March 17, 2010


I'm back from my nice, four-day jaunt over to Denver. It could have been warmer, or sunnier. But, whatever. It was still lots of fun and I enjoyed my vacation. I also had a mostly smooth flight for the first time in a long time, it seems. Expect some pictures to follow.


In my area, the biggest "event" of late was the consolidation of Griffiss Approach into Syracuse Approach. I had argued before that moving controllers' homes and workplaces away from their airspace is never good for safety, but it was hard to argue that RME approach was too busy to be closed...and the FAA wouldn't take "just fix the leaky roof with Stimulus money" for an answer. Most of the controllers in RME were able to transfer to other facilities, and a few others will commute, and later move to SYR, last I heard. The control tower at RME airport remains open as a separate facility.

On the operational front, the merge was preempted by a half hour long briefing in the conference room about a week ahead of time. Our letter of agreement (the agreed upon procedures between facilities) was canceled with RME approach, of course, and changes were made to the Syracuse Letter of Agreement to include the procedures for the RME airspace addition. There were still some automation issues to be addressed, but it seemed rather straightforward, and has proven to be a mostly smooth transition on our end.

Our 06, 21, and 36 landlines were relabeled, and our communications touch-screen looks much better organized, in my opinion.

But that isn't very interesting, so I'll go over some issues we've had.

At the briefing, I asked a simple question: "Do we flash the planes to R or S if they are going into the old RME airspace, and what will the datablock say to indicate that we are handing the plane off to the correct SYR approach sector?"

For handoffs to other ATC facilities, we have simplified automation. We type a single letter: C for Cleveland Center, N for New York Center and all the approach controls using their HOST computer for flight data (BGM, AVP, N90), A for Albany, S for Syracuse, L for Wheeler Sack, and R for Griffiss, then input the aircraft ID, hit ENTER, and it should flash to the appropriate sector based on route of flight and altitude. So, do I still use R? The initial answer was "yes, because of ERAM, we still have to flash to R, then it will forward to S automatically, and who knows what the datablock will say, it should be obvious." Oh OK. There were a few other questions that received the always popular "use your best judgment" answer. We all rolled our eyes.

Then, on the day of the merge, we were told NOT to flash to R, only use S, and that has worked every since. HOST still gets a little confused which sector we want the plane to flash to sometimes, and that requires manual coordination using one of our fancy, new, relabeled landlines.

Our new Letter of Agreement also added a new SYR departure route that avoids New York Center's airspace. Where as before, we always had to call New York before we could climb the plane above 10000 under their airspace if SYR was departing west. This new route was screwing up SYR approach's handoff to Boston Center (it kept trying to process the flight plan to New York, the very airspace it was meant to avoid, go figure), and it took a few hours to determine that this wasn't our problem, so the tower was tasked with fixing the routes for the departure controller.

Ending on a positive, our new Letter of Agreement allows us to clear everyone direct to their airport, so that makes the pilots happy.

I would say, from my view, operationally, the consolidation has gone better than expected. I can't say the same for the controllers who have to pack up and move away and learn new airspace...

Till next time...


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