Air Traffic Services Brief -- Northeastern U.S. Airspace Flow Program (AFP)

Air Traffic Services Brief: Northeastern U.S. Airspace Flow Program (AFP)

The issue

In an effort to more efficiently handle delays caused by the summer thunderstorm season, the FAA has developed a procedure it calls the Airspace Flow Program (AFP). The AFP is used in the northeastern United States during weather "events" and gives air traffic controllers the ability to meter the flow of instrument flight rules (IFR) traffic across air route traffic control center (ARTCC) boundaries. AFPs will only be issued for aircraft (excluding piston-engine aircraft) arriving into the Northeast that have filed an IFR flight plan at 12,000 feet or above. The program was implemented on June 5, 2006, and covers a geographic area that includes all of New England, the Mid-Atlantic, and parts of Ohio and Michigan.

Prior to AFP, delays were primarily limited to aircraft arriving and departing large hub airports. With the implementation of AFP, delays are spread across the system and include all airports in the affected ATC area.

Thanks to AOPA's advocacy efforts, AFP will not apply to piston aircraft, regardless of altitude. However, those members flying turbine-powered aircraft above 12,000 feet will be required to participate in the program. Delays will be incurred through a ground hold, an expect departure clearance time (EDCT), air holding, or reroutes around the boundary defined by the AFP.

The importance to our members

The implementation of AFP signals uncharted territory for most general aviation (GA) pilots. With previous air traffic flow programs, only traffic into the major air carrier hub airports typically experienced delays. However, IFR aircraft subject to the AFP flying into the busy Northeast corridor on a day with even light weather could experience a departure delay, air holding, or reroutes. This signals a change for members who will now be forced to manage the delay or reroute their flights.

Delays can cost pilots and aircraft operators hundreds or thousands of dollars per flight. It is important that affected operators are aware of and are prepared to handle a delay associated with the AFP if it is issued.

Background

The FAA has used traffic flow tools for a number of years to handle congestion. AFP was developed specifically to handle congestion and meter the flow of traffic during the en route phase of flight. It will require that pilots be aware of how to obtain delay information, how to best manage that delay, and perhaps even how to avoid it altogether.

Obtaining delay information

Learning how to identify when a delay will likely be issued is an important first step to potentially avoiding one. Any significant weather from the Ohio Valley eastward will almost certainly result in an AFP. After filing an IFR flight plan, pilots will be able to obtain delay information from one of four sources.

  1. The tower. If departing from an airport with an operating control tower, the controller will have delay information and be able to relay that information to the pilot.
  2. Overlying terminal radar approach control (tracon) or ARTCC. If departing from an airport without an operating control tower, pilots will be able to obtain delay information by contacting air traffic control (ATC) via a remote communications outlet (RCO), if available.
  3. Flight service. Flight service is expected to have delay info.
  4. AFP forecast Web site. The FAA produces a Web site where any expected AFPs will be published. This is general information that can help determine best routing.
  5. Airspace status page. The FAA also produces a Web site that has real-time National Airspace System (NAS) information, including current AFPs.
  6. N number search. Finally, aircraft-specific delay information may be obtained by N number on the FAA's Web site. (see " N number blocking" below).

Avoiding delays

Options to avoid delays are limited. It is up to each operator to decide what his/her best option is and to take the steps necessary to ensure the delay becomes as manageable as possible. Possible options include:

  1. Route out of the AFP. Because AFPs are defined by ARTCC boundaries, pilots can file a new flight plan that will take them completely out of the delay area. However, if a pilot refiles a flight plan out of the delay area and encounters a new AFP along the refiled route, they will be forced to take that delay.
  2. Make a stop en route. Because weather is volatile, AFPs could potentially be issued and canceled frequently. Pilots can alter their flight plan destination to land prior to the AFP boundary and hope that the AFP will be canceled prior to their arrival.
  3. Go VFR. AFPs only affect IFR traffic. Thus, flying VFR will completely avoid the delay.
  4. Amend altitude. All AFPs will be issued for other than piston aircraft flying at 12,000 feet and above. Flying IFR below 12,000 feet will allow pilots to completely avoid an AFP.

N number blocking

Members who previously had their N numbers blocked may not be able to obtain N number-specific delay information via the Web site. There are two options whereby operators can block their N numbers — the vendor list or the vendor list and the FAA. The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) maintains both lists, officially called the Block Aircraft Registration Request (BARR) Program. Those members who chose to block their N number with the FAA will not be able to see the N number-specific information on the FAA's Web site.

Members who wish to remove their N number from the FAA list and only be placed on the vendor list can do so by contacting NBAA at 202/783-9000. BARR program requests are only processed once a quarter and are thus subject to a short delay. For example, requests made by May 15, 2006, will not be implemented until July 1, 2006.

AOPA position

AOPA contends that only aircraft operating above Flight Level 180 and above into hub airports, where traffic congestion presents capacity constraints, should be subject to air traffic flow delays. As such, AOPA advocated that piston aircraft should be completely exempt from the AFP regardless of altitude, a request that the FAA granted. AOPA has requested the FAA make a concerted effort to educate the affected user community on AFP and how best to manage delays.

Status

  • May 2005 — The FAA began work to develop criteria for AFP.
  • February 2006 — The FAA agreed to exclude all piston aircraft.
  • June 5, 2006 — The FAA expects to implement AFP in the Northeast.

Updated Friday, July 06, 2007 2:11:17 PM