January 11, 2010

This is Normal

Sometimes I'm glad I just sit in a dark room and talk to airplanes over the radio because there are times when my restraint would go by the wayside and I just want to reach over and smack the pilot up-side the head, but I'd get in trouble if I did that....so.....

I'll just tell you about it.

I was sitting at Albany radar, and it was slow. Saturday evenings tend to be that way. There were a few lingering European arrivals coming into Newark, and we had 15 miles in trail that we had to give to New York Approach. The first plane calls himself Mystral zero zero three, although where Mystral comes from is nothing but a Mystery to me. Since I don't have any traffic, I just descend him to 16000 without a restriction at ALB; they'll probably cross it anyways out of habit. He is assigned Mach .81 since a Continental jet is close behind assigned Mach .78.

I ask the Mystral what his "Normal" speed would be (if you didn't have a speed assigned, how fast would you fly on your own?) He responds, "uh, we go 290 knots, but can go faster if you'd like, sir". I love polite foreign pilots. "Rgr, standby."

"Continental 55, what speed would you transition to normally?"
"Uh, we can do whatever you need, what would you like?"
"Continental 55, that wasn't what I asked, if I deleted your speed restriction, what speed will you transition (from mach number to indicated knots) to normally"

I'm a compromising kind of guy. Mystral said he'd go faster, so if COA WANTS to speed up to 310 or something, I'll give them both 300 knots. If COA is currently assigned faster than he would normally be flying, I'll just let them both fly how they'd like and the spacing will work out on its own.

"We'll do whatever you need us to do, center, Continental 55"

At this point, I just want a number. Anything. Lie to me. I don't care. Whatever, I'll just turn this guy out and get my spacing that way.

"Mystral 003 maintain two niner zero knots or greater, thank you."

Continental comes back and responds that "normal is 290 as well". "Roger, upon leaving FL230, resume normal speed." Sigh. Once below FL230, the COA55 is in my airspace and I turn him right to a 270 heading to get my 15 miles. My D-side gives me some crap about wasting transmissions and I re-clear the COA55 on course.


This has happened before. I recall a similar instance a few months back during the early morning rush at DNY/HNK sector.

We needed 20 miles in trail for LGA props, and, as always, the ROC and SYR departures were mostly tied up. I won't name names because, frankly, this is a little embarrassing. They are both Dash 8-200s (see picture above), and the first plane is flying along at about the same speed as the other, if not a few knots faster, so I plan on assigned that speed or greater to make sure he doesn't slow down without telling me. I'll vector the second one to get the 20 miles I need and then assign the same speed or less to keep the spacing. Both planes are the same type, so I'm pretty sure if the first one can fly a speed, the second one can do that too...

"callsign, you're number one to LGA today, say speed." Pilots feel special when you tell them they're first!
"Roger that, Center, we'll give you anything, what do you need?" Seriously.
My D-side and I both exchange the "answer the question without asking another question" look. My first thought is to answer his question with ultra-sarcasm, like Mach 1, or something. My second thought is how tough would it be to make this guy number 2...I tone it down a little...

"callsign, roger, maintain 290 knots or greater, advise if unable". Nothing but professionalism at all times. I know they can't go that fast (the 'advise if unable' is the hint not to accept the clearance), but you said you could give me anything I needed, buddy, and 290 knots sure would help my spacing!

"Roger, 290 or greater."
My D-side exchange another look, this one almost comical. He SOOOO didn't just take that clearance, did he!?

Then another voice, most likely the captain, keys up with a "uh, we can't do that, how about 220 knots?" That's more like it.

"Roger, maintain 220 knots or greater."


Till next time....



Anonymous said...

Heh, heh. Sometime in the last few months I added an essay on speed control to my website. Not so much a primer as a "Speed Control for Dummies" for any lay readers I might have visiting. In it I tell about speed control in the old days (when we used the actual dinosaurs for fuel--not their fossilized remains) versus today.

Back in the day, EA, UA, DL, TW, AA, CO would all go anywhere from 350 to 400 KIAS in their descent (from probably FL290 when they could get to it, down to probably the low teens. Yes, I have assigned 400 knots. Also back in the day, NW had a company speed restriction of 320 KIAS max. Guess who always got sequenced second?

Nowadays, NW is a real speed merchant at 320. The youngsters practically beg a jet to do 340. Hah! 340 was the speed we used to give #4 or #5.

In ZAU we didn't do much twenty questions about desired speeds with the pilots. We pretty much told them what we needed, although I do admit that you have to learn what they can and will (or won't) do somehow, so your story makes sense.

In truth, though, you really only need to have that conversation a couple of times. After that, you tell them what you need for your problem which cuts down the debate by about 75%.

How was ATL?

ZJX, ORD, ZAU retired


deltamike172 said...

ATL was pretty awesome, good times all around. Great wedding.

The only speeds that are the same day in and day out are the Jetlinks that always fly 315 and the Southwests that transition to 261...yes...they put out a memo saying 261...not 262...

If there is chop I generally won't assign over 290, but I know they can all go 310-320 without questions if its smooth. Now that I think about it, I generally ask these "what do you transition to" questions to the bizjets going to HPN, since it always varies alot. Again, If the G5 wants 340, and the Hawker wants 290, well, how about 310 or 320 then. I like making no-one happy, I guess.


PS. The next sector usually will call and tell us "slow him to 250" since they are holding for N90...so, no sense going overboard for the 5 minutes in the descent...

deltamike172 said...

I suppose I should add to the non-aviation folk out there, that the speeds have come down alot in recent years due to the cost of fuel. Airlines tell their pilots to fly really, really, really slow and they are only allowed to speed up if ATC says they need it...

There is an Air Canada flight that flies the YYZ-BOS flight at Mach .62 in an E190. That's great and all, but I either have to speed him up to .78 to keep him in front of the all the west coast 757s that come in at the same time...or I vector the crap out of him to make him last...but that doesn't really save gas, now does it.

Brendan M. said...

This isn't your part of the country but I think it applies to what you're saying. I fly in and out of Atlanta and to fly our regional jets efficiently (CRJ) the company sometimes has us fly fast and sometimes they have us fly slow depending on (among other things) the price of gas. Anyway, one day we're buzzing along at 260 knots since we're early and saving gas when ATL Center speeds us up to 310 for spacing. After he gets his 40 in trail (or whatever it was) that he needs he says "resume normal speed" so we pull it back to 260. About a minute later asks us why we slowed back down and reassigns a speed with great haste. It's a battle we'll continue to fight but for the most part we're just trying to help and not cause a fuss when we answer that way...remember we get paid by the hour too.

DeAnn said...

funny - perfect unexpected laugh - I came in for a look at the VOR from the ground shot -

Anonymous said...


What type of aircraft has the ability to fly 400(KIAS)? That would be a new one to me? TYAS maybe, but indicated? Was this military? And you "assigned " this? Just curious.......