October 24, 2013

Good Distractions

Morale at Boston Center is, well, not soaring right now.  I know, shocking.  We're getting paid again, though.  I try to stay away from politics  but the world is a soul sucking machine that is difficult to deal with.  We've had plenty of staffing recently, since we were told that any vacation, or family sick leave, or holidays that we took off would never be paid or reverted to leave.  So everyone was at work.  Plenty of breaks to go around and plenty of griping.  Ultimately, we're getting paid for everything, regardless of furlough status.

Working for a paycheck or not, I found the only solace in plugging in and actually working traffic.  It was a welcome distraction.    Most notably, let me tell you about a nice session at our newly designed Watertown low sector.  A sector reworked with the sole purpose of eliminating most distractions from the Utica high sector.  Watertown owns FL270 and below, and is meant to be a slower, but much more complex sector, than the Utica sector, which owns FL280 and above.  Over the course of a rather interesting hour, I was never busy, but I never stopped working in some manner.

I took over the sector with some military activity FL230 and below around GTB,  in the upper central part of the sector.  We had a 80mi x 20mi chunk of airspace blocked off for the drones to do whatever they want, and it wasn't really getting in the way.  I had to turn a BTV departure south a little to climb around it enroute to ORD, and then worked out a heading with Utica to fit in their sequence.  Just as I'm turning said traffic around the south corner of the military airspace, the military pilots call to announce they are done working in my airspace and that they want a handoff to GTB approach.  So I put in the requested altitude at 10000 and route the plane towards GTBs airspace and that forces the flight plan information at GTB approach.  They take the handoff and I switch the drones to approach.  I get a call from GTB asking for control on the military flights, and add that they have some westbound departures (a heads up that I have some more coordination in my near future with Canada).  I take a handoff on a Falcon jet landing at MSS from the high sector and I get control to turn them direct MSS, since my military is gone away.  The first of GTB's two departures (a PC-12) climbs out of ART towards ROC and I assign them their requested altitude of 14000.  I'll need to point this plane out slowly climbing to Trenton Terminal in Ontario.

The Falcon jet informs me that they want a visual approach to MSS and would like a through clearance to HPN since they're going to be on the ground for about 10 minutes and they don't want to deal with flight service.  It's the top of the hour now, they're about 10 minutes out of MSS, and I have a King Air proposed off at 37 past the hour.  I ask the Falcon jet if they can be off by 30 past, and they affirmatively respond. I give the Falcon jet a lower altitude and advise them to "Expect that in a few minutes, standby".

Here's a map of the area I own down to the ground (I made up the name O90, or 09D)

I don't have a shout line to Trenton like we do to all of the other facilities that we work with.  So I have to pick up the Toronto land line and dial 71.  It rings a few times, and then a friendly Canadian answers.  I point  out the PC-12 clipping his corner, climbing above his altitudes, and he happily approves it.  GTB calls to advise me of the next westbound departure, an Eagle Flight to ORD.  Roger.  A VFR checks in north of Albany, Roger.

So, my Falcon jet can get out by :30, but there are some minimum altitude issues for planes going direct to ALB from MSS, and there is some SLK action in the MPV sector.

"Due to SLK traffic, can you accept direct PTD prior to ALB for your terrain and obstruction avoidance?"
"Falcon Jet, cleared through MSS to the HPN airport via direct PTD, ALB, VALRE4 arrival, maintain 6000, expect FL270 10 minutes after departure, squawk code 3402, void if not off by 2130, if not off by 30, advice no later than 35 of intentions".

I mark the strip and put PTD into the flight plan.  The Eagle Flight checks in off ART and I climb them to FL230 (the upper limit of the low altitude Montreal Centre sector).  I dial 71 again and point this plane out to Trenton, as well.  The controller is even more cheery (if possible) and approves my point out again.  I make a few computer entries and get the PC-12 to flash to Cleveland Center.  I call Montreal to hand off the Eagle Flight.  There is traffic at FL220, so they take the handoff only climbing to FL210.  I stop the Eagle Flight and switch them to Montreal.

I can't give this Falcon jet the normal spiel when I switch him to advisory frequency since they're not cancelling IFR.  So, after a few minutes, they report the field in sight and I clear them for a visual approach.  "Change to advisory frequency approved, report airborne above 3000 on this frequency."  The Falcon jet acknowledges.  I switch the PC-12 to Cleveland.  The King Air proposed off MSS in 20 minutes checks in VFR climbing out of MSS.  They snuck out before the Falcon jet landed.  They'd like IFR to MHT, so I radar identify them VFR, and then call MPV sector to APREQ IFR direct MHT climbing to 9000.

"Cleared to MHT airport via direct climb and maintain 9000, SLK altimeter 2997"

The Falcon jet drops below radar coverage so I remove strip on the arrival and enter a departure message and hold message for the departure flight plan to HPN.

GTB approach flashes me a slow guy at 7000 eastbound direct LKP.  Thinking non-radar, this plane is in the way of my MSS Falcon jet departure.  In radar world, it won't be a problem.  And it wasn't.  A few minutes before their void time, the Falcon jet comes off climbing 4000 for 6000.  I call Montreal Centre and point them out climbing southbound for higher.  I climb them straight up to FL250 and they top the 7000 traffic in about three more radar hits.  The Falcon jet clears some FL260 traffic but they like the ride and elect to stay at FL250 as a final requested altitude.

These five planes gave me a solid 25 minutes of steady work.  Meanwhile, at any given time, the Utica sector had 15-20 planes flowing smoothly through the upper flight levels with half the work load.


On a separate note, last Saturday was the final day of HOST operations at Boston Center.  I'm pretty happy about it.  We had tested ERAM a few times over the past year or two, and I was always sad when I came back to work and HOST was back on.  ERAM has been on a long and frustrating road over the last decade.  The resulting system is a vast improvement over HOST.  From fully customizable controller user settings, to clearer and more consistent presentation of flight plans, three or five mile rings around aircraft depending on their location, faster display updates, and additional information displayed for aircraft in other ERAM facilities (currently just Cleveland).   To all the controllers out west who tested ERAM from its miserable beginnings, thank you for your hard work and insistence in a better program.  I've been spending most of my down time adjusting my scope settings to satisfy my anal retentiveness.  

So, despite the chaos of the world around us, we controllers have our world inside the NAS fully under control.  I'm glad that this job allows us to be fully mentally engaged in our work and, for about an hour at a time, provides a much needed distraction.

Till next time....