Message from Southwest Regional Administrator Kelvin Solco
On February 5, most eyes in America will be watching Super Bowl LI - but they will not be able to see everyone behind-the-scenes keeping our National Airspace System running smoothly in and out of the Houston Metroplex before, during and after the game. Between the timeouts and the commercials, the hundreds of millions of viewers on television will not see the hundreds of air traffic controllers working in unison across Texas and Louisiana, standing by to change traffic procedures if the weather turns ugly. They will not see the year of work the FAA and its partners put into managing the air traffic in the rush prior to the game and the mass exodus of aircraft leaving quickly after.
The planning process for each Super Bowl actually starts with the previous Super Bowl, as FAA teams in various locations capture best practices and pass it to the next planning team, year after year. The current team consulted extensively with the San Jose, Phoenix, Indianapolis, and New Orleans facilities and their lessons learned to consolidate best past practices.
Houston Traffic Management Officer, Gerard Quiroz, is planning and organizing much of the air traffic for the event. The collaborative planning started last February as the FAA brought stakeholders together to start creating a plan for air travel that met everyone’s needs.
“We have high levels of commitment from those involved. We have collaboration with airlines, industry, national business aviation administration, and our controllers,” said Quiroz.
“We wanted a plan that met the needs for safety and efficiency that also aligned with industry. People depend on our traffic system to safely get where they want to go and get there on time, and we want to lead the conversation to bring people together. We’ve learned that the more collaboration we have, the more positive the results.”
Creating the plan involved thinking of ways to safely increase traffic volume within the Houston Metroplex. The team looked at multiple challenges, including increased traffic complexity and security. For traffic, the team set up a reservation system for flights, which included overflow airports. Additionally, FAA remained responsible for the Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFR) and Notices to Airmen (NOTAMs) surrounding the event. With all the planning for traffic, TFRs, and NOTAMs, the biggest unknown is still weather.
“We have a 60-70% chance of favorable weather and about a 30% chance of morning fog or thunderstorms,” said Quiroz. “Houston controllers handle weather changes quickly and confidently, that’s just something we are known for here. Therefore, we don’t want to be too conservative. We want to plan with confidence and maximize the system, while utilizing the resiliency of the National Airspace System.”
Another essential part of the plan started with setting up a reservation system for flights called the SB 51 Reservation System to accommodate the approximately 1,300 additional general aviation (GA) flights. About 85% of those flights will be large corporate GA jets.
The system, which is managed and administered by local airport management and fixed base operators, is voluntary, web-based, and allows for the best resource planning and management by all. The system records reservation information from pilots and divides assigned slots between multiple FBOs, updating information as needed.
Houston Metroplex area airports can easily manage and accommodate the estimated additional 110 aircraft per hour. Ellington Airport, William P. Hobby Airport, and Sugar Land Regional Airport are expected to handle the bulk of the balance, with David Wayne Hooks Memorial Airport, Lone Star Executive Airport, and Houston Executive Airport expecting significant traffic increases as well.
We are proud to play a key role in large events, such as the Super Bowl, that bring Americans together for fun, business, and leisure.
Data Comm Now at Chicago O'Hare, Midway
The FAA is now helping to reduce or eliminate one source of delay at Chicago O’Hare and Midway through the use of Data Communications (Data Comm), part of the FAA’s NextGen air traffic control modernization. Data Comm will help reduce delays by making pilot-controller communications shorter and more accurate, which could help keep a plane in the departure line and on schedule. It is now operational at both of Chicago’s major airports.
Data Comm is expected to save operators more than $10 billion over the 30-year life cycle of the program and save the FAA about $1 billion in future operating costs.
FAA Evaluates Drone Detection Systems
Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) that enter the protected airspace around airports can pose a serious threat to manned aviation safety. The FAA and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are conducting drone-detection research with state and local officials, and academia, to evaluate new technologies for detecting unmanned aircraft near airports. Recent field-testing at Denver International Airport was a major milestone in the development of minimum operational performance standards for drone detection at major airport and critical infrastructure locations.