IT helps limit flight delays

Federal Aviation Administration officials say they had appropriate communication capacity to reroute air traffic last week in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the agency is prepared for this week’s challenges.

Much of that communication capacity resides in systems based at the Air Traffic Control System Command Center in Herndon, Va.

Kapri Kupper, manager of operational support in the command center’s System Operations Programs Office, said the FAA is able to minimize delays with new information technology and traditional conference calls.

Although the conference calls are the most important tool, the center’s main IT helper is the Enhanced Traffic Management System. It displays all the air traffic in the nation, combined with live weather images, regularly updated forecasts and alternate routing strategies. FAA personnel and airline employees have access to the system.

“The airlines and the FAA have the same picture,” Kupper said. On Sept. 29, for example, the center rerouted traffic from control centers in Houston and Dallas/Fort Worth to centers in Cleveland, New York and Boston. Those regional centers advised aircraft on changes in airport weather conditions and visibility.

Chat sessions also keep the FAA and airlines informed about travel plans in severe weather. Airline employees have the opportunity to log onto a collaborative Web page and discuss traffic issues and possible solutions.

A separate Web page lets the airlines communicate with the Herndon center directly, in real time. The airlines enter questions about specific flights on the Tactical Customer Advocate (TCA) site.

“That was very helpful during Katrina. It was able to discuss temporary flight restrictions,” Kupper said. The Herndon center also established a recovery desk to ensure that Federal Emergency Management Agency flights were given top priority.

At one point, the TCA site helped a Delta Air Lines flight carrying life-saving resources land near the devastated area.

“The TCA was able to amend this carrier’s departure time so they could get off without delay,” Kupper said.

Without such technologies, the airlines would have had skewed perceptions of airspace capacity during the hurricane.

“American [Airlines] would be concerned with American issues only, and they wouldn’t understand” other airlines’ concerns, Kupper said. “Collaborative decision-making is a philosophy. You share information, and by doing so, you’re going to create a safer and more efficient operation.”

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