June 19, 2023

Although business aviation has never been found to be a causal factor in aviation system delays, operators planning trips in and through the Northeast this summer should nevertheless prepare for challenges due to volume, convective weather and other driving factors.

The new season comes amid the latest FAA modernization of the Northeast Corridor Atlantic Coast Routes (NEC ACR). This phase went into effect April 20, as the agency continues to transition from land-based navigation by VOR to performance-based navigation, using RNAV/GPS technology. Read more about the NEC ACR optimization project.

NBAA’s Air Traffic Services team recently joined FAA ATC officials at the 2023 White Plains Regional Forum in New York, where they offered tips about flying the NEC ACR.

“We’ve had discussions with our FAA colleagues and we know there have been some observations of inconsistent compliance among general aviation with those routes,” said NBAA Senior Director, Air Traffic Services and Infrastructure Heidi Williams.

One factor contributing to the non-compliance issue stems from filing previously filed routes – a feature offered by flight planning providers.

“We’ve been working with the FAA and the flight plan service providers as well, so I think we’re headed in the right direction,” said NBAA Manager, Air Traffic Services Dean Snell. “Flight operators can just check the route to make sure it complies with those airspace changes. The preferred routes that are in the FAA database will show the corrected routes based on the NEC ACR routes that are in the system.”

Compliance notwithstanding, FAA Deputy Director, Systems Operations for the Northeast Michael Porcello said the overall picture regarding these routes is positive “because we have seen a reduction in the amount of miles-in-trail we’re issuing and the amount of delays being passed back to New York to go specifically to the east coast of Florida.”

Making Your Escape

Escape routes, which have been used for the past several years to mitigate volume and weather challenges, are made available by ATC when necessary. They’re typically flown at low level with the aim of getting out underneath the weather or away from traffic flows – specifically when these flows are closed down.

Main escape routes in the Northeast include SERMN routes. For example, SERMN SOUTH routes will result in higher flight times compared with preferred routes from New York City-area airports to destinations in the FAA Washington Center zone, but departure delays from New York City-area airports should decrease due to constraints on the preferred routes.

“Flying at lower altitudes will of course require burning more fuel,” said Williams. “But it’s a good way to get out. And sometimes it’s a good option to sitting on the ground waiting for routes to open up – or worse – not getting out of the airport at all.”

Air traffic control requests that pilots refrain from requesting higher altitude on SERMN due to overhead traffic complexities in airspace managed by FAA’s Washington Center.

Another escape route option may be WATRS, which are deepwater routes heading north or south between Florida and the Northeast, which allow operators to avoid Washington Center. These are excellent route-outs if weather is blocking the inland or Atlantic routes, if volume through Washington Center is causing significant delays. WATRS routes must be flown at FL310 or higher and all flights must meet safety/equipment requirements for deepwater operations.

“It’s good to have all of these routes in your back pocket,” said Snell. “Quite often, they will not be required, but they can be used.”

Northeast TEC Routes

Tower Enroute Clearances (TEC) allow for low-level, relatively short IFR routes within delegated airspace between adjacent approach control facilities.

“During busy days in the region it’s a challenge, but there’s a lot of coordination to utilize TECs that goes on within the TRACON and within the towers,” said FAA Traffic Management Officer, New York District Leisl Powers.

How to Know When Routes Are in Effect

Multiple resources are available to help operators get details about these routes and when they’re in effect.

“Being vigilant during a severe weather event, with regard to what’s being published through the Air Traffic Control System Command Center website, could certainly be a benefit to you,” Porcello said. Review the FAA’s National Airspace System Status website.

Also, NBAA Air Traffic Services, which is located on the floor of the FAA’s Air Traffic Control System Command Center, offers members a service called Airspace/Airport Alerts.

“If escape routes are in effect and it’s a route option our team in the command center will often send a message through the airspace alerts,” Williams said. “You just have to go into your main portal to sign up for that.”

Learn more about NBAA Air Traffic Services.