Saturday, June 21, 2008

Anything is Possible...

...With Coordination!

That is an absolutely true statement, one that is oft repeated by controllers everywhere. No matter what the Letters of Agreement (LOAs) say, no matter what the Standard Operating Procedures say, just about anything can be done. You just need to make sure you know what you're asking is possible to achieve safely.

There are, of course, a few ground rules: namely, the 7110.65. Whatever rig you're trying to pull needs to comply with what's in that book. As a silly example, you can't coordinate for an IFR airplane to fly at an altitude below your Minimum Vectoring Altitude; it's illegal.

Along with terms like "Manual handoff", "Point out", and "Your control", one of the most commonly heard bits of phraseology over landlines is "ApReq", pronounced App-reck. Short for "Approval Request", it basically indicates you're asking someone else's approval to do something unusual. Typically your request modifies something that's already existing in an LOA, like feeding an aircraft to another facility at an unusual altitude.

Before you key up another sector or facility to make a request, I suppose the most major things to consider would be:
  1. Know that what you're asking for is legal. Frankly, don't be stupid. Don't try to coordinate for a missed approach for an IFR aircraft if you know the new instructions will put him into the face of another IFR arrival on an intersecting runway. You're inviting disaster if the other controller doesn't catch it.
  2. Be knowledgeable of the overall situation. For instance, if you're requesting to descend an IFR airplane to 4000 and the guy you're asking has one at 4000 right under him, tell him "Request control for descent on N123. I see your N456 at 4000 and will miss him."
  3. Make your request clear and concise. Don't ramble, especially with another facility. Controllers are busy. It may dead quiet at your place but the guy on the other line may be going down the shitter. Don't be like "Uh... yeah, Eglin Sikes... uh... Pensacola Whiting, I'd like to get higher for N123 if I could. Can I get 4000 maybe? I've got a guy 10 miles to the west at 3000...blah blah blah...." It should just be, "Eglin Sikes, Pensacola, ApReq, 4000 for N123." You don't need to give a reason unless it really, really impacts things. The answer should be just as concise. "N123, 4000 approved, [operating initials]."
Tower Coordination

Below is our Z/AR sector. I've talked about it before in my Tight Quarters post.

As you can see, South Whiting NAS has several finals depicted on the map. We only use two of them: 1) the Copter TACAN 004 final, which runs due North/South a mile west of Milton airport, and the Runway 32 final which runs southeast-to-northwest on the northeastern side of Milton airport. The Runway 32 final is used for all of the other approaches into South Whiting: GPS, TACAN 32, ILS, PAR, RNAV, and ASR.

Now, the standard missed instructions for all of those approaches is a southwest heading and a climb to 1700 feet. However, as you'll no doubt notice, if an aircraft does a missed approach from Runway 32, it'll fly into the face of the Copter TACAN 004 arrivals. This is a big freaking deal - pun intended - if both aircraft are IFR. Same altitude, pointed right at each other, less than a mile apart, no recorded visual separation, IFR.... oooooh scary stuff!

Just the other day, I had three helicopters coming in for the Copter TACAN 004. Two of them were IFR, and one was already joining the final approach course 9 miles south of the field - but not cleared yet. I had SH123, a T-34, on 5 mile final for runway 32 who was IFR and would be missing directly at the inbound helos. How to resolve this?

Me: "Tower, approach, reference SH123."
Tower: "Tower"
Me: "Miss Sh123 to the east, 90 degree heading, 1700 feet."
Tower: "Will do, [operating initials]"
Me: "[My initials]"

There! Problem solved. Instead of executing the standard missed, the T-34 will miss to the east. The only difference for him would be that he's now on a right downwind instead of a left. In the meantime, my three helicopters have loads of room to come in. I clear them for the approach one at a time and sequence in the T-34 after them, using speed control or vectors if necessary to ensure he doesn't compress on them. No one gets delayed.

Now, you always have to be aware that sometimes the sector or facility you're talking to can't accommodate you. I've seen only one time where the tower was unable to provide for an east missed, but that's always in my mind when I'm thinking about using it. If the tower had said "Unable" in the situation above, I could have simply broken off the lead helicopter and put him on a left downwind behind #2 and #3. That would have made him #3 for landing instead of #1, but it would have been legal and it would have been safe.

Now, I know that's a lot of talk about a seemingly minor bit of coordination. But when you're busy and you're up to your eyeballs in airplanes in a piece of airspace the size of a dinner plate, every little bit helps.

Approach Coordination

Readers here should be familiar with the ATC credo: "Promote the safe, orderly and expeditious flow of traffic." Sometimes you need to coordinate to achieve those ends as effectively as possible.

I'll keep talking about the Z/AR here, since most of the "funky" stuff happens here (besides, I've already got a visual aid up there!). We have many Letters of Agreement (LOAs) with our neighboring facilities. The one I've dealt with the most so far is Eglin, as that's where most of my outbound traffic goes.

Unnecessary Vectoring: With Eglin, we often have "Gate" procedures where have to send our eastbound aircraft out via a departure gate. In the Z/AR, Crestview VOR is the gate we use since that VOR is due east of us. Our most common instruction for departing IFR aircraft is "Proceed direct Crestview VOR". However, a lot of our general aviation and air taxi traffic want to go to Bob Sikes airport, which is a few miles to the southeast of the VOR. If we were to follow the LOA to the "T", we'd basically be forcing these aircraft to add a certain amount of flying miles to their trip by going north to the VOR and then tracking southeast to the airport.

How to solve? "Eglin Sikes Sector, Pensacola Whiting, ApReq. N123 direct Bob Sikes." If they approve it, I can just send the aircraft directly to the airfield and shave off an extra 5 miles of flying. That makes things a lot more expeditious for the pilot and knocks out 2 minutes of the time the guy spends in my airspace.

Note: We normally only do this with known local aircraft, such as Flight Express check fliers and Bob Sikes-based aircraft, since they're familiar with the plethora of restricted areas within Eglin's airspace.

Altitudes: The Z/AR has only two usable IFR altitudes - 1700 and 3000 - so to get anything higher I need to coordinate. Our LOAs for Eglin state that any Whiting aircraft landing in Eglin's airspace need to be at 3000. However, there are some times where that's just not possible.

Let's say, for example, I have an IFR helo - callsign Navy 123 - going out to Crestview at 100 knots at 3000, but I've got an IFR T-34 SH456 closing in on him from behind at 200 knots also at 3000. Based on speed differentials and distance to the boundary, the T-34 will eat up the helo so I'll need to take him higher to at least 4000. To get altitude, I'll need to get a point-out from the E/AR sector which owns 4000-15000 above me.

But first... I need to make sure Eglin can even take him at that altitude.
  1. I both aircraft in handoff status so they start flashing at Eglin, call up Eglin and ask "Eglin Sikes, Pensacola Whiting, ApReq. Shooter 456 at 4000 to top Navy 123." Basically, I'm asking them if I can climb the eastbound T-34 to 4000 - which is WAFDOF (Wrong Altitude For Direction Of Flight) - to top the helo and not have to vector anyone.
  2. Now what happens if they have a Baron or something coming in IFR from the east at 4000? "Eglin Sikes, unable 4000. 5000 is approved."
  3. Cool. I can't use 4000, but 5000 is good to go. I call up the E/AR sector, "East, Zulu, Point Out. Shooter 456, 5000, direct Crestview." Once I get the approval, I then climb the T-34 to 5000, and leave the helo at 3000. Eglin takes the handoffs, the T-34 passes cleanly over the helo, and I switch them over to the appropriate frequencies.
That effectively achieves both the safe and orderly ends of the. The T-34 is safely above the helo and Eglin gets the two aircraft in an orderly fashion, rather than a faster one chewing up the tail of the slower one.

Note: There are many ways to solve this puzzle. For instance, just using altitude, I could have ApReq'd 2000 feet for the helo and left the T-34 at 3000. That would have saved me coordination with the E/AR sector. However, Eglin usually has a lot of holding traffic at Crestview at 3000 and below.

Teamwork is Crucial

What I'm trying to get at is: we're all on the same team. There's nothing wrong with reaching out to another sector or facility to try and make things flow smoothly for yourself. It goes both ways of course, as people make requests of you to ease their own workload.
  • Why vector, delay, or speed reduce a fast airplane when you can just coordinate for a different altitude to get him over the slow mover?
  • Why worry yourself to death whether or not a missed approach will cause a deal when coordinating alternate missed approach instructions will keep things simple?
  • What's the harm in asking if you can send a pilot direct to his destination instead of sending him tens of miles off course?
Just key up that land line and make your request. If it can't be fulfilled, usually there's a good reason for it. At least you gave it a shot.

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