June 11, 2012

So far this year, the U.S. has already experienced a hurricane and a tropical storm in the Pacific and two tropical storms in the Atlantic. As hurricane season begins to intensify, now is a good time to review what information and guidance to expect from NBAA Air Traffic Services (ATS) before, during and after these storms.

Once the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) begins to have its hurricane telephone conferences (telcons) among aviation stakeholders to coordinate response procedures, NBAA ATS will begin issuing hurricane updates to the business aviation community via the Association’s Airspace Alerts subscriber list, as well as via its new @NBAA_ATS Twitter account.

The FAA will make decisions regarding telcons based on the probability of a hurricane affecting U.S. air traffic facilities, which include, but are not limited to, towers, navigation aids, airports, radars and enroute facilities. The FAA is responsible for the people in these facilities, and therefore it is up to the agency to make decisions on if or when to evacuate them.

Once a facility is evacuated and unoccupied, it goes to “ATC Zero” status. If a tower goes to ATC Zero status, this does not close the airfield; it reverts to an uncontrolled airfield. Only the airport management can declare an airport closed or open via NOTAM.

If an en route or TRACON facility has to be shut down, another facility will generally pick up that traffic. At some point, the radars will be turned off so as not to damage the drive system. However, this action normally has little affect, as it is done after the winds reach a speed that would preclude safe airport and airspace operations.

Those who subscribe to NBAA Airspace Alerts or to the NBAA ATS Twitter feed can expect to receive the following information in ATS hurricane updates:

  • The latest Hurricane Center advisory. NBAA ATS will post only the portion of the advisory that discusses the storm’s current location, movement, strength and size, to remind readers that the tropical and hurricane force winds will begin to affect land long before the eye of the storm makes landfall.
  • Discussion of the expected storm track.
  • Discussion of airport status. When possible, ATS will post any available information regarding towers that have gone to an ATC-Zero status or about the expected time that they are planning to go to ATC-Zero status. Also, if ATS knows that an airport has been closed via NOTAM, those details will be included, too.
  • Finally, ATS will include any other relevant information, such as known route closures or recovery NOTAM information.

If a storm is big enough and expected to have a major impact on land, operators can expect a “recovery” TFR NOTAM to be issued and should expect that TFR to go into effect at approximately 24 hours prior to the eye of the storm making landfall. At that time, the primary concern of the staff at the FAA’s Event Management Center (EMC) is the final evacuation of people from that area.

Once the storm hits and dissipates, the priority changes to search and rescue operations, followed by recovery and restoration stages. During this time, ATS will share any phone number that is made available for operators to request access to the TFR area. The priority for access to the TFR will be aircraft and resources that are participating in the restoration of infrastructure and those services associated with it.

Operators flying into the recovery area should check for NOTAMs regarding the status of the airport and call the FBOs to find out what services are available, such as fuel and other necessary services, as well as to inquire about the condition of the runways and taxiways.

For More Information

Originally launched as the NBAA GA Desk in August 2001, NBAA Air Traffic Services represents the interests of business aircraft operators from the floor of the FAA’s Air Traffic Control System Command Center to ensure equitable access to airports and airspace in the daily management of the National Airspace System. Contact NBAA ATS at airtraffic@nbaa.org or learn more at www.nbaa.org/ats.