One airport, two different approaches

Efficiency is one of the most important parts of being a controller. Each controller will have their own strategy, no two approaches are a like.

That is particularly try for this session I had with two radar controllers, both using different strategies. I’d encourage you to watch this video of a time-lapse if that session for context.

The first strategy can be seen depicted here, and in the video. The workload for me, final approach was quite high, maintaining spacing mostly via speed commands. I had room on the 5000ft leg and 4000ft leg to slot people in if they needed slotted in. That can be seen on occasions in the video, with go arounds.

The second strategy was very nice looking. Depicted here and in the video, the spin cycle was very pleasing on the eye. Lower workload for final approach, but less margin for error and only one leg to create space for go arounds and inbound aircraft from all directions.

After reviewing the replay and doing some math, I’ve determined that the first strategy was more efficient. As most of the traffic came from the East and South, I compared the two. For the first strategy; it took aircraft 32 minutes to fly the entire approach from the South and 36 minutes from the West. For the second strategy; it took aircraft 43 minutes to fly the entire approach from the South and 52 minutes from the West. Large differences, I’d prefer the first strategy but both are great options in comparison to any others. Whatever works!

June 17, 2019 by Kyle Boas

ATC Zero

ATC Zero is an official term by the FAA that means the FAA is unable to safely provide the published ATC services within the airspace managed by a specific facility. In this video by VASAviation you can see this in action when Miami International lost all power.

June 15, 2019 by Kyle Boas

SODPROPS

SODPROPS is an acronym for Simultaneous opposite direction parallel runway operations, used as a method of coordinating the arrival and departure of aircraft on parallel runways in opposite directions. Controlling is all about finding the best traffic flow to maximize efficiency, and in some cases SODPROPS is the best and most efficient strategy to push tin.

You will see airports across the globe from KLAX, YSSY, URSS, ect. using SODPROPS. Watch on FlightRadar24 or if you’re lucky enough, in person, it’s a site to see in action.

June 14, 2019 by Kyle Boas

Who is following who?

Sequencing can be a hard concept to grasp as a new pilot or controller, in Infinite Flight. Sometimes it’s best to try to visualize this. Use a pen and paper if needed to draw out these scenarios, here is two examples of how you would re-sequence aircraft remaining in the pattern. For both examples, all aircraft have already been sequenced.

First example:

  • N1T3 is number 1 for 27L on left base
  • V-AA is number 2 for 27L on left downwind
  • G-KWY is number 3 for 27L on left crosswind
  • No one is on 27R

V-AA asks for a runway change to 27R

  1. Give V-AA a pattern entry and clearance for 27R.
  2. You sequence G-KWY number 2, traffic to follow is on left base

Second scenario:

  • N1T3 is number 1 for 27L on left base
  • V-AA is number 2 for 27L on left downwind

  • N1KB is number 3 for 27L on left crosswind
  • B-M23 is number 1 for 27R on right base
  • G-KWY is number 2 for 27R on right crosswind

V-AA asks for a runway change for 27R, V-AA is on left downwind.

  1. You give V-AA a combined pattern entry to enter left base for 27R and sequence number 2, behind G-KWY. Then a clearance for the option make right traffic for 27R.
  2. You re-sequence G-KWY to be number 3 traffic to follow is on left downwind
  3. You re-sequence N1KB number 2, traffic to follow is on left base
June 13, 2019 by Kyle Boas

Ident

“Ident” is used to help a controller identify an aircraft’s secondary radar (transponder) return.

Scenario one. It is a method to allow a controller to identify an aircraft on radar, per section 5-3-3 of FAA Order 7110.65:

When using only Mode 3/A radar beacon to identify a target, use one of the following methods:

a. Request the aircraft to activate the “IDENT” feature of the transponder and then observe the identification display.

Scenario two. For lost communication, per section 10-4-4 of 7110.65:

Take the following actions, as appropriate, if two-way radio communications are lost with an aircraft:

c. Attempt to re-establish communication by having the aircraft use its transponder or make turns to acknowledge clearances and answer questions. Request any of the following in using the transponder:

1. Request the aircraft to reply Mode 3/A “IDENT.”

June 10, 2019 by Kyle Boas

Lost connection, MON it is

As technology advanced, the old had to make way for the new, GPS. With operators using primarily the GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System, i.e. GPS) to navigate, VORs have become less of a necessity. A large number of VOR stations are scheduled to be decommissioned. However, the FAA is retaining a limited network of VORs, called the During a GNSS disruption, the MON will enable aircraft to navigate through the affected area or to a safe landing at a MON airport without reliance on GNSS.

Sometimes the best technology is the most reliable, when in a dire situation.

June 9, 2019 by Kyle Boas

Perfection

The pursuit of perfection often impedes improvement. – Ty Warner

June 8, 2019 by Kyle Boas

Lift

The vertical component of lift is what keeps the aircraft flying, it opposes gravity.

The horizontal component of lift is what fights inertia, causing the aircraft to turn; it is directed toward the center of rotation, and called the centripetal force.

June 7, 2019 by Kyle Boas

Controlling five frequencies, an interview with an Infinite Flight ATC Supervisor

The highest rank you can have on Infinite Flight as a controller is Supervisor. Supervisors oversee the entire Infinite Flight ATC team, they are also granted the ability to control multiple radar frequencies as well as the Tower and Ground frequencies, simultaneously. For me, it’s always amazing to watch and I wanted to get more insight into what it’s like to control all five frequencies at once; ATIS, Ground, Tower, Approach and Departure. Today, I’ll be sharing an interview I had with Tim Beckmann, one of Infinite Flight’s most experienced controllers and a Supervisor, known for opening all 5 frequencies, frequently.

Kyle: When did you become a Supervisor?

Tim: I don’t know exactly. It was still back before Global [2017], that much I know.

Kyle: Which frequency do you like the most, if you had to choose?

Tim: Approach, far and away. I’m a fan of puzzles, and to me, that’s what Approach is. Taking disparate paths and altitudes and speeds and blending them into something cohesive. Being able to anticipate where someone will be in 15 minutes and having it work out exactly as anticipated is extremely satisfying.

Kyle: Do you have any tricks that you use to anticipate conflicts?

Tim: Don’t react to anything. If you’re reacting, you’re already behind. You prevent conflicts by proactively putting people where you want them, not just at that moment, but in 5, 10, 15 minutes hence. Know how they’ll fit into the puzzle with all the other aircraft and prevent conflict in advance of any opportunity for one to arise.

I’m never thinking about now, I’m thinking about where everyone will be 5 minutes from now, and just visualizing how that will look can help to perhaps adjust someone’s path or speed marginally, but enough to avoid any incursions.

I also have a few standards that I enforce, such as preventing a single pilot from throwing a wrench into the whole operation by maintaining 349 KIAS until the last second or waiting until they’re within 15 miles of the field to descend from FL240. Anyone who’s at any significant altitude is topped off at 280 KIAS initially. Honestly, this is in line with the RWA for the most part by that part of the flight, if not even letting them go a little longer above 250 than they do in real life. If I notice someone hovering at 10100 feet for an extended distance, I lock them out below 250 to remove the incentive to not descend. (The most frustrating part of Approach is the same pilots who climb at 1 billion FPM descend at 250 FPM, seemingly unaware of how quickly intercept is approaching.) On downwind, bring everyone to 220 (again, fairly standard), then slow for intercept. I find I have very few missed approaches by doing this

I also just hold anyone at ridiculous altitudes. If you call in at FL310 30 miles out, I’m not wasting my time snaking you around. Prepare better.

The biggest cause of potential conflicts, honestly, is with pilots using flight plans that direct them straight to the tower. Often, this has them heading straight for the upwind of the departing aircraft. It’s a balance between descending them too early while also steering them aside from the upwind and keeping them low enough for departures to climb over them. I just kind of play it by ear based on the most common direction of travel that day, etc. (But it’d be even better if pilots would plan for a downwind.)

Kyle: Does controlling all frequencies slow your response time?

Tim: No, I don’t think so. I mean, obviously, fractions of seconds or a full second here or there can’t be avoided due to the logistics, but in watching replays, I honestly think I respond faster than many of the responses I get as a pilot. Most of that is that I don’t focus only on the frequency I’m currently looking at. I have the whole airspace in my head. As I’m vectoring an aircraft into a downwind, I’m still aware of whether I have time to send another departure out, or if a patternwork guy needs another clearance. When I go through ground, I’ve got an internal clock going on where that guy on base is in relation to intercept, a big part of where standardizing speeds comes in.

I find that the majority of the duplicate requests I get fall into two categories:

One, those pilots that are just going to re-request every 15 seconds no matter what.

Two, and this accounts for the majority, those pilots that aren’t aware of the reason for being held, either at pushback or for takeoff. They don’t see or care that there’s a plane behind them. Or they don’t know why they can’t takeoff when the plane that just landed is still on the runway. Those would exist whether I was covering 2 frequencies or 47. It’s just how some are.

Kyle: What do you do when you become overwhelmed?

Tim: I don’t know that I ever become overwhelmed. It’s just not really something I’ve ever felt. (I have something called Ataraxia. Essentially Greek for “imperturbability.”) Feeling anxious or overwhelmed is not really part of my personality for whatever reason. Obviously, I do get extremely busy at times. EHAM over the weekend was pretty crazy for an hour and a half or so with all open.

The biggest thing to do in these situations is not change a thing. And also remember that you control the airspace, the airspace doesn’t control you. I know when it’s busy there are going to be delays and pilots that don’t get there as quickly as they want, but I don’t let them bother me. Someone has to be the caboose. First come, first served. The ones that seem to get the most upset are the ones that cause their own delays, typically, and I’m perfectly okay with that. Back to responsible altitudes. If you just flew in from EGLL, 200 nm away at most and are still at FL330, it doesn’t make me nervous at all to just stick you in a hold. I’m not going to let the fact that it’s busy affect my plan of attack. You’re welcome to Approach more responsibly next time, but I’m not anxious over the length of your hold if you’re the one at excessive altitude.

I prefer approaches that are as direct as possible. Whenever possible, an angled approach to downwind, downwind, bass final. I don’t do snaking patterns and loops. I find that just strings out your line further and further every minute. No matter how busy, I still maintain everything I was doing before, and I don’t ever think “it’s busy, it’s busy.” That just works you up. If you have a plan that works, it should work no matter the traffic volume.

Never let the airspace control you.

Kyle: What is your workflow like while controlling all frequencies, do you switch between each frequency every few seconds or just react to certain events?

Tim: I take everything real-time. Whatever needs to be done at that moment. I don’t cycle through or anything. That would be unfair to, say, guys on the ground if I said “well, I’m only going to issue pushbacks every 5 minutes.” And you have to keep departures moving, of course. The biggest part of making that work, by far, is having the proper plan of attack on Approach. If I can make my approaches predictable, which I do, I don’t have to observe them every step of the way. I know where a-bouts a guy 20 nm out is going to need to turn downwind, for example, and I just keep that internal clock in my head. I guess in a way I’m still moving the pieces for the frequency I’m not active on in my head while I attend to other frequencies.

That said, there are priorities. Pushback is the lowest. Sorry, but that’s the only thing that makes sense. You’re at a gate, you can’t collide. If I need to watch a potential go-around, waiting an extra 10 seconds for pushback won’t kill anyone. That said, that very rarely happens (except when they don’t know why they’re being held and I’ve actually responded to them). Muscle memory allows me to clear out the tags on a frequency in a couple seconds. (I also find it much much faster to click on the planes rather than the flight strips. Then I know I’m getting the right one and I don’t waste time searching for a bouncing flight strip among the many on the right.)

I also know ahead of time what I’m expecting to do as soon as I jump to a frequency. I know if I pushed that guy back last time, or if that’s the guy that just exited the runway, so before I even open him up, I know exactly what I’m gonna do. It sounds weird to say this, but a lot of times I’m not even paying attention to what they say. Obviously I am, to a degree, but I don’t need to process the full sentence to know that the guy I just pushed back a minute ago next to 24L at KLAX is now going to to want to taxi to 24L. I don’t need to hear the entire sentence to know that, so I can just quickly do it. (One thing I do to make sure I catch the right thing is avoid the quick tags if there’s a toss-up on where someone might want to taxi. If, say they’re equidistant and I gave them one side but they might want the other, I go through the taxi menu and if the other runway is at the top of the list, I know he requested it specifically. That way I don’t have to fully listen but I still get the request right.)

In a way, it’s actually much simpler when I’m my own approach as tower. I don’t have to look to see where a pilot is supposed to be, or figure out his sequence, or know if he needs pattern entry or any of that. I already know all of that before I hand him off… to myself, so the clearance process is lightning fast. Honestly, the longest time I spend on Tower is when someone needs a pattern entry before clearance and I have to wait for that acknowledgement before sending the clearance, but that would be the same no matter what.

As for the last clause in the question, I definitely don’t react to events. Reacting is being behind. I’m always anticipating what needs to be done next, what likely to be the next thing in need of an intervention and anticipating it as best I can. I certainly don’t wait for something to happen before going to a frequency, because I’d already be too late.

Kyle: What is your favorite part of being IFATC?

Tim: Puzzle solving, as mentioned previously. It’s a Rubik’s cube of sorts, I guess, and I like to fit the pieces together, align them from a jumble, whatever you wanna call it. It’s very satisfying to have a plan for where six pilots should be in 20 minutes and have it work out almost perfectly.

Plus I get to ghost random people for spite, and that’s a power you just don’t get anywhere else. (This was sarcasm… just in case someone actually takes that seriously.) I don’t enjoy reporting people, but I also don’t enjoyed being toyed with, so I have no problem controlling my airspace. I won’t let it control me.

I’m not big on labels. I’ve never put any tags on my display name or anything. I’m part of IFATC because I enjoy controlling, and I enjoy controlling on a server where people tend to listen for the most part. I never saw it as something to tack onto my name or anything. I just enjoy solving the riddles, and it seems even after four years, pilots find a way to come up with something new and weird every session, so that’s fun.

The insight you can take from this is very overwhelming, lot of knowledge to be gained. I’ll definitely be applying some things I learned from this into my controlling, and I hope you do to.

June 6, 2019 by Kyle Boas