ATSAP Bumps Up ZAU Speed Restriction
Thursday, December 13, 2012

Latest in a series; a joint collaborative article published by both ATO Communications and NATCA.

When controllers at Chicago Center (ZAU) noticed several flights leaving O’Hare International Airport were breaking speed restrictions, they figured the best way to address the issue would be via ATSAP. They were right.

The controllers filed ATSAP reports, and ATO Safety leaders took the issue to airlines operating in the region.

It turns out the speed restriction was down at the bottom of the chart for the standard instrument departure procedure.

Because the restriction was at the bottom of the departure plate, pilots who didn’t know to look for it could easily miss it, said Michael Fant, who works in the Flight Standards Safety Management System at United Airlines.

The restriction, which sets the maximum speed at 250 knots, helps maintain stable separation between flights moving from Chicago TRACON to ZAU, according to Mike Hannigan, a support manager at the center. But pilots who are unfamiliar with the area’s procedures didn’t know to limit their speed.

“Pilots who don’t come to the Chicago area a lot, when they come out of 10,000 [feet], were going to a normal speed,” Hannigan said.

The restriction is also in place for flights leaving Midway International Airport, and those flights occasionally break the restriction as well.

Notes like the speed restriction are normally in the upper right corner of a procedure plate, and pilots know to check that area for information, Fant said.

That’s where the speed restriction is now, thanks to the heads up from the ATSAP reports.

"Chicago Center was one the first sites to deploy ATSAP,” said Toby Hauck, NATCA ZAU facility representative. “We have had many success stories dealing with all sorts of issues from systemic to equipment. ATSAP is part of our daily safety culture. This is just another example of positive outcomes of ATSAP at Chicago Center."

The ZAU ATSAP reports were shared with airlines through the Confidential Information Sharing Program (CISP).

CISP is an agreement between the FAA and several airlines to share information gathered through their voluntary safety reporting programs. CISP gives the FAA and the airlines access to information they otherwise wouldn’t have, elevating managers’ awareness of safety issues and providing a more complete picture of safety incidents.

Thanks to ATSAP and CISP, the ATO and the airlines are now working through the issue together, according to Mike Blake, the ATSAP representative on NATCA’s National Safety Committee and the NATCA co-lead for CISP.

“The airlines are even taking this information and using it as part of their training,” he said.

And it’s not just in the upper right corner. It’s also in bold with a colored background that stands out against the rest of the black and white chart.

Since the changes were made, controllers at ZAU have noticed far fewer flights breaking the restriction. That’s in large part because of ATSAP, and a controller-pilot information sharing program at Chicago Center, which made it possible for controllers discuss the issue with pilots.

“Those [ATSAP] positives, they work,” Fant said. “We listen to you guys. It’s a good team.”