Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Map Makers



Here’s an oddball story that most people never think about in terms of air traffic control.

MAPPS Applauds FAA Approval of Training Tool to Improve Air Traffic Control Management of Aerial Survey Flights

”"MAPPS has, for several years, advocated such a training tool to help improve access to airspace and foster cooperation between aerial survey operators and air traffic controllers so that our members' vital missions can be carried out in a safe, efficient, and cost effective manner, " said MAPPS Executive Director John Palatiello. “

It’s really just a press release so it’s all fluff. But if you never think about these things, it will give you some insight as to some of the oddball missions air traffic controllers work. Trust me, aerial survey flights are a pain. Necessary -- but they’re still a pain. Back and forth. Back and forth. All day long. They’re like a flying roadblock.

One new pain is GPS. Well, make it people’s reaction to GPS. Flight plans are supposed to be filed with navigational aids as reference points. With the advent of GPS, pilots started filing Lat/Longs -- and nobody bothered stopping them. I know, there is someone reading this that doesn’t believe me.

Check out the AIM 5-1-8

c. Direct Flights

1. All or any portions of the route which will not be flown on the radials or courses of established airways or routes, such as direct route flights, must be defined by indicating the radio fixes over which the flight will pass. Fixes selected to define the route shall be those over which the position of the aircraft can be accurately determined. Such fixes automatically become compulsory reporting points for the flight, unless advised otherwise by ATC. Only those navigational aids established for use in a particular structure; i.e., in the low or high structures, may be used to define the en route phase of a direct flight within that altitude structure.


While eggheads and engineers dream of all this gee-whiz stuff it is things like that section of the AIM that make things work. Let me show you. I’m going on a trip today. I’m not flying -- but let’s pretend I am.

My destination is 3217/8326. That’s not very helpful without a GPS in your hand now is it ?

My destination is 51A. That’s even less useful -- unless you happen to be an air traffic controller that works that airport everyday. I’m pretty sure it’s in Atlanta Center (my old place of employment) but I couldn’t tell you where it was.

But I do know where Macon, Georgia is. And so does every controller within 300 miles of it. They even know the identifier for the “navigational aid” -- MCN. If you tell them that you’re going to the MCN156026 (that’s 26 miles southeast of MCN on a 156 degree bearing for you non-aviation folks) then they’ll be able to “see” (in their mental map) where you are going.

I would tie all that together for you (just think of a flight plan full of GPS coordinates) but I’ve got to get ready to go. Wish me luck. I haven’t been to Hawkinsville in 30-40 years. (Dang I hate saying “40 years ago.”)

Don Brown
December 9, 2008

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