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Air traffic control delays can impact private jet travelers

Air Traffic Control Delays: What to Know and How to Avoid Them

For the private jet traveler, air traffic control delays can be perplexing, to say the least. Airplane delays are frustrating, especially when the weather outside looks great! Why, then, are there still often issues, even when the skies are clear at both your departing and arrival airports?

Knowledge is power when it comes to minimizing travel delays. In order to understand how air traffic delays works, an appreciation and awareness for the air traffic control system is in order.

How IFR Flight Plans Work

First, let’s look at how flight plans work. Most business aircraft fly by Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) inside of the air traffic control (ATC) system. To fly in clouds or above 10,000 feet, an IFR flight plan must be filed and accepted by the ATC system. Communication with ATC is necessary to ensure the positive separation of aircraft and the proper routing for ATC efficiency. Order is necessary, and that means airplanes are at the mercy of ATC instruction at most airports.

The ATC System

Usually, a pilot or dispatcher files an IFR flight plan, online or by phone, with an FAA flight service briefer. They may also get a full weather briefing for their route at the same time. Up to 30 minutes before departure, the pilot can call ATC to get a clearance. This can include special instructions for courses, routes, altitude, and more. ATC will sometimes clear the airplane “as filed” or via another preferred ATC route. But this is also where delays can sometimes occur.

ATC delays are often known in advance and can be viewed on the FAA’s website. They might also be relayed by a FAA flight service station when the pilot calls to file a flight plan or get a weather briefing. Commercial and private jet pilots can occasionally plan for these delays by getting a “flow time,” or an approved departure time. This time could be the same as the planned departure time, or it might be minutes or even hours after the planned departure.

What are the types of Air traffic Delays?

The FAA institutes numerous types of delay programs for airplanes on the ground or in the air. There are weather delays, recurring “high traffic” delays (like rush hour at JFK), even delays for heavy congestion surrounding events (think Teterboro before and after the Super Bowl). There are also expected runway closures for maintenance and, in less common situations, unexpected runway closures for things like an aircraft mishap. Here are some of the most common types:

Ground Delay Programs (GDP)

Ground Delay Programs (GDP) exist to prevent aircraft from departing too soon if there is a delay at the arrival airport. All aircraft flying into an airport that has a GDP in place are assigned an Expect Departure Clearance Time (EDCT) and must depart within five minutes of that designated time. The EDCT for an aircraft is assigned by ATC and may be the same as the requested (filed) departure time (often the case for scheduled aircraft like airlines) or may be hours later, depending on the cause of the delay and how many aircraft are in the system.

A common GDP called a General Aviation Airport Program (GAAP) will often be in place at airports during high-profile events like the Super Bowl. GAAP programs assign landing slots to aircraft in an effort to spread out arrival times and minimize delays during high-traffic times.

Airspace Flow Programs

ATC flow programs are traffic management programs that minimize delays due to weather or other expected occurrences like construction. Departing aircraft receive an EDCT when flow management is in effect. Aircraft involved in an Airspace Flow Program can expect a possibly delayed departure time, in-air holding, arrival sequencing (delay vectors or assigned fix-crossing times), or in-air reroutes.

Ground Stops

A ground stop restricts an aircraft from departing or landing at a specific airport for a period of time. Ground stops can occur because of heavy congestion, weather, equipment outages, or catastrophic events. Ground stops are are reactive in nature, not planned in advance.

What we do to Mitigate Air Traffic Delays

Sometimes, delays are unavoidable. An unexpected runway closure at the arrival airport, for example, can cause in-air airspace flow programs or ground stops. From an operations standpoint, we just have to roll with it.

But there are ways to plan for a successful on-time flight and minimize air traffic control delays. We can submit flight plans as early as possible to ensure ATC knows we’re coming. We can view EDCTs in advance so we know what’s coming and can work with our customers to plan appropriately. And the pilots are always in contact with ATC in advance to obtain information about delays and/or get a departure or landing slot, when necessary.

For those interested in a private jet charter, we can often get you into smaller, less congested airports to avoid the airspace flow programs or ground stops at larger airports. Avoiding high-traffic airports altogether is one of the benefits of private air travel, after all!

Contact Magellan Jets at 877-550-5387 to book your next hassle-free trip, or click here to get a quote.

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