ZDC's Collaborative Airspace Redesign Project Receives FAA Approval
Wednesday, May 11, 2011

On Wednesday, May 4, 2011, En-Route Vice President Greg Burke advised Washington Center (ZDC) to proceed with the Collaborative Work Group Airspace Redesign plan titled the "Mid-Atlantic Airspace Redesign Project (MARS)." This collaborative project is a major undertaking involving not only Airspace Redesign but also a reconfiguration of the Control Room, reducing it from eight areas of operation to six. The collaborative reconfiguration plan addresses current staffing shortages in three of the eight areas by balancing its workforce and putting controllers in a better position to cope with upcoming retirements, as 40 percent of its workforce will be eligible to retire in the next three years.  
“I am extremely encouraged by the agency's support of Washington Center’s Collaborative Work Group Airspace Redesign Project," shared ZDC FacRep Tim Hardison. "I believe this is a major success for the new Collaborative Work Group Process that NATCA and the agency have put in place nationally."

"Collaboration is key to the success of this project," agreed Dave Perkins, FAA program manager for Airspace Redesign at ZDC. "By involving individuals from both management and NATCA, we are taking full advantage of the experience and expertise of the people who handle all facets of ZDC's air traffic operations."

The project's a win-win, according to Hardison. "It’s a win for our bargaining unit members because it balances our workforce and workload, thereby allowing for better staffing, schedules and leave for our members in the future," he stated. "It’s a win for the agency and taxpayers because it eliminates 16 management positions, saving the agency several million dollars per year in salaries and balancing the controller workforce thereby reducing overtime costs. It’s a win for the users because the redesign plan will produce user fuel savings by the implementation of Optimum Performance Descents into the Washington Metro Airports and into CLT, as well as producing a more efficient airspace design throughout our entire Center.”
ZDC was selected as a BETA test site for the Collaborative Process in September 2010. The facility's Airspace and Area layout was developed in the 1990’s to accommodate market flows at that time. However, American Airlines no longer hubs at Raleigh N.C., and U.S. Airways no longer uses Pittsburgh, Pa., as a hub. It has sectors that were designed to specifically handle this traffic, and the majority of Jet Routes and arrivals are built around VORs. Now that practically every airline and corporate jet is equipped with FMS capability, we can better design our airspace and sectors to operate much more efficiently. 
This is where the Collaborative Process has come into play. Under the new process, ZDC formed an Airspace Team, which ultimately developed the MARS business plan to address airspace and area sectorization issues at ZDC. The Airspace Team designed a new six area layout (ZDC is currently in eight areas) which configures the areas in blocks of airspace that provides for better market flows; better aligns Washington, D.C., arrival/departures; and more evenly distributes traffic to the areas. This allows for optimizing arrival routes in the metro D.C. area, creating Optimum Performance Descents (OPDs) which, according to MITREs Metroplex study, would save 7,136,507 gallons of fuel and reduce carbon emissions by 85,210 tons annually.
The Mid-Atlantic Airspace Reconfiguration Strategy (MARS) will align current facility airspace to ZDC's existing system market flow base to accommodate expanding, emerging, and declining markets. The plan will balance areas, staffing and traffic. With an abundance of retirements expected over the next three years, this plan will distribute traffic and staffing equally among areas. It will do so by:

  • Keeping major market flows confined to no more than two areas. This will make coordination between the areas and TMU easier and more efficient. 
  • Providing more CPC’s per area, providing more flexibility, and helping correct staffing shortages in current areas.
  • Reducing OT with more CPCs per bay.
  • Developing OPDs that reduce the number of clearances, in turn reducing the chance of missed readbacks while creating fuel savings for the users.

There is an estimated five-year Return on Investment based on the current Airspace Redesign Plan. 

Area 2 and 3 OT balancing:        $1,547,500 
Overall facility balancing OT savings:       $1,400,000
Estimated user cost savings implementing OPD to SUDSY STAR (CLT):        $9,000,000
Reduction of 14 FLMs/2 OMs:      $19,918,080
D.C. Metroplex estimated user cost savings @ $2.52 x 7,136,507 gal. annually:     $89,919,985
Total five-year Quantifiable Benefits:     $121,785,568
Total MARS cost estimate:     $5,172,200
Five-year ROI:      2,254%
Simple Annualized ROI:              540%

The team is continuing to work on other areas of redesign that will ultimately produce additional savings and efficiencies in the future.

"Collaboration is working at ZDC because the FAA and NATCA leadership are open to examining and rethinking the way the facility handles its air traffic," said Perkins. "The leadership believes we can provide a better service and increase safety realignment and redesign, utilizing the latest technologies and procedures. That shared belief in improvement has allowed us to move beyond the traditional NATCA-management relationship to provide an issue-oriented, solutions-based and results-driven environment to create products and services that will benefit the workforce, the FAA and taxpayers, and system users."