Friday, April 17, 2009

The Golden Rule

  • "And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise."
    - Christianity, Gospel of Luke, 6:31
  • "One should never do that to another which one regards as injurious to one’s own self."
    - Hinduism, Mahabharata
  • "Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you."
    - Islam, Muhammad, The Farewell Sermon
  • "Regard your neighbor's gain as your own gain, and your neighbor's loss as your own loss."
    - Taoism, T'ai Shang Kan Ying P'ien
The Golden Rule has many incarnations, but one common message: treat others as you want to be treated.

It's Not All About You

All members of an Air Traffic Control facility operate as a single team. Sure, you may have six different radar sectors open with a controller at each position and each with their own individual traffic, but they all affect each other. As you work, it's important to not only monitor your own traffic, but keep an eye on what's going on in the rest of the room. One way or another, it will affect what you do.

I'll use our Z/AR sector as an example. I've written about that sector before in an old post. It's the one that looks like this:

... but lately has been looking like this:

Very tight quarters, and it can get out of hand quickly.

When others sectors are feeding the Z/AR, they need to be very mindful of what the Z/AR has going on. The Z/AR controller simply doesn't have a lot of room to work (essentially a 10nm x 10nm space and two usable IFR altitudes: 1700 and 3000). A misplaced feed can send things downhill very quickly.

Let's say our Z/AR South Whiting sector has a pattern full of helicopters doing 80 knots over the ground. I wouldn't be doing him any favors by force-feeding him a T-34 going 190 knots right into the middle of his pattern. Instead, I could reduce the T-34's speed all the way back, or vector him around a little, or - if the pattern's really full and the Z/AR controller is going down the crapper - tell the T-34, "Unable practice approaches to South Whiting, the pattern is completely full. Say request." (If his callsign is "Ghostrider", that'll be the icing on that cake.)

The fact is, an hour later I could be working the Z/AR sector and my coworker could be on the sector I was operating. If I'm covered up in slow-moving helos and he's got a few fastmovers wanting to join the party, I hope that he'll take a look at what I have going on and make a decision that will, if not help me, at least not hurt me.

Tonight, actually, I was working the Z/AR with a full load of traffic. My fellow controllers on my neighboring sectors did a bang-up job of feeding me additional aircraft. They paid attention to my traffic flow and vectored the aircraft into advantageous positions, simultaneously reducing the speed on the fast movers. We also coordinated on certain feeds. Big thanks to TZ and LA for the help. It really showed how one sector can affect the operation of the rest of the room.

The Art of the Slough

Slough. It's a dirty, dirty word.

The dictionary defines is as:
  • slough. Transitive verb: to get rid of or discard as irksome, objectionable, or disadvantageous —usually used with off
Or, to use the vernacular, you're dumping s*** onto your fellow controller.

Another example: I'm working the West (W/AR) side and I don't have much going on. My buddy is working the East (E/AR) side and is getting his butt handed to him. I have nary a plane, and his scope's lit up like a Christmas tree - on fire. I'm twiddling my thumbs. He hasn't stopped talking in 30 minutes.

An airplane calls me up. "Pensacola approach, KATT153, with request." The KATTs - a T-6 Texan II squadron from NAS Pensacola - can be inbound from anywhere, so I say, "KATT153, Pensacola approach, remain clear of Class Charlie, say position and altitude."

He tells me where and how high he is. I find the VFR target on my scope. He's at 7500, tracking eastbound, already 5 miles inside the East's airspace and getting farther from mine every second. I am not required to talk to this aircraft, since he's not in my airspace.

I now have two options:
  1. Slough him. He's not inside my airspace, right? Let my buddy deal with him. "KATT152, contact Pensacola approach on 119.0." See ya. Not my problem. Back to twiddling my thumbs.


  2. Help my fellow controller out and take some of the workload off of his hands.

    Me: "KATT153, remain clear of Class Charlie until identified, say request."
    KATT153: "Uh, KATT153, remaining clear of Class Charlie, uh, I'd like a localizer two-six approach at Pensacola Regional, an ILS one-seven approach at Pensacola Regional, a TACAN seven-left at Navy Sherman, and a PAR seven-left full stop at Navy Sherman. I'd also like some holding at Saufley before the TACAN. And I have information Tango."

    As he's telling me this, I'm writing all of his requests down on a strip. I verify the ATIS he gave me is current. I also type the following into my ARTS keyboard:



    That input will:
    * Generate a VFR squawk code for KATT153
    * Add TEX2 for the aircraft type
    * Put L26 (for Localizer 26) in the scratch pad
    * And - last but not least - put the aircraft's squawk and information on our "E" scope, a.k.a. the East sector. My partner's sector. When the radar tags him up, he'll be displayed automatically on the East's scope.

    Me: "KATT153, squawk 0104. I have your request."
    KATT154: "KATT153, squawking 0104."

    I write the squawk code on the strip and lean over to my partner, strip in hand. I wait until he's got a second, then pass him the strip. As I talk, KATT153 is already tagging up on his scope, displaying his "E" tag, since that's where I put him.

    Me: "KATT153 is going to be calling you, seven southeast of PENSI, wants Localizer 26, not identified."

    He acknowledges it. I gave him only the information he needs to know immediately: where the guy is, what he wants right now, and his radar identification status. The strip I wrote and placed in his hand has everything he needs to know about the pilot's intentions after the localizer approach, so when East gets a moment he can formulate a plan.

    Me: "KATT153, contact Pensacola approach on 119.0, they have your request."

    When KATT153 checks in on East's frequency, all my buddy needs to do now is:

    East: "KATT153, Pensacola approach, radar contact seven southeast of PENSI, fly heading one-four-zero, vectors localizer two-six."

    No taking down long-winded requests. No stripmarking. No keyboard entries. No target-hunting. No issuing squawk codes. I took care of all that. The busywork is done. Now he can concentrate on the real work: providing that aircraft with what he's requested.


ace said...

I like the way you think. You'd have been welcome at a sector adjacent to mine anytime. I can't say that for the bulk of the newer controllers I worked with my last ten years.

Keep up the good work.

ZJX, ORD, ZAU retired

Anonymous said...

Love that sector_planes.jpg, Mark. Makes me happy to be tower every time I glance at it! :D

Think you'll stay there or move around after you check out?

Anonymous said...

Nice job.

ZNY 81-06 (Ret)

Callsign Echo said...

I love reading your posts just for the opportunity to get ATC's perspective on what's going on. I think the flight training I got was probably the best in the world (they claim it is, anyway) but I can definitely see where a little exposure to what's going on on the other side of the mike would really facilitate better communication between pilots and ATC. You guys have the one thing we lack in the cockpit: the big picture.

I think you also did a post about phraseology, which is another area I think pilots are rather poorly prepared.