‘ATSAP Works’ – Reports Improve Handoffs in California
Friday, September 21, 2012
(NOTE: This is the latest in a series of collaborative articles on ATSAP between NATCA and FAA ATO Communications)
A handoff issue between Southern California TRACON and Chino Tower was quickly resolved thanks to Air Traffic Safety Action Program (ATSAP) reports filed this summer.
In the incident that led to the ATSAP reports, a jet pilot didn’t contact tower controllers until he was on a short final, and right behind a Bonanza.
Tower controllers were able to break off the Bonanza and the jet landed safely, said Chino Air Traffic Manager Brian Childers. But the incident and the ATSAP reports made it clear that changes were needed.
A Southern California TRACON Safety Risk Mitigation Workgroup (SRMW) addressed the concerns by changing a letter of agreement (LOA) less than a month after controllers filed the ATSAP reports. Normally, such changes take much longer.
Before the change was made, TRACON controllers who put flights on a visual approach to Chino Airport placed a “V” in the electronic scratch pad to let tower controllers know the flight was landing under visual procedures. But Chino has two parallel runways and controllers make both of them available for arrivals, said Childers. So when TRACON controllers handed off a flight, controllers at the tower didn’t know toward which runway it was headed.
The Western Service Area’s Event Review Committee shared the ATSAP reports with Southern California TRACON, after getting permission from the submitters.
After receiving the reports, Tina Kratz, the NATCA representative for the area that handles approaches into Chino, and Randy Ching, the Front Line Manager for the area, met to figure out a solution. Kratz and Ching are members of the SRMW that was established at the TRACON by NATCA and management to “swiftly handle high priority safety issues,” Kratz said.
They determined the best way to resolve the problem was to change the way the flights are designated. Now TRACON controllers put either “VL” or “VR” in the scratch pad, and tower controllers’ radar scopes indicate to which runway the plane is assigned.
“When they see this plane 10 miles away and see ‘VL,’ they know it’s going visual to the left,” Childers said.
That gives them time to call the TRACON to let them know if there are already too many planes in the pattern for that runway or whether they have time to make a hole in the pattern to create space for the jet.
“It’s tough to sequence the jets in with the slower traffic in our pattern,” said Raymond Ragan, the NATCA representative at the tower.
In addition, controllers at the TRACON are switching pilots to Chino Tower’s frequency much farther from the airport, Ragan said. That gives controllers more time to make sure there’s space in the pattern for the arrival.
He said controllers at Chino were impressed with how well — and how quickly — the ATSAP process worked.
Kratz brought the changes to Front Line Manager Thomas Roche for airspace and procedures at the TRACON. Roche coordinated the changes with management at the TRACON and Chino Tower, as well as management at Brackett Tower, which also has parallel runways and operates under the same LOA. The LOA also covers a federal contract tower at Riverside Municipal Airport.
Meanwhile, Kratz began coordinating the changes with NATCA representatives at the affected facilities. In two hours, they had the new LOA written and signed.
“ATSAP and the Article 48 SRMW made this possible, accelerated this change and eliminated this risk in the system,” Kratz said.
Kevin McLaughlin, the NATCA Vice President at SCT and co-lead for the SRMW, said “the Chino LOA success story is the latest dividend that SCT has received on its investment in just culture. The creation of our Safety Risk Mitigation Workgroup has given us the resources to tackle ATSAP-identified issues quickly and generate real and lasting safety solutions. ATSAP works, the SCT SRMW works, and the system is safer today than yesterday because of these collaborative safety vehicles.”
Barry Davis, the air traffic manager at Southern California TRACON, saw the quick action and resolution as an “excellent example of ATSAP working at the local level.”
“I think we've done a pretty good job of informing our employees that their input is valued, and when safety issues are identified, that the right players will be engaged to find the right solution,” he said.
More ATSAP News
ATSAP BRIEFING SHEET - Sept. 14, 2012: Closed runways and/or taxiways
Please click HERE to read this latest ATSAP briefing sheet.