It’s getting to be that time of the year again. We’re heading into Spring across the country, which means that large scale convective weather will be making a return. Due to the wonderful convective weather, we will see the return of Traffic Management Initiatives (TMIs), such as the Airspace Flow Program (AFP) and more of the always present Ground Delay Program (GDP). Each of these TMIs assigns an Expected Departure Clearance Time (EDCT) for your trip. The EDCT, of course, is where the fun starts.
First things first - recently the FAA has improved their system to allow flights, filed through Flight Service Stations, to enter the system up to 17 hours prior to scheduled departure. This is in addition to all the major flight plan service providers, along with flightplan.com, being able to put your flight plan into the system up to 24 hours prior to your scheduled departure. This is a huge step forward since it now allows the traffic managers to “see” GA traffic along with the planned commercial traffic, as long as we file in advance. The importance of this is that it allows for better TMI planning and should result in fewer program revisions due to pop-up trips. However, this all depends on operators and crews filing flight plans as soon as practical and even more importantly, as accurately as possible.
Why is an accurate departure time important? It all boils down to time. Many crews have a tendency to file 30 minutes in advance in order to get their clearance ahead of time. The only problem with this is that, once you have filed that time, the computer thinks that is when you want to leave. If you are assigned an EDCT for a GDP or an AFP, the computer is going to assign you the best possible time. So there are a number of ways in which filing ahead of time can hurt you.
First, if you happen to be early in a program there may be little or no delay, possibly resulting in your EDCT being assigned prior to the time you actually want to depart. Second, when there are cancellations in the program, the computer will try to move flights up to fill in those spaces. It will move you all the way up to your original proposed time, not knowing that you filed 30 minutes early. If you miss that earlier EDCT it can result in substantial delays as you will now be assigned a new delay, usually based on the program’s average delay.
So again, it benefits you in several ways to file an accurate departure time. First, you’re giving the traffic managers a better idea of when you are scheduled to arrive either at the GDP airport or the AFP’s constrained area. Second, when your EDCT is assigned, it will be one that you can use. Keep this in mind this season as you’re dodging those thunderstorms.
This article was originally published in the May/June 2010 issue of NBAA’s Business Aviation Insider, available to members of the NBAA.
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