 1234 boston center roger" "How are the rides ahead at 350 and lower for United 1234?" "United 1234, they're a little better down lower" "Roger, United 1234, can we get lower then" "United 1234, expect lower in 15 miles" "united 1234 thanks." Do that times 20. Or loose your mind. Its up to you.

Other than the rides, the highlight of the shift came at Rockdale high sector, when an aircraft was westbound at FL400. There was converging traffic at FL400 coming from NY Center, so I took the aircraft down to FL390. There was a bunch of traffic eastbound at FL370. Another jet was climbing just north of them on a heading to miss everyone climbing to FL390. Just then, as Cleveland Center takes the hand off on the westbound at FL390, that aircraft advises that their primary autopilot has malfunctioned, and they are no longer allowed to use 1000 feet separation (Reduced Vertical Separation Minimum, or RVSM). While this doesn't pose a threat to my aircraft in MY sector, there is traffic at FL400 about 20 miles ahead (the reason I went to FL390 in the first place). This jet is now required to get out of RVSM airspace (FL290-FL400) as soon as possible and certainly can't get within 5 miles of the traffic only 1000 feet above at FL400. So I stop the eastbound climber at FL370, I turn the non-RVSM biz-jet hard right to the north, and coordinate with Cleveland, giving them control to descend this guy once he's clear of all the eastbound traffic he just gave me at FL370.

Its amazing how a simple problem can get tricky at just the right/worst time. I've been fully checked out now for 4 months, and I've seen 2 emergencies, 2 rapid decompression descents, a few medical issues, this RVSM issue, and one aircraft had a collapsed gear on the runway after I cleared him for approach. I'm starting to think I should call in sick more...


1 comment:

BigAL said...

Interesting Blog, I'll try to check in more often.

As far as warning a/c as they check in about the rides ahead (a good technique I think) it's amazing how many will come back 10 minutes later (I work a sector about 200 miles long on the west coast) and ask "Center, we're getting some light chop, how are the rides ahead?" My usually annoyed response is "the same as I gave you 10 minutes ago...".

You sound like you've had a busy 4 months - welcome to ATC!