Monday, August 23, 2010

An Amendment To Your Routing...



I was reading a post by my friend Frank at N631S awhile back and it just won’t leave me alone.

Clearance Roulette (cont’d)

”The ATC computer seems to have trouble getting N631S and me a workable clearance for our Monday morning trips from DC to Connecticut. As usual, there's a back-story to the tale.

Early on, I would file something like:
POLLA V312 GOLDA V268 ENO V16 JFK V229 PUGGS at 7,000 feet.

I learned very quickly that I'd be required to descend to 5,000 feet approaching ENO if I wanted that routing. Period. And that was annoying because I'd just used all the AvGas needed to get up to 7,000 where the air was clear and the tailwind stronger.”


Frank flies the same trip over and over. And over. It ought to be the same route -- every single time -- and it ought to work. He should file it. And he should get “cleared as filed” -- every single time. (Except for weather problems of course.)

As almost every pilot (and every controller) knows, it doesn’t work that way. It could work that way (most of the time) but it doesn’t. And it hasn’t for years. Why? Inertia. “Not invented here” syndrome. Mostly, it doesn’t work that way because people have given up. The controllers in each facility know the routings for their facility. But the coordination between facilities is where the system falls apart. It shouldn’t. But it does.

So the routes that are in the computers (each Center has their own database of preferences) never change -- even when the procedures in another facility change. And so, we amend the same flights, over and over.

”About three minutes later, the Dover Approach controller was back with a routing change. He cleared me present position to ENO, thence V268 LEEAH V1 JFK, rest of route unchanged. Perfect.

But it seems like a lot of effort to do something that ought to be simple.”


Those three minutes are what slows down air traffic control. And we do it over and over and over and over and over. Here’s a news flash. ERAM won’t change it. GPS won’t change it. A new and improved computer system won’t change it. A new President and a new Congress won’t change it. A new Administrator won’t change it.

The only thing that will change it would be a commitment to excellence on the FAA’s part. By everybody. Everybody (pilots, controllers and staff) would have to know the rationale behind the routes and it would take lots and lots of education. It can be done. But it would take money. Anytime an airspace change was made it would have to be coordinated and communicated among all the parties. In other words --dull, dreary staff work. Lots of time. Lots of money. Lots of education in lots of briefings. Yes -- it is expensive.

And that’s the reason it never gets done. And it never will be. Because it’s a whole lot easier to tell ourselves that technology will change it. And nobody ever counts the cost of those three minutes wasted -- over and over and over and over and over -- thousands of times a day.

On a personal note, I know that a lot of people wish I would write more about these kind of details. Therein lies the problem. I don’t have access to the details anymore. Airspace changes. Routes change. And memories fade. I don’t know if GSP Approach still has to route every single low altitude en route aircraft around CLT Approach towards the GENOD intersection, then to BZM and then points East and Northeast. I bet they do. I bet half the controllers just stick them on a heading still. And aren’t happy about it. And I bet there still isn’t an airway around CLT Approach like I asked for 15 years ago.

But I don’t know.

(P.S. Just because I was doing some research... August 23rd fell on a Monday in 2004 also. Atlanta Center’s traffic count was 8,783 for that day. I have no idea what it is now. Or how they count it.)

Don Brown
August 23, 2010

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