Providing a Safety Net for Climb and Jump Zones

Parachute operations and air traffic do not always mix well. Yet, the controllers and supervisors at Albuquerque Center (ZAB) demonstrated exceptional teamwork to maintain the safety of the national airspace system (NAS) during recent parachute operations in Arizona.

In October, Skydive Arizona hosted the 2016 U.S. National Skydiving Championships in Eloy, Arizona. At the peak of the 11-day competition, the event included approximately 150 flights per day. Meanwhile, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) had closed one of its three runways due to runway construction. This reduced the airport's usual arrival acceptance rate from more than 74 aircraft per hour to just 40 and increased the number of aircraft holdings.

Although the climb and jump zones for the parachute operations are designed to provide separation from the PHX arrival and departure routings, any holding patterns southeast of Phoenix would put the parachute operations and the arrival traffic in potential conflict.

Dr. David Bricker, ZAB, NATCA Vice-President and Ben Foutz, ZAB Southwest Specialty NATCA Representative, providing air traffic services to customers flying in ZAB Sector 46. Sector 46 is bordered to the north by Phoenix TRACON and to the south by Tucson TRACON. The largest parachute operations in the world take place in this sector.

In preparation for the runway closure and possible impacts to the stakeholders, the ZAB Airspace and Procedures Event, managed by Craig York, had multiple conversations with Skydive Arizona. The area specialist Doug Hughes communicated daily to help prepare the stakeholder for possible scenarios in case holdings took place and explained “the why” regarding possible restrictions to the jump aircraft. The ZAB Traffic Management Unit also spoke daily with the FAA Command Center and stakeholders to ensure safety and efficiency was optimized despite PHX's reduced arrival rate.

The performance and professionalism shown by the controllers and supervisors in the southwest area was evident throughout the competition. They continually engaged with the operators and provided exemplary services in the name of safety. As ZAB Air Traffic Manager Franklin McIntosh noted of the Center's achievement, "It was everyone's commitment to organizational excellence and safety that made this possible. The work done was above reproach, and I'd like to recognize everyone who did a phenomenal job on pulling this off.”

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