Alaska Facilities See Increase in Operational Efficiency
Thursday, June 16, 2011
Thanks to an effort to foster collaboration between FAA management and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, three facilities in Alaska are increasing operational efficiency.
A group of controllers and management representatives used the collaborative process to rework the letter of agreement between Anchorage TRACON, Anchorage Center and Anchorage Tower.
The document had been adjusted several times during the past few years with “Band-Aid type fixes” that didn’t fully address problems, according to Steve Munroe, a controller at Anchorage Center and one of the Western Service Area regional coordinators for the collaboration effort.
“They were having a really hard time getting something between the three facilities that was working well,” Munroe said.
“The collaborative process worked extremely well in this case,” said Kent Peterson, air traffic manager at Anchorage TRACON and one of the joint sponsors of the collaborative process at the facility. “This group was able to clear up some problems in three months that had been lingering for years.”
Anchorage TRACON was selected as a test site for the FAA-NATCA collaboration program. But when the NATCA facility representative and the air traffic manager — the joint sponsors of the collaborative process — decided the letter of agreement was a good issue to tackle, the national Collaborative Work Group agreed to bring employees at the two neighboring facilities into the process and train them on the collaborative approach.
Employees from the three facilities worked together on the letter of agreement for three months and came up with more than 20 changes. The adjustments range from removing a list of definitions for items explained in other orders to reinstating an arrival/departure gate, resulting in streamlined procedures that will improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the flow of air traffic between the facilities.
Then they spent about a month developing a training and implementation plan.
“To have the folks that are doing the work from management and the union get together and develop these procedures and then develop the training package, it’s almost a turnkey operation, if you will, from start to finish,” said Don Kirby, the air traffic district manager for Northern California and one of the Western Service Area regional coordinators for the collaboration effort. “We just get so much closer to hitting the center of the target than our experiences in the past.” There are three pairs of regional coordinators in the West. Alaska’s facilities are part of the group that Kirby and Munroe support.
The new letter of agreement went into effect May 1. To make sure controllers understand they have a stake in the process, facility leaders put out paper forms in operational corridors so controllers could write down their concerns with the new procedures and suggest ways to improve them.
The collaborative team is reviewing that feedback now and plans to make further changes to the letter of agreement later this month, Peterson said. Munroe described the suggestions so far as “little tweaks.”
That post-implementation work should have two positive impacts, according to Russ Miller, the NATCA national project lead for the collaborative process.
“First of all they learn the blind spots, the small things they might’ve missed,” Miller said. “And also they have more buy-in to the product, rather than [a situation in which] they did their work and then somebody else fixes it.”
The joint sponsors at Anchorage Tower/TRACON have already formed another team to address issues with intra-facility feeds, and they are planning to form a team to tackle NOTAM dissemination, Peterson said.
At Anchorage Center, formal training on the collaborative process is taking place, and a collaborative group will be formed to revise the standard operating procedures for the facility, according to Bob Watkins, the air traffic manager at Anchorage Center.
Watkins said he was impressed with the collaborative process.
“I was nervous at first,” he said. “But it turned out to be outstanding.”