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If this is the only way to fly a five part series of programs examining the safety of America's air transport system produced by station WB f o in Buffalo New York for national educational radio. On our last program we explore the area of flight safety through research and development at the national aviation facilities experimental center. And although the area of specific research we covered was that dealing with the safety of the airplane as a vehicle. Another very important area of research is in the field of air traffic control through the use of improved radar systems. Some of the systems developed and tested by name are now in use at the New York Air Route Traffic Control Center. One of the busiest and most modern of such facilities in the world. The center is located at Ronkonkoma New York about 40 miles east of New York City on Long Island and has as its controlled area a substantial portion of the
northeastern United States including terminal operations at three of the busiest airports in the world Kennedy International LaGuardia and Newark. The center handles an average of about 4000 aircraft operations per day including domestic and international arrivals and departures as well as over flights by aircraft headed to other points. No discussion of air safety could be considered a complete one without a look at the air traffic system and the operations of an air traffic control center provide an excellent grounding for an understanding of that system. It was with this in mind that I spoke with Stanley Lowell the facility analysis officer at the New York Air Route Traffic Control Center in the control room itself. It was a little Could you explain what it is the center does and what area it covers. We here in the New York area traffic control center which is located. At Makati the Long Island Airport. You know you. Are engaged in providing for the safe orderly and expeditious movement
of that craft operating through a large section of the northeastern United States. The New York Center is divided into two sections. One section is the domestic control area. Which encompasses approximately 41000 square miles. Of Ass space. All the lying the states of partially the states of Massachusetts Pennsylvania New York New Jersey Delaware. We also control approximately 2 million square miles of Ass space overlying the Atlantic Ocean. The service provided by the New York Center is provided to IFR aircraft meaning instrument flight rule aircraft. Instrument flight rule aircraft are aircraft which are operating
on instrument flight plans and being controlled during all segments of their operation. This is opposed to VFR or visual flight rules type flying. In which the pilot operates upon the principle of see and be seen. During. Inclement weather. All aircraft or practically all aircraft operate under the IFR principle and it becomes the responsibility of this facility to provide adequate separation. Between all commercial airline as private flights and military flights operating within our designated area during conditions of VFR or good weather conditions.
The traffic is mixed. And it is the responsibility of the control center to provide separation between all IFR aircraft. And to the extent possible to keep the IFR pilot advised of any conflicting VFR traffic observed on the radar scope. But you know my correct in assuming that this area that the center covers is one of the busiest areas in air traffic in the nation. Yes this is so the New York traffic control center is. Either the largest or the second largest and busiest Air Route Traffic Control Center in the world and probably the most complex air traffic control system. It serves all the airports which serve the metropolitan New York area. Including all the outlying airports and
has one of the most complex. Airway configurations existing in the world today. In order to accomplish this the New York Center employs approximately 500 highly trained specialists. In the art of air traffic control. And operates seven days a week on a 24 hour basis. At any one time there are approximately one hundred and ten to one hundred and thirty specialists on duty providing the required service to effect separation between all the aircraft that are flying one side of the room shows the controllers working at radar scopes and the other side of the room shows a bank of computer equipment. Could you tell me what the computer equipment is doing. Well yes the computer equipment is actually an aid to the air traffic control. It has relieved the air traffic control of a great deal of the clerical work that prior to the
computers was a part of his routine duties. The computer prepares what we call flight data strips. On which flight data is written. This flight data consists of the aircraft identification type speed the altitude at which he is flying the route of flight that the aircraft is following and these strips of paper or flight data strips are placed in holders and placed in front of the controller so that by scanning the flight that strips he can have an idea of the location of the aircraft. One of the prime reasons for them in the domestic area where radar is used for every flight that is operating is in case of a radar failure and the controller can immediately revert to these.
Flight Data strips. And interpret late the position of the aircraft and provide separation between them and addition to which he uses these flight data strips to indicate position reports pilots reporting out out to to see if an airplane is rerouted he will indicate the re route. On the flight data strip so that actually it is a record keeping device. And primarily the computer prepares all of these flight data strips. It even goes so far as to compute predicated upon the wind and the. The outta two the pressure out the two and so forth the time that the aircraft will be over each geographical fix for which the controller needs a posting. Addition to this we have a second computer which presents on the radar scope in what we call alphanumerics actually a series of letters and numbers
indicating the flight identification and the airplanes out the two. And the beacon code that the airplane is operating on a by Beacon code I mean each aircraft is equipped with a transponder a radar beacon transponder. It is a device in the airplane which emits a signal which is picked up on the radar scope the second Computer Associates. The alphanumerics. With the airplane's radar return. This is all done electronically so that the controller by looking at his radar scope will have next to the target. Let us say American 123 indication a 1 to 3 indicating that this dog is American 1 2 3 and it will also indicate the altitude that the flight was assigned. Are all aircraft equipped with these radar transponders. No not all aircraft are equipped with them however I would say that
the great majority of those aircraft which operate under IFR flight conditions do have transponder equipment. Now there are varying degrees of sophistication amongst the transponder. Is that a use. Some of them are relatively simple devices and some are so complex that. Utilizing our computer we can actually get an electronic reading directly on the radar scope indicating the exact altitude of the airplane. If the aircraft is equipped with a sophisticated enough transponder and if the aircraft is not equipped then the controller must interrogate the pilot of the airplane to find out the altitude. Yes and this is the the usual rule. The most airplanes are not equipped with this highly sophisticated type beacon and the controller must ascertain the altitude from the pilot. Stanley Lowell facility analysis officer at the New York traffic control center
in the second section of the program. I asked Mr. Lowell to explain the way in which a flight proceeds through the control area of the center. The way the traffic control system operates. Every airplane that wishes to file and I have a flight plan or to be controlled must file a flight plan. A flight plan reaches the control center in several different ways. For those air carry Airlines which I have subscribed to a service that we offer we have on file in the computer flight plans for all of their flights. These are full flights which operate every day utilizing basically the same route requesting the same altitude and so forth for the military and. Private operator some of them come
into this facility through a system which we call online where the flight plan is filed into this facility Vajra teletype which goes directly into the computer. And the computer obtains all the information concerning the proposed IFR flight. Under certain other conditions where online filing of flight plans is not available the flight plans are can be called into this control center or sent in by a teletype from flight service stations or or small airline operators and so forth. And they are inserted here in the facility by will by personnel that we call flight data raids into the computer and once the computer has the flight plan stored in it. The computer generates. 1 2 or 3 depending upon the circumstances. Of the flight data strips that I described earlier. For the departure
sector. This is done approximately 30 minutes before the flight is proposed to depart from the airport. When the pilot is ready to depart. He will call the control tower for his clearance at which time the control the control tower will obtain from the Control Center and the air traffic control clearance that will fit. This is the prodding airplane into the overall flow of traffic within the control center. When the flight becomes airborne. The control tower will advise the controller here at the New York Center and he will insert into the computer at the project time for the specific flight. Once of the project time is inserted into the computer within moments thereafter the computer generates. At. High speed printing machines located at each control sector. The required flight data
strips that will be needed by that control sector for the control of the airplane. The control tower then will control the airplane within the immediate vicinity of the airport and as the flight approaches the boundary. Control towers area they will effect a radar handoff a transfer of identity of this aircraft's identity from the control tower to a radar control located here at the center to a specific radar controller located here at the center. When there is no question that as to the identity of the target being transferred. The New York Center controller will advise the tower that he has radar contact with the flight and then communications and control with this flight will be transferred to The New York Senate controller from this point on the New York Center is engaged in number one affecting separation between
this writer handed off light and all other aircraft operating in the system. And in getting the airplane to its requested out of to and on route to its destination via requested route. It is available if it is not a bailable via route as close to the requested route as can be approved after the flight works the controller. This radar controller in the New York Center who incidentally is responsible for a limited segment of the overall New York Center area. This controller will control the flight until it approaches the extremity of his control area at which time he will affect the radar handoff or really the transfer of identity to the next controller. Whose area this flight will enter. And the second controller will then follow the flight through his area issuing any necessary control instructions
to make this a safe flight. And as the flight approaches the limits of his control area he will affect the handoff to the next controller and this continues from controller to control up through the entire New York area. As the flight progresses assuming it to be a rest bounce light as the flight proceeds westbound and is identified from control to control within this facility. And if it were a west bound flight the flight after it leaves the New York control area proceeding westbound would be radar handed off or identified to the Cleveland control center who would then go through pretty much the same operations that we did from sac that the sector within the Cleveland area. But while this flight were westbound within it was westbound within the New York control area. The New York Center computer was talking to the Cleveland Center computer and forwarded to the Cleveland Center computer or flight that or information
on this flight. So that actually before the aircraft approached New York Cleveland control boundary Cleveland was already apprised of all pertinent flight data on this aircraft and their computer in turn had generated a would have generated flight data strips which would be posted on their control boards for this flight that was proceeding westbound. Now prior to the airplane crossing the control boundary a telephone. Call is made and these calls incidentally are all made on full time open lines. Nobody their private lines of call would have been made to the Cleveland Center controller confirming the specific westbound flight. They would confirm that. The final out the two to ensure that there was no change in the altitude made for example after the computers had spoken to each other and if the airplane were running late or early a revision in time would be forwarded
if there were any last minute alterations in the route of flight. The Cleveland controller would be advised of it and then just before the airplane crosses the boundary the actual transfer of radar identity is made from the New York Senate controller that would be the last New York Senate controller working the airplane in the New York area to the first. Cleveland control of working the airplane in the Cleveland control of the area and the flight would then be transferred to the Cleveland control centers. Once communications is transferred Cleveland assumes control of the airplane and the New York Center would be finished with this flight. Now conversely the same thing occurs with in bound flights the Cleveland can puta would give. Would computer talk to the New York Senate computer. We would have the flights posted on the control board to before the airplane entered the New York area. We would receive for cation of the flight data from Cleveland. We would receive radar identification from Cleveland. Finally a communications
change. We would then work the aircraft inbound to the airport that he wished to land at and most of course landed one of the metropolitan New York airports Newark LaGuardia or Kennedy. And the process is then reversed and that the controllers here at New York would be engaged in getting the airplane down to a lower altitude preparatory to landing rather than getting into a higher altitude for his and reporting for the enroute portion of his flight. When the airplane is in the metropolitan area by the prior to the time he gets there. The airplane should be sequenced in a first come first serve altitude sequence. The FAA the FAA operates on the principle of first come first serve and therefore the first airplane to estimate at Kennedy for example should be at the lowest of the two with the next airplane next higher and so forth.
And then these airplanes are changed over to the appropriate approach control facility. Then after a radar handoff or transfer of radar identity assumes control of the flight and vectors the airplane onto his final approach course for landing. I read where a railroad person once said that in the railroad industry they run a lot of trains on one or two tracks and when they get to the station they farm them out to a whole bunch of tracks and at the airline business does exactly the opposite and therefore can never succeed. Can you comment on that. Well I don't know so much about never being able to succeed because it seems to me that we're succeeding fairly well now. I have also heard this. This comment. And of course to an extent it is very true. The alternative or two or two really to operate as the railroads do would necessitate necessitate many many airports at which we can land these airplanes. Of course for obvious reasons real estate
noise problems monetary problems and so forth. This is impractical. What we have to do as a result of this is to impose what we call flow control restrictions. In other words let us assume at Kennedy Airport that Kennedy advises us that with the runway configuration that they are using at the time they can accept one airplane every two minutes or 30 airplanes an hour. And let us assume that in checking our traffic the flow controller finds that for the next hour there are 97 airplanes want to come to Canada. Well obviously the airport cannot accommodate all of these airplanes. So what the New York Center is forced to do what any control center for that matter is for us to do is to impose restrictions upon the movement of aircraft. To limit the number of airplanes that will reach this
destination airport within a given time. Now if Kennedy were accepting let's say 30 an hour. We would attempt not to have more than 30 additional airplanes or one hour traffic in the metropolitan area at any one time so that we would accept 60 airplanes 30 of which would land 30 of which would be for us to circle in holding patterns. We do not desire more airplanes than this in the area. Be in a holding configuration waiting to land because we find that it saturates the frequencies to a point where we cannot provide adequate service. It also imposes such a heavy workload upon the control is that accepting an unlimited number of airplanes to circle in any one area
would be compromising the safety. As a result. The flow controller here at the New York Center would put out a restriction for example and I keep referring to Cleveland but we also get traffic from the Boston control center and from the Washington Control Center and of course some overseas facilities. But the flow controller would put out as an example to Cleveland. That he that New York will accept only a specified number of airplanes for the next hour en route to Kennedy airport destination Kennedy. Or he might put out a restriction requesting so many miles give a number of miles between each airplane destined for Kennedy. All of which accomplish the purpose of slowing the traffic down. Now this in turn can result in the adjacent control center. And since we're talking about Cleveland Cleveland in this case holding some aircraft destined for Kennedy in the Cleveland area and if the situation becomes acute enough it can
result in traffic holding. Well conceivably all across the country because Kennedy has a backlog of too many airplanes does this happen often. Well flow control. No it does not happen often that it backlogs across the country but it does happen almost all the time particularly so in bad weather that flow control restrictions are imposed of a greater or lesser degree depending upon the number of airplanes and the acceptance rate of the airport. Mr. Lowe you told me earlier that your job here at the center is sort of a troubleshooter you check on operations and make sure operations are carried out properly and if errors are mistakes what have you a car then you would find out why and attempt to correct them later. We talked a lot about the air traffic control system in terms of its operations. Is the system safe. Yes I would say that the air traffic control system is a safe system probably the safest in the world.
And the example of this and incidentally it is from my experience the system is becoming safer all the time. Example of this is in 1963. This this New York Center handled approximately three quarters of a million aircraft operations. During that same year this facility. The controllers in this facility made twenty two hour is handling three quarters of a million aircraft. In 1064 we handled approximately 900000 airplanes with only 16 hours and 65 we handled well over a million operations with only 13 errors and one thousand sixty six we handled. Over a million one hundred thousand operations with 13 errors and so far this year we have handled. Well over a half a
million operations with four errors. Now when I say an error this does not necessarily imply that a new disaster occurred. It implies only that a controller. Erred to the extent. That the standards established by the federal government were violated. For example without the use of radar if one airplane of a similar speed as following another airplane of a similar speed 10 minutes. Is required between these two airplanes so that an airplane one checks over point day at ten o'clock airplane 2. Following the same route is not supposed to cross point A and kill 10 10. However if airplane to cross point they at 10 0 7 instead of 10 10 then an error has occurred and
The only way to fly
Episode Number
3 Of 5
Producing Organization
WBFO (Radio station : Buffalo, N.Y.)
State University of New York at Buffalo
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Other Description
For series info, see Item 3384 or 3385. This prog.: Stanley Lowell, facility analysis officer at the New York air Route Traffic Control Center, talks about the operations of the Center.
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Producing Organization: WBFO (Radio station : Buffalo, N.Y.)
Producing Organization: State University of New York at Buffalo
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-19-3 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:28:37
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Chicago: “The only way to fly; 3 Of 5,” 1968-05-19, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed May 19, 2022,
MLA: “The only way to fly; 3 Of 5.” 1968-05-19. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. May 19, 2022. <>.
APA: The only way to fly; 3 Of 5. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from