June 18, 2008

Missing out on all the fun.

I had two days off this last week (first since January, so it feels weird) and flew to Nashville to meet up with my parents who are on a typical summer road trip. Denver-Laredo, TX-Nashville-Atlanta-Denver. We ate some good food, listened to some "good" country music (it actually was pretty decent), and enjoyed sweltering in the heat. I flew out there Saturday morning. The reroute around storms in the DC9 was entertaining, and then we narrowly survived a line of thunderstorms descending back into Manchester on Tuesday night. No more summer flying for a while, I promised myself. Pilots are crazy.

Since then, my new schedule has avoided most of the weather coming through the area. Not ALL of it, mind you, but definitely the worst of it. With summer travel season upon us, even the airline cutbacks has been hard to notice. And with more controllers taking vacation or retiring, the supervisors are forced to let me work more traffic either one-holed or without a tracker than they have in the past.

All the storms tend to build around the NY/PA border on the southern edge or our airspace, so aircraft often get rerouted up over Canada and Lake Ontario. This adds a plethora of descending eastbound traffic that have Miles-in-Trail requirements to the NY Metro to cross the SYR area in the sector that works all the westbound climbing departures. That sector can work a lot of airplanes, but when these "Can(ada) East" reroutes are in affect, the frequency often overflows with aircraft checking in on two different frequencies. Toronto Centre only puts aircraft on 135.25 and all the westbound traffic gets 123.87. Sometimes you just wish everyone would shut up, and if the rides are bad, I'll gladly take the D-side.

The weather has consistently been the worst on Saturday night. This night is generally the slowest, traffic wise, although, when a huge line of storms go over every major Northeast airport at the same time, the planes stack up in a hurry. On my old schedule that I had during training, I would have worked every one of these crazy Saturday nights. This year, I'm going home at 2:30pm, leaving the scramble to my old crew mates. I return Sunday morning to hear fun stories about refusing handoffs from Canada, and how there were 7, no, make it 9 planes holding over ART (and by the afternoon, they had been holding 12!) and the narrowly avoided mid-airs. I can't help but appreciate my new schedule a little more each day.

The only other weather I worked was as a D-side at Albany. It was steady traffic, but the constant flow was almost enjoyable, as my R-side and I work well together. The BDL arrivals were few and far between, as they were quickly cut off by a blob of storms 20 northwest of the field. This weather also got in the way of the few PVD arrivals we had, but a point out to Kingston sector solved that deviation. BDL departures occasionally would depart with hope of finding a hole, and would often enter our airspace about 30 miles west of normal, and we'd cut them direct SYR since they were head on with EWR arrivals. EWRs were deviating west of a storm over ALB, and the LGA and HPN arrivals would go east of it, affording us "Cumulonimbus separation." ALB departures were also few and far between, and the northeast bound headings were weird, as they normally fly a northwest heading initially. The situation was never out of control, and planes were clearly flying between the precipitation depicted on our scope, so we were able to keep a good plan the whole time. I left to go home soon after, leaving behind a chaotic energy of controllers, airplanes, and uncertain deviations and reroutes...


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