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New Guidance from FAA on O'Hare Landing Procedure to Have Significant Negative Impact on Capacity at World's Busiest Airport - (4/3/2003)

CONTACT: Raymond Gibbons, 630.546.9958

Chicago controllers cite safety concerns, warn of increase in delays

ELGIN, Ill. – Adding to the concerns of an already overworked and understaffed facility, air traffic controllers at the Chicago Terminal Radar Approach Control are now being tasked with following a puzzling revision to a landing procedure used at O’Hare International Airport. They say it raises safety concerns and will result in delays which will start in the Chicago area – a region still experiencing record air traffic growth – and ripple throughout the nation’s air traffic system.

The Federal Aviation Administration issued new guidance last week regarding Land and Hold Short (LAHSO) operations on O’Hare’s intersecting runways. LAHSO is designed to maximize available runway capacity by efficiently allocating landing space. The strict interpretation of the FAA order prohibits foreign carriers and general aviation aircraft from participating in LAHSO. Additionally, any domestic airlines which do not have signed waivers on file with the FAA are also prohibited from using LAHSO.

"Since the new LAHSO order was implemented in July of 2000, it has been our understanding that participation in LAHSO applied to the aircraft that are required to hold short of the intersection," said Raymond Gibbons, local president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association at Chicago TRACON. "Late last week, all controllers received mandatory briefings on the new guidance that defines participation to include aircraft that are landing on either of the intersecting runways."

"The operational impact of this new guidance is significant," Gibbons remarked. “Controllers must now be aware of 41 different domestic and foreign air carriers that cannot participate in LAHSO as well as all general aviation aircraft. The most frequently used triple arrival runway configuration at O'Hare utilizes LAHSO procedures on intersecting runways, which routinely allows for 100 or more arrivals per hour. In light of this new guidance, we have had to lower our Airport Acceptance Rate (AAR) on that configuration to 90 arrivals per hour and that may still be too high.” Gibbons added that, “this will certainly result in an increase in delays and we have already seen a significant increase in airborne holding when we are on that most frequently used runway configuration."

The new LAHSO interpretation raises safety concerns, NATCA maintains. “First, we have to identify if the inbound aircraft are one of the 41 carriers not allowed to participate before we can sequence them for the appropriate arrival runway,” Gibbons said. “Because our arrivals come from five different directions, we end up criss-crossing them all over the sky using altitude for separation. The result is that what used to be a nicely sequenced, orderly flow has now become a disorganized cluster of aircraft on converging courses with little or no margin for error.”

Chicago TRACON is supposed to be staffed with 100 controllers but currently has just 73 full performance level personnel, a third of which will be eligible to retire within two years. Nearly half can retire in four years. Citing understaffing as the reason for a rash of operational errors earlier this year, Gibbons said the latest news “doesn't bode well for the future. Unfortunately, we are placing another brick on the wall of an overstressed, understaffed workforce. This couldn't have come at a worse time for us or the airlines."

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