Background Information

"Will my plane arrive safely?" "Will it be on time?" These questions are often on the minds of travelers. In recent years, our skies have become increasingly crowded. Airways are congested with commercial airliners as well as private and military planes.

Congested airways cause concern for safety and the number of delays travelers can expect. Fortunately, new technology allows air traffic managers in 22 traffic control centers around the United States to track flights, provide flight information, and look at the weather around the country that can affect flight patterns. This information helps keep our airways safe and makes them more efficient for pilots and their passengers.

Air traffic controllers and air traffic managers are responsible for the safety and efficiency of the airways. Although they work closely together, their jobs are quite different. Air traffic controllers are responsible for keeping a safe separation between aircraft over a particular airspace. Air traffic managers, on the other hand, are concerned with the most efficient use of the airspace.

The air traffic manager must minimize congestion of the airways, as well as delays on the ground and in the air. Weather plays an important role in managing air traffic. If weather closes a busy airport and slows down air traffic, then airports and air traffic throughout the country can be affected. The ability to predict and track severe weather helps air traffic managers guide air traffic efficiently.

Pilots save fuel by using the jet stream (high speed westerly winds found in the upper troposphere) to help propel the plane when traveling in the opposite direction. Air traffic managers try to anticipate how pilots will request to use the air space in order to save fuel.

Figure 9.1 is a map of the United States called an Aircraft Situation Display. This display is generated by the Advanced Traffic Management System (ATMS) computer using flight and weather information.

Figure 9.1. Aircraft Situation Display
Tuesday, July 28, 1992 - 3:30 EDT/12:30 PDT

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Flight information consists of radar tracking data for aircraft in flight. As well as the pilot's flight plan. The flight plan, filed with air traffic managers before take-off, consists of the pilot's intended route. This is updated during the flight when the pilot communicates with air traffic controllers.

The flight information for the ATMS displays is updated every three minutes and the weather radar every five minutes. Air traffic managers and NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) uses the displays to track air traffic and weather throughout the country. The map showning the Aircraft Situation Display in Figure 9.1 represents all the commercial flights in the air at 3:30 PM Eastern Saylight Time (12:30 PM Pacific Daylight Time) on Tuesday, July 28, 1992. Flight tags on the maps like the one shown below here give us information about a specific flight.

The first line of the flight tag is the name of the airline and the flight number. In this example, AFR 1 indicates Air France Flight 1. The second line shows the flight level and type of airplane. Multiply the level by 100 to get flight altitude in feet. The flight level in this example is 52,000 feet and the make of the aircraft is Concorde. The third line indicates the estimated number of minutes until arrival and the current air speed of the plane. For the flight in this example, 125 minutes to arrival at a speed of 1197 miles per hour is recorded. Finally, the last line of the label indicates the departure and destination airports. For this example, they are JFK (New York) to Paris, France.
Figure 9.2 is a map that displays a portion of Florida and the flights arriving and departing from the Orlando Airport (MCO).

Figure 9.2. Orlando, Florida Airport Display with Range Rings in Miles
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The range rings on the map are set at ten mile intervals from the airport.

Figure 9.3 is a map that shows the lead lines of airplanes that are arriving and departing from Orlando, Florida.

Figure 9.3. Lead Lines Showing Arriving and Departing Airplanes
from Orlando, Florida Airport (MCO)

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Lead line are vectors. Vectors are lines that give the magnitude and direction of a force. In this case, the lead lines that project from the noses of the airplanes are a type of vector that projects where the airplane can expect to be in ten minutes while traveling at the indicated speed.

Figure 9.4 is a map that shows overlaid weather information for the Orlando, Florida area showing areas of precipitation and lightning strikes.

Figure 9.4. Weather Information for the Orlando, Florida Area
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Heavy rain is indicated by gray shaded areas on the map. Notice that light rain, indicated by slash marks, surrounds areas of heavy rain. Lightning strikes are indicated by lightning bolts on your map.




Procedure

  1. On Figure 9.3 and 9.4, place an "X" where the Orlando, Florida Airport is located.

  2. On Figure 9.2, draw an arrow pointing to the airplane (dot) that represents the plane traveling from MCO (Orlando) to LAX (Los Angeles).

  3. Use Figure 9.3 to measure the vectors (lead lines) for the labeled airplanes A, B, C, and D, and for the two planes with flight tags. Figure 9.2 shows the same planes at a different point in time. On Figure 9.2, draw vectors (lead lines) projecting where each labeled airplane will be in 20 minutes of flight time.

    Hint: These will be twice as long as the original vectors (lead lines) on Figure 9.3 for the same planes.

  4. On Figure 9.4, color areas of light precipitation with a light colored pencil and areas of heavy precipitation (the dark shaded areas) with a darker colored pencil.




Questions

  1. Using the range rings in Figure 9.2, estimate the distance across Florida in miles. Write your answer here.

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  2. In Figure 9.2, you drew 20 minute vectors (lead lines) for all the labeled planes. Are any of these aircraft going to land at the Orlando Airport within 20 minutes?

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    If so, how many?

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  3. About how many times faster is the Concorde on Figure 9.1 traveling than the two planes over Florida in Figure 9.3?

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  4. At what altitude is the United States - Flight 121 in Figure 9.3 traveling?

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    How fast is it traveling?

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    The label "ORD" in Figure 9.3 stands for Chicago - O'Hare. How long will it take for Flight 121 to arrive in Chicago?

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  5. Estimate how much time will elapse before most of the planes in Figure 9.3 leave the screen?

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    Will the screen then be totally clear?

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  6. Where is the Delta Airlines Flight 301 in Figure 9.3 headed?

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    What kind of plane is it?

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  7. How far is plane C in Figure 9.2 from the Orlando Airport (MCO)?

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  8. Using the formula [ Distance (d) = Velocity (v) x Time (t) ], how far is the Delta airplane from its destination?

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    The United Airlines flight?

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  9. If you were an air traffic controller, what information about the weather might you give to the pilot of plane D in Figure 9.4?

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  10. What two methods can pilots use to avoid severe weather?

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  11. How are vectors and weather information used in air traffic management?

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  12. Based on your knowledge and experience, as well as this activity, what information does an air traffic manager need to efficiently manage the airways?

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Figure 9.5. Questions Sheet
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Conclusions

Review the problem stated in the workstation screen graphic
at the top of this web page and write your conclusions here.



Figure 9.6. Conclusions Sheet
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