Concepts of Traffic Flow Management

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Traffic flow management, also referred to as air traffic management, is the craft of managing the flow of air traffic in the National Airspace System (NAS) based on capacity and demand. This differs from air traffic control (ATC) in that air traffic controllers, including traffic managers, strive to provide a safe, orderly and expeditious flow of traffic on a first-come, first-served basis.

The differences lay in the scope, time parameters, tools, equipment and communication processes. The separation of air traffic is the responsibility of air traffic controllers, utilizing the tools at their disposal. The tools may range from a non-radar ATC clearance, relayed through a flight service station, to the issuance of a clearance to a pilot while under radar contact.

Air traffic management is accomplished by using a “system approach.” This is a management approach that considers the impact of individual actions on the whole. Traffic management personnel facilitate a “system approach” in managing traffic. They consider who or what may be impacted and focus on a coordinated effort to ensure equity in the delivery of air traffic services.

A system approach is taken in collaborative decision-making activities with the system stakeholders (stakeholders include air traffic control, airlines, general aviation or any other participants in the National Airspace System). Consensus building is the goal. It requires stakeholders to look at the costs and benefits to the system rather than one specific part, such as the equitable distribution of delay.

Collaborative Decision Making

Collaborative decision making, or CDM, refers to the collaboration involving the system stakeholders in determining the best approach to a given situation. Different strategies or processes are used to manage particular situations. As events evolve, from forecasted to actual, different traffic management initiatives (TMIs) are applied as appropriate. Ultimately, the goal is to use the least restrictive TMI to manage the situation.

While CDM is the overarching philosophy as to how the FAA manages the NAS, it is perhaps most practically demonstrated in the work of a number of CDM “sub-teams,” each tasked with solving problems with, and enhancing, the operation of the NAS. Each team is given an area of specialty, and consists of a partnership between the FAA and the industry. NBAA Air Traffic Services staff members have been a key part of these sub-teams for several years.

While the teams change over time as needed, the current CDM sub-teams are:

  • Flow Evaluation Team (FET): This team develops enhancements to routes and to the en route domain.
  • Future Concepts Team (FCT): This team works on the development of longer-term procedures and operational concepts.
  • CDM Training Team (CTT): This team is responsible for the development of training curricula for relevant CDM products.
  • Weather Evaluation Team (WET): This team provides recommendations on new and existing weather products and lends weather expertise to the development of CDM products.
  • Surface CDM Team (SCT): This team works to enhance the efficiency of aircraft ground movements and to reduce congestion between the ramp area and the runway area.
  • CDM Automation Team (CAT): This team is tasked with current traffic flow management system (TFMS) products and procedures, and determines what, if any, improvements and enhancements are needed.

Learn more about the CDM concept and sub-teams.

Causes of Delays

The goal of traffic flow management (TFM) is to organize and control the flow of air traffic in order to minimize delays.  Therefore, before examining the tools used in TFM, it is important to understand the definition of, and the causes for, delays. Learn more.

Air Traffic Management Organizational Structure

The function of traffic flow management (or air traffic management) occurs at several levels – from the control tower, all the way up to the Air Traffic Control System Command Center (ATCSCC).  It is important to understand this hierarchy before discussing TFM in more detail. Learn more.

Scope of Traffic Management Initiatives (TMIs)

Before examining the various types of initiatives that traffic management specialists utilize, it is important to understand how they determine an initiative’s scope – that is the range of influence, or impact, for a particular TMI. Learn more.