FAA-NATCA Collaboration Focuses on ZDC Airspace Changes
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
April 12 — When Washington Center became a test site for a new collaborative process between NATCA and FAA management, the facility's air traffic manager and NATCA facility representative had already formed a group that had been working on an ambitious airspace project for months.
Two NATCA-appointed Certified Professional Controllers and two managers started the process to realign Washington Center's operations floor and redesign its airspace in June. They published a business case for the project in August, and planned to set up a team of controllers and managers to guide it.
"We had already formulated that we were going to establish a collaborative team made up of subject matter experts that work the traffic and provide the service every day," said Dave Perkins, the airspace redesign program manager at Washington Center and the management advocate for the project. "It makes sense to involve the people who are doing the work on both sides."
Two months later, Washington Center became one of 10 test sites for NATCA-FAA collaboration. The air traffic manager, Jim Arrasmith, and the NATCA facility representative, Tim Hardison, had to pick a project for a collaborative team to work on. The choice was clear.
"I couldn't think of a better project to pick for the collaborative process," Hardison said. "If I were designing a new roofing hammer, I would want the roofer who holds the hammer in his hand every day helping me. We are redesigning airspace, it only makes sense to have the individuals who work aircraft in that airspace every day helping make decisions on how to redesign it."
That previous work on the airspace project "gave us an avenue and an umbrella to establish the collaborative airspace team," Perkins said.
And the team is working well under that umbrella, striving as Perkins said, to "do the right thing for the right reasons for the system." It has been in place since October and is currently putting together an implementation plan for the realignment.
The plan will condense Washington Center's operational areas from eight to six and align them with market flows.
For example, one area will handle flights moving through Washington Center's airspace on their way from New York to Florida. Another will handle arrivals coming into the Washington metropolitan area from the west.
The realignment stands to save the facility almost $4 million annually in reduced payroll costs for front line and operations managers. By condensing operations into six areas, Washington Center will need 14 fewer front line managers and two fewer operations managers, with these positions phased out through attrition. That savings will cover the cost of the realignment, which is estimated at $5.2 million.
But once the realignment is coupled with the airspace redesign, the saving to airlines and other airspace users will be far greater.
The collaborative team took into account recommendations from the Metroplex project, which aims to improve and enhance the use of performance-based navigation in several metropolitan areas around the country, including the Washington area.
One of those recommendations was to incorporate more optimized profile descents into the area's airports. Such descent paths allow a plane to glide down from cruising altitude to the runway without leveling off and with minimal fuel burn. The team is currently aiming to arrange the airspace and the operations floor to accommodate six of the descent procedures, for an estimated annual fuel savings of $18.9 million based on November 2010 fuel costs. (Fuel costs have risen more than 25 percent since then, meaning if the procedures were implemented today, the savings would be even higher.)
And it's not just the airlines that will benefit. That cost savings, calculated by the Metroplex project, translates into a 108,300-ton annual reduction in carbon emissions, a significant benefit to the environment. The descents should also improve safety at the facility by reducing the number of clearances issued—in some cases to one from eight—and therefore the number of chances a pilot or controller will commit a readback/hearback error, Perkins said.
The team plans to make other significant changes to the airspace.
"Our philosophy has always been, as Dave likes to say, to do the right thing for the right reason," said Kenneth Burton, the NATCA vice president at Washington Center and Perkins' counterpart on the collaborative team. "So we moved the sectors but at the same time we're looking at the stratums, we're looking at the boundaries, we're looking at the flows. We're not just doing it in a vacuum, we're doing it together to gain the efficiencies, which MITRE has validated for us."
The facility hopes to begin the implementation of the realignment this spring and wrap it up by June 2012, before refresher training starts for ERAM implementation, according to Perkins. Once the realignment implementation begins, the team will turn its attention to the airspace redesign.
And after that, the third phase of the effort will begin: using benefits and efficiencies gained from Washington Center airspace changes to enhance other airspace design efforts.
"Our philosophy here is to get Washington Center as efficient as possible to help the New York/New Jersey/Philadelphia Airspace Redesign efficiencies and benefits," said Burton. "If we do what we do as well as we can, we believe that helps the system overall."
One of the aims of the collaborative process is to let employees working in the field apply their expertise to make the FAA a better place to work.
As well as Washington Center, the other Collaborative Process test sites are: Boston Tower, Anchorage TRACON, Kansas City Center, Houston TRACON, Chicago O'Hare Tower, Salt Lake TRACON, San Juan CERAP, Oakland Center and Southwest Regional Office.
The FAA and NATCA are now moving forward with the national rollout of the collaborative process at all facilities, with training already under way.