August 8, 2009

Five Phases

Now that I have almost two whole summers working on my own at Boston Center, I will play the humble role of the seasoned expert and report the trends that I have found. Controllers, please add your two cents if you'd like.....

As promised... The Five Phases:

As the morning becomes afternoon, clouds build and turn from cute little cumuli into budding cauliflower. The props start asking for deviations around random clouds that show no signs of precipitation. In another hour, full blown raging thunderheads pop up all over the sky. From the controller perspective, we show many areas of "moderate precipitation," but whether or not an aircraft deviates around it or flies right through it is completely random.

By late afternoon, some small thunderstorms start merging together to form bigger more obvious storms. Patterns develop, and it becomes quite obvious where planes are simply not willing to fly any longer. This brings us to the next phase...

Once we figure out where planes will fly, and where they won't fly, it's time to set up some reroutes. This is a very busy time. You start working traffic you don't normally work, and usually not in the direction you're used to working it. Eastbound sectors become two way sectors. Westbound sectors become eastbound sectors. Weird things often happen. Boston arrivals may usually enter your sector from the you're working them all from the south too. Kennedy arrivals may have to be handed off to Cleveland Center going the wrong way (see previous post from earlier in the summer!). Everyone is rerouted over ART. Albany departures won't take a westbound heading...

Phase two gives everyone a headache, because every plane is much higher maintenance. Normally you see ORD in the datablock and you think "stay's level, handoff to Cleveland". Now, you need 40 miles in trail on a reroute to Toronto. You see an ALB departure going to IAD. You think "point out to DNY sector on J6 climbing...." you hear "we don't show that on our route, center" "Oh crap" He's filed over SYR this hour.

Aircraft on some routes refuse to meet standard SOP restrictions for the next sector. Normally, you'd descend a PVD to FL290...well, they need to stay up at FL390 to get over the line of storms. Fine with me...but that starts affecting two or three sectors down the line that aren't designed to have a PVD arrival that high. BDL arrivals start deviating east of course and now an entirely different area in the Center is getting involved.

At some point, all those reroutes stop working (storms are moving)....

Either you set up a whole new set of reroutes and Phase Two continues indefinitely, or....

If you're feeling lucky, the storms will form into a nice line and cut off all the flows into your sector....Which brings us to phase three.

Phase Three seems great. You're sitting at your once nasty sector, all by yourself, maybe working one or two planes at a time thinking "what are these two planes THINKING! They must have a death wish!" After a while, you really can't justify getting paid to sit around and do nothing....

The kicker: The longer Phase Three remains in effect, the higher the chances of Phase FIVE occurring. We'll get to that later.

As the storms pass through, normal routes become available in and out of your sector again. The Ground Stops are lifted and the traffic is coming with a vengeance. Passengers and Crew have been stranded on the hold pad for hours waiting for this break in the weather. Brace for impact. TMU releases the planes with nary a restriction but don't expect the approach control to just take what you've got unless there is some sort of in-trail. Sectors run at high volume for hours on end, often at the end of a night shift. Beware of Overtime looming at the end of your shift in order to keep staffing on hand to keep the sectors open.

If storms back build over the major airports, or the miles-in-trail you gave the next sector doesn't cut it for the approach control...

These planes have been waiting all day to get in, and now the arrival gate has been slammed shut. It's coming up on midnight, if not later, and everyone is miserable. Aircraft are holding, running low on fuel and duty time requirements, and frankly, its time to go home. The overnight "mid" shift people are taking over, and after a long hard days work, all you have to show for it is four neatly stacked holding patterns full of airplanes. "Enjoy!" as you run for the door...

- All phases do not happen everyday.
- Many nights never make it past Phase Two.
- This may not apply to all areas of the country.
- Phase Five doesn't happen very often, and thusly, phase three doesn't happen very often either.
- Phase Four really sucks and makes us feel very uncomfortable during Phase Three. We know what's coming.
-Phase Three hasn't happened nearly as much this year as the last few years I've been around.

Comments moderated but welcome.

Till next time...



Frank Van Haste said...


Re: Phase 1, and your comment: "The props start asking for deviations around random clouds that show no signs of precipitation." I know darned well that when those cumulus clouds are building 2K or 3K feet above my cruise altitude, with lots of instability and thermal energy available, then the ride going through is going to be excessively entertaining. So I ask you for a deviation. If you say unable, I will just tighten my seatbelt and bore on through it...which I will not do with a fully developed CB; you'll hear the E word in that case.

Also, re: "we show many areas of "moderate precipitation," but whether or not an aircraft deviates around it or flies right through it is completely random." Might have to do with the pilot's experience and comfort level going through that sort of wx. I know that I can go through the yellow areas of the NEXRAD returns (with due respect and consideration of the latency issues) and will do so judiciously. But I do so based on experience. Other pilots who haven't proven to themselves that the moderate returns are flyable will stick to the green areas...and I don't fault 'em for that.

Thanks for the interesting post.


ZOBCPC said...

Yup, that's about right. With experience in both ZNY and ZOB, i can say it's about the same everywhere when it comes to summer. The biggest problem i see is the lack of pre-planning by Traffic Management. They aren't fast enough in reacting to weather changes. Most of the time its run them at the weather, until they can't go that way anymore or the sector is so overloaded that it can't take anymore, THEN find plan B. It's been the same for years and people that have been around alot longer then I have said it's always been that way. NexGen will not solve the problem. Weather is weather, over scheduling airports will always lead to delays. Until we look at the problem in a new way, we're in FAIL mode.

magic beans said...

NextGen will make the storms go away.

Vannevar said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

You left out Phase 6, that's where you have nightmares or "dreams" reworking the traffic that evening and wake up exhausted and pissed that your nights sleep was ruined.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm... yep that about covers it. ZKC between March and October is this way... all day... every day.

It's good to see ZOB TMU is as effective as ours is here...

Anonymous said...

During all these phases ZOB has to call ZBW sectors to take handoffs. The chowder heads are a real pain to work with.

Delancy, Rochester hand off.

Rockdale, Genneseo spinning at the boundary.

Taking handoffs is a basic air traffic skill. Skills ZBW lacks

Anonymous said...

1-ZOB uses the autoflash which results in:
1a)ZOB having to call at the same time the aircraft begins to flash because it's already on the boundary; and/or
1b)ZBW having to make sure that ZOB isn't giving them a deal with the CYUL northbound and KHPN eastbound; and/or
1c)ZBW sector 10 having to check with sector 8/9 since the aircraft is only going to enter 10 for 0.5 miles, and instead of pointing the aircraft out to 10 and addressing it to 8/9, ZOB again uses the autoflash.

Anonymous said...

Excuses are like Aholes, everybody has one.

That "autoflash" handoff was started 50 miles from the boundary. So I am calling on the landline after the target has been in handoff status for 3 - 4 minutes. At the same time I am taking your handoffs east of SYR (over 40 miles from boundary), because as soon as the aircraft is 30 miles from the boundary ZBW is calling on the landline.

As far as giving ZBW deals, ZOB gets traffic from ZBW conflicting with ZNY trafffic in the triangle on a daily basis. The best ones are the conflicts between Utica sector and Rocdale sector. I guess ZBW doesn't watch limited data blocks.

Anonymous said...

Re: Autoflash, don't start lying and saying that they're flashing 50nm from the boundary. I sit there and watch the bright codes creep along and keep coming and coming, then the instant it pops up on my scope as a FDB I see the 97 line light up with "RockDAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALE, shtewBON handoff!" It's a nuisance, but hey, at least you guys are consistent. Us ZBW'ers don't have as much confidence in the auto-handoff to use it with such routine like you folks.

Regarding the westbound flow, 99% of people start flashing them as soon as they enter the sectors eastern boundary, and they flash the whole way through, ZOBers should know and admit to this because there are plenty of days when you see C39 grabbing guys that are still east of UCA.

Re: deals. Use the LDB argument all you want, but it's a LOT worse when someone is giving a deal based on two planes THEY'RE working, vs a ldb that will never hit their airspace and a plane they're working. Apples and Oranges, buddy.

One last thing, ZOBers sure have an interesting take on "spacing" if you want to give us some Boston's tied, that's fine (believe it or not, again, unlike ZOB, we're vector equipped). But don't do something to ENSURE they remain tied...I will never forget the two Bostons, at the same FL, equal distance from alb, ASSIGNED the SAME mach number!


Anonymous said...

I think it's fair to say that the timeliness of handoffs are subject to the controllers on position in their respective centers. I guess there are just a lot more autoflashers in ZOB than late takers in ZBW.

In reference to ZBW "giving" ZOB deals in the triangle, the triangle airspace was designed so that one center (ZOB) would know about what the other two (ZBW and ZNY) are doing, rather than no one knowing. Therefore, deconflicting those aircraft is your (ZOB's) job, suck it up.

I disagree that "the best ones are the conflicts between Utica sector and Rockdale sector." Those are two separate sectors, complying with the LOA. If they give you two aircraft that are unknown to each other, (since they are in different sectors), that conflict 20 miles in your airspace, again, suck it up, do your job. The BEST ones are when Geneseo gives Rockdale traffic that is in conflict with other aircraft that Geneseo is working. You see that's more pathetic because you're working and know about both aircraft. (I think there's something about separating "known" traffic in the .65, but you must have missed that while working on the "basic air traffic skill" of typing 3 numbers or right clicking on a target).

PS-Please note the proper spelling of "Geneseo." It's kind of embarrassing and detracts from your argument when you can't spell your own sector.

deltamike172 said...

I would like to add that I personally don't really care about any of this, as long as we're not killing anybody, which we aren't, YET!!!!

I cannot vouch for any of this inter-center ranting going on. Thanks for reading!


Anonymous said...

To all you ZBW late handoff takers keep sucking up your chowda. After I retire on 8/31 I won't have to call you losers for handoffs anymore. Enjoy those 50 mile inside your airspace conflictions my buddies keep giving you. SUCK IT UP CHOWDA HEADS.

deltamike172 said...

To Anonymous from ZOB,
My only reply would be that you should call on more handoffs and, more importantly, call us earlier. There doesn't seem to be much respect for our airspace, in that on the off-chance that we pick up and line and say "unable", you'd have nary a prayer to contain the aircraft in your sector.

I will conclude with a kind thank you for reading and we all appreciate your years of work and dedication to your country and the flying public. I sincerely hope that someday I can look back on my long, successful career in air traffic, laughing/grumbling about those darned "other" controllers and look forward to a well deserved retirement. Congrats!

Anonymous said...

Now that we're into September, you're long gone and I'll never hear you on the lines again, yay. Sadly, I think I'll continue to see auto-flashes and late handoffs/deals come from you guys. Even though you admit to suck and retired to days ago, I'm afraid there are several more of you out there who we'll be working with for years.