March 22, 2009

So you want to be on the blog, eh!?

A man from Maine who used to be a controller in my area (now in Traffic Management) had begged me for months to include him in a post of mine. A few posts back, I mentioned him...finally. But, I wasn't patient enough, apparently. And neither was he. A strip printed out from every printer in the Center simultaneously this morning. It was typed blatantly wrong, and QQ (this Maine-iac's operating initials) was plastered all over it. How can I resist?

No wonder this Metering thing doesn't work. They think Newark is in Boston. As it turns out, this was meant for Newark. At the time of printing, we'd just sequenced 15 EWR arrivals over the SAX fix and we had none left. "It works!," they declared.

Till next time....


March 11, 2009

Its never too late to get your IFR clearance...

I had a very different sort of busy session last Saturday afternoon. After it happened, I immediately decided that I would write this post, but I've been partially distracted from all sides of my life. I will preface this by saying I'm not including every detail of this, just the important parts. I hope to one day procure the audio from this and post it on here somehow. Here goes...

Saturdays are usually pretty slow. This winter, the weather seems to have been especially crappy on my days off in the middle of the week, although this has enabled me to avoid some of the worst work-related weather headaches. So, against the grain, the weather on Saturday started VFR (nice and sunny) and IFR conditions(cloudy and rainy) quickly moved in from the southwest. I don't know if it moved in faster than forecast, if it was forecast at all, or if pilots just don't call Flight Service for their briefings anymore. I suspect the latter.

I've been at DNY/HNK radar position all day it seems, but the weather has been nice, no one has complained about chop or icing or anything, and it has been a typical slow Saturday. The assorted blue/cyan pixels, indicating precipitation, have been ever-so-raggedly inching closer to my sector. At the time this session is underway, the weather has reached Binghamton, NY (BGM) just on the southern boundary of my sector. Inside my sector, I have the handoff on 2 VFR aircraft, 2 ALB arrivals, 1 BOS arrival, 2 Newark prop arrivals, 2 LGA jet arrivals, and a Toronto prop going the opposite direction. I own anywhere from the surface around N66 (Oneonta, NY) to FL270 depending on the exact spot. I will avoid using the callsigns of the private aircraft in case they don't want their experiences directly shared with the world. This may make it more confusing though.

My D-side gets a call from the Stewart sector (to our southeast) that they can't get a hold of a VFR approaching from their sector inbound to Hamilton, NY (VGC) at 6500ft. No biggie, he's just VFR. Another VFR, a C172 Skyhawk, heading southwestbound at 4500, advises he'd like to climb to 6500 to stay clear of clouds.

"Rgr, maintain VFR, climb to 6500 not recommended due to VFR traffic 11 o'clock, 12 miles northwest bound, bonanza 6500."
"rgr, descending to 3500."
"rgr, maintain VFR".

The bonanza at 6500 (the one we're not talking to) starts turning a little northeast of course, and we figure that's to avoid the oncoming clouds from the southwest. I don't like where this is going. I'm about to pipe up to the VFR descending to 3500 if maybe he wants to pick up his IFR before he descends below my Minimum IFR altitude of 4000. I'm interrupted with a "hold all your Newark props, don't know for how long". I give one of my ALB arrivals descent to FL210 (the Toronto prop is at FL200). I switch my first LGA arrival to the next frequency and then advise my first EWR prop to set up for holding at KODEY intersection so they can tune that into thier FMS. That interaction is stepped on by the bonanza checking in at 6500, requesting IFR to Hamilton. Excellent, I guess he needs to talk to us after all.

"Cleared to Hamilton via direct, maintain 6000, Syracuse altimeter 2983". My D-side hops on the line and points him out to Griffiss Approach.

During that time, I issue holding for my first EWR prop at FL230 over KODEY. I try to give the hold to the second one, but New York hasn't switched him to my frequency yet. My D-side, cranking it into 3rd gear, goes and gets him for me.

My ALB arrival is passing the Toronto prop... "Cross 30 miles west of ALB at 11000, advise if unable, ALB altimeter 2985"

I'm still worried about that VFR Skyhawk at 3500. I pull up the BGM weather and its Overcast at 2100 with rain. Great. The second EWR prop checks in requesting a shortcut. "unable, cleared to HNK, hold northwest on the HNK 313 radial, left turns, maintain 13000, expect further clearance 1945".

Someone checks on frequency, but I didn't take a handoff...Oh, some guy just departed N66 wanting his IFR to BGM. Excellent timing, yet again.

My D-side was on the line, and says I need to slow my second LGA down, they're holding next sector. "Calling Boston off N66, standby, maintain VFR"

I slow the LGA to 250knots, switch my ALB arrival to approach, and then realize the first EWR prop at Fl230 is turning the wrong way in the holding pattern. The pilot caught it as I did and asked to verify the turns. "All turns to the LEFT please" I get on the line and point him out to NY since the holding pattern is 5 miles from the boundary. The pilot responds that he's correcting, and just in time too.

"Aircraft calling off N66 go ahead"
"(PA28 Warrior) we're off N66, 3500, request IFR to BGM"
"Can you maintain terrain and obstruction avoidance to 4000?"
"rgr, radar contact, cleared to BGM via as filed, mainatin 4000, BGM altimeter 2979"

This guy is like 6 miles north of my VFR Skyhawk at 3500, and I'm pretty concerned he's gonna want an IFR clearance too, but now I won't have the separation to do it since the N66 departure has some speed on the Skyhawk. Before this gets out of hand....I put the N66 departure on a 270 heading. Yes, I am anticipating the need to keep 5 miles here.

To the VFR Skyhawk at 3500: "Be advised, weather at BGM reported ceiling 2100 overcast, 4 mile visibility with rain, are you requesting IFR clearance?"
"Can you maintain terrain and obstruction avoidance to 4000?"
"uh.... maybe, not sure"
"I need a negative or affirmative, sir, unable IFR without it"
"rgr, maintain VFR"
My D-side reports that we're out of the hold for EWR.
"copy, maintianing VFR, reversing course"
"traffic 6 oclock 5 miles PA28 southwest bound 4000"
"uh, rgr"

I can sense trouble, can you?

I call BGM approach and ask if they have a lower minimum vectoring altitude at that location, which, luckily, was 3500. I let them know they're gonna get this guy VFR, with their control to issue an IFR clearance.

"contact BGM approach 118.6, they'll get you an IFR at 3500, their minimum altitude is lower then mine, good day."

Hey, try that Hamilton bonanza again for SYR approach. "contact SYR approach 126.12" "Good day" Whoops.

The second ALB arrival is given the same restriction as the first. I switch my Boston arrival to ATHENS sector, and then check my dueling 4000s.

The Skyhawks' course to his destination diverges from BGM airport, but I don't like the angle between him and the N66-BGM flight that is still on a 270 heading. I just leave him on that and tell him it'll be a few more miles before I have direct.

The first EWR prop is at FL230 heading away from the airport on his outbound holding leg, the second prop is just about to enter the hold at HNK, so he just became number 1. "Cleared to EWR via after HNK as previously cleared" He reads it back. Then I clear the now second EWR via a right turn to HNK as previously cleared and descend him.

A few minutes pass. I switch the ALB arrival to ALB approach, the two EWRs to Stewart sector, and my N66-BGM guy to BGM approach. What? Yeah, I'll take a break.

Till next time....


March 9, 2009

I've unchained the beast

The last post about EWR metering has gotten some comments that I'd like to clarify to everyone involved. I would like to thank the Cleveland controllers for taking the time to add in their perspective.

The first point is that this is complicated, and it is difficult to get two straight answers from anyone above the controller level about what is going on.

Secondly, I tried my best in the previous post to emphasize my discontent with the metering program for our problems. I was unaware of how the Singapore flight enters Cleveland Center. I only see the departure airport, some radials off a VOR in Cleveland Center, direct to the first fix in my airspace. I was under the impression that there were numerous sectors involved (again, misinformation from above). When only one sector (and it's the first sector in US airspace, no less) is supposed to delay a Newark while the system is designed for 3 or 4 to do the work over a larger space and time, often there is no way to meet the meter time except by holding, which may seem impractical at such a great distance from the airport. As controllers, any time we get a meter time that we don't foresee a good way of meeting, we're supposed to bring it up with our area supervisor. This is what facilitated the phone call to my area in the aforementioned situation. This is where the problem lies: between the GEE sector telling their supervisor about their excessive meter time and my supervisor running over and yelling at me for doing what I felt was best for my sector.

I will apologize to the ZOB controllers for what appears to be a smack to their face for "not doing their jobs", but any and all references to "Cleveland" in the last post references management and TMU for saying "its all taken care of, just flash him to Boston". No one in Boston ever got a call asking for relief on the time. So while it appeared on the surface that the GEE controller wasn't meeting his/her meter time, the problem was really in the form of inter-facility communication between managers and traffic management. I should have made that more obvious before.

On why this metering thing doesn't make any sense: I have spoken recently, in detail, to my own traffic management and received alot of comments to the tone of "no one around us likes it, so they're trying to bring it down so we don't have to meter anymore". This may or may not be true. Maybe no one wants to play along with the game when we don't know the rules. In addition, I was told anytime there is an excessive meter delay, TMU just artificially increases the arrival rate in the metering computer, so the delays appear reduced. This just leads to more aircraft being handed off to New York Approach than they can handle, since the ACTUAL arrival rate at Newark hasn't increased. We get put in the hold, since approach is overwhelmed, and the meter times are no long valid.

Alot happens between the first sector in Cleveland Center that meters to Newark and the handoff to the Newark tower controller on final approach. I only get the perspective and opinions from within the confines of Boston Center. I've been meaning to take a road trip to Oberlin and Long Island since this Metering started to see how it works in other facilities. Boston has its own issues, and we're only a small portion of the program. Clearly, by the time issues are passed along from manager to manager, from center to center, from center to approach, and from anyone to the command center, the message and frustration is lost. Any and all comments from controllers involved in EWR metering is more than welcome. Please add your two cents. Hopefully we can learn something together.

Till next time....