What is OAPM?
Friday, October 12, 2012

By Jeff Woods
NATCA National OAPM Study Team Lead

“NextGen,” “Metroplex,” and “OAPM” have quickly made their way into air traffic control vernacular but what exactly is OAPM? How long has it existed? What does it mean for controllers? And what does it mean when a “Study Team” arrives at a facility?  

OAPM stands for Optimization of Airspace and Procedures in the Metroplex. It was developed in direct response to the RTCA’s Task Force 5 Final Report on Mid-term NextGen Implementation. The OAPM project has been underway since 2010 and has evolved through lessons learned and collaboration of cross-functional teams to meet the complex needs of each Metroplex.  

The ultimate goal of OAPM is to ensure that, as NextGen is rolled out, controllers, industry stakeholders and facilities have procedures and resources in place to ensure the safest, most expeditious, cost effective method of moving aircraft. The OAPM Study Team completes the critical first phase of the process used to achieve project goals.

OAPM implements Performance Based Navigation (PBN) procedures and airspace changes through a five-phase process: 

  • Study and Scope
  • Design and Procedure Development
  • Operational Evaluation and Environmental Review
  • Implementation and Training
  • Post Implementation Review and Modifications

To further the project there are prescribed steps associated within each phase of the process. There are five steps associated with the Study Phase. They are:

Site Selection
The number and order of Metroplex studies each year is determined based on resource availability and site readiness.

Study Team Membership Selection
Selected Study Team members are dedicated for a minimum of 12 months and are generally not detailed to FAA Headquarters. Once Study Team membership is finalized, a Study Team Lead is selected. In accordance with RTCA agreements, the OAPM Operational Program Manager arranges for industry stakeholder participation on Study Teams. The Performance-Based Navigation Integration Group (PBNIG) assigns a full-time participant for each Study Team. Additional Study Team members include contract support personnel. 

Preliminary Study Team Activities
Prior to the deployment of a Study Team, several preliminary activities are conducted, including kickoff meeting planning, field coordination and site package development. Approximately 30 to 45 days prior to the Study Team kickoff meeting, the affected facilities, regions and service areas/service centers are contacted and briefed by the Study Team Manager and Lead, as well as the NATCA National Study Team Lead and the NATCA Study Team Representative.  

Study Team Execution, Report Development and Results Presentation 
The Study Team Lead and NATCA counterpart conduct the Study Team activities with guidance from the Operational Program Manager for OAPM, the NATCA National Study Team Lead and the OAPM Study Team Manager. Near the end of the Study Phase, the Study Team Lead arranges a meeting with the lead Environmental Specialist in Airspace Services (AJV) to review the proposed solutions to ensure they can remain within the guidelines of an Environmental Assessment.  

Decision to Start the Design Phase
Once the team has collectively completed its process and successfully documented steps taken and lessons learned, the effort shifts to the Design and Implementation Team.

When a Study Team arrives at a selected Metroplex, it analyzes operational challenges and situations, assesses current and planned airspace and procedures efforts and explores new solution opportunities in a consistent manner. Using the results of the Study Teams, the Design and Implementation (D&I) Teams are responsible for executing the design, evaluation and implementation portions of each OAPM Metroplex effort. In total, each OAPM Metroplex effort is expected to be completed within approximately 30 to 45 months of the kickoff date.

The collaborative team approach is what makes the process so effective. A constant dialogue exists among teams to ensure that issues are properly vetted, and that findings and recommendations are transparent. The ongoing communication fosters and promotes solution-based workgroups. With this focus, OAPM teams have been successful working towards the goal of the project. In fact here are a few of the project statistics to date:

  • Eight Study Teams have completed their project phases;
  • Three D&I Teams (Washington, D.C., North Texas and Houston) are in the Operational Evaluation and Environmental phase of their projects;
  • Three D&I Teams are in the Design and Procedure Development Phase (Northern California, Atlanta and Charlotte);
  • Two D&I Teams (Southern California and Florida) are scheduled to start the Design and Procedure Development Phase in early 2013; and
  • One Study Team (Phoenix) is scheduled to start January 2013.

This is an exciting time to be part of air traffic control. NextGen is upon us and those of us working in the field are pioneering our nation’s new approach to air traffic. OAPM is the vehicle that will transition us, with Study Teams providing the foundation that will help make the transition smoother and impact generations to come.