02-13-2006, 06:10 AM #1
Planes approaching airports in New York fly closer together
WASHINGTON, Feb. 12 — Planes approaching airports in New York will be permitted to fly closer together in a trial period beginning Monday, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, which says it is trying to fine-tune its standards to improve traffic flow without diminishing safety.
But the 90-day trial comes amid an extended dispute between the agency and the air traffic controllers' union about how many employees are required to meet safety standards. Last year the union pointed out scores of cases in which planes were too close together, violations that the F.A.A. did not know existed.
The agency recorded more than 270 of these "operational errors" in low-altitude traffic in the New York area last year, cases in which planes under the jurisdiction of an air traffic controller were found to be too close together, up from 24 the previous year.
It is trying to separate the violations into those that are important from those that Bruce Johnson, vice president of the Air Traffic Organization of the F.A.A., called "ticky-tack." The rules cover planes being supervised by the New York Terminal Radar Approach Control, known as a Tracon. Around the country, Tracon rules state that planes in line to land must be at least three miles apart, or the controller is charged with a violation and sent for retraining. After three violations, a controller can be fired.
But supervisors also pressure the controllers to keep separations as close to three miles as possible, to achieve as many landings as possible. Controllers generally herd planes into a line at an altitude of about 20,000 feet, beginning several miles from the end of the runway. Like cars approaching a toll booth, the planes at the front of the line slow down as they prepare to land, especially as they lower their landing gear. As they slow, distance between them and planes behind them shrinks.
The problem, according to managers, is that if a plane puts its gear down early, or runs into headwinds as it descends, the plane behind can come too close.
Last year the controllers, angry that the F.A.A. was reducing staffing levels at the Tracon, anonymously reported dozens of operational errors, mostly involving "compression" of planes lined up to land. F.A.A. officials, reviewing tapes of radar displays, were surprised to discover that it was apparently common practice for controllers to squeeze planes slightly closer than three miles apart. The F.A.A. then began random audits of the tapes, and discovered numerous other errors. The error rate was found to be six times higher than previously reported.
Mr. Johnson, with the F.A.A., said in a telephone interview that controllers were being penalized for errors so small that it required intense analysis to find them. At first glance, he said, looking at a radar playback, "You'd be patting that controller on the back saying, 'Hey, great job.' "
The F.A.A. is trying to develop a computer program that would sound an alarm when an operational error occurs, raising the possibility that the rate of known errors would jump even higher. In the last few months, though, it has also retrained controllers to try to reduce violations of the three-mile rule.
Under the policy that will be enforced beginning on Monday, the separation standard will remain at three miles, but controllers will not be charged with errors for occasional incidents in which planes become closer than three miles. The F.A.A. plans to try the same policy in the Chicago area, and in Charlotte, N.C., Dallas/Fort Worth and Southern California.
The president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association in New York at Tracon, Dean Iacopelli, said that in the last few months, two controllers had been suspended for 10 days, and two for four days, for making errors, and seven more were told, "One more operational error, and we're firing you."
Phil Barbarello, a regional vice president of the national union, said that F.A.A. has also threatened to fire controllers if they leave too much space between airplanes.
Both men said they thought the agency was making the change to avoid embarrassment over a high number of errors, but Mr. Johnson said the trial would give controllers confidence and help traffic flow.Kester Meijer
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02-13-2006, 08:40 AM #2
Excellent info buddy!! As always thanks for the updates in the aviation World! Traffic in New York can be a pain in the *** I can recall one time from Push till takeoff we did one hour and forty minutes fortunatelly we asked for more fuel which of course it was spent during the TAXI out... So much for fuel saving that day! We where like sequence number 42 for takeoff!! and we didn´t spend more time on the Taxiways cause a Jetblue in front of us took a wrong turn so we where positioned in front cause of the mess he made!! So he probably was there for around 2 Hours!! And in the Air always on the lookout Traffic is amazing coming in and out from New York!
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