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Anatomy Of A Trans-Atlantic Flight  
User currently offlinewashingtonian From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Posted (3 years 1 week 2 days 11 hours ago) and read 4275 times:

I am trying to figure out the radar coverage and procedures of a typical trans-Atlantic flight, so I thought I would posit the question here.

I am roughly familiar with how it works. There are North Atlantic tracks that change on a daily basis, and these "airplane highways" are generally how a flight crosses the ocean. Planes are within VHF coverage for roughly 200 miles from the coast and then are on their own, but report in about once an hour on HF.

So I was hoping that somebody can tell me the exact order of a typical flight, such as JFK-LHR. After takeoff, the plane is covered by New York Departure, and then does it go to New York Center or straight to Boston Center? How many more Centers are there before they are out of radar coverage?

Once the airplane is out of radar coverage, which centers are they talking to once an hour on HF? Is it possible to talk to nearby airplanes in the vicinity on VHF while over the ocean? How difficult is it for a pilot who wants to change course or altitude while over the ocean to get clearance to do so? What role does ACARS have in all of this?

Sorry for all these questions, but I'm hoping to get a clear picture of exactly how an ocean crossing occurs.

Last question: How will NextGen affect a typical crossing? Will airplanes simply have a more accurate picture of what is nearby them?

5 replies: All unread, jump to last
 
User currently offlineViscount724 From Switzerland, joined Oct 2006, 25848 posts, RR: 22
Reply 1, posted (3 years 1 week 2 days 11 hours ago) and read 4247 times:

Quoting washingtonian (Thread starter):
So I was hoping that somebody can tell me the exact order of a typical flight, such as JFK-LHR. After takeoff, the plane is covered by New York Departure, and then does it go to New York Center or straight to Boston Center? How many more Centers are there before they are out of radar coverage?

Usually Moncton and then Gander.


User currently offlineMir From United States of America, joined Jan 2004, 21796 posts, RR: 55
Reply 2, posted (3 years 1 week 2 days 9 hours ago) and read 4168 times:

Quoting washingtonian (Thread starter):
After takeoff, the plane is covered by New York Departure, and then does it go to New York Center or straight to Boston Center

Straight to Boston Center, who actually controls most of Long Island - the boundary between ZNY and ZBW isn't too far east of JFK.

Quoting washingtonian (Thread starter):
Once the airplane is out of radar coverage, which centers are they talking to once an hour on HF?

Probably one of four - Gander, New York, Shanwick or Santa Maria. Gander covers most of the North Atlantic from Canada over to 30 West. New York controls the airspace south of that (not sure where the boundary is, but it's far enough south that most of the Northeast-Europe traffic is north of that unless the tracks are far south). East of 30 West, Shanwick controls the northern part of the ocean and Santa Maria controls the more southerly parts.

Quoting washingtonian (Thread starter):
Is it possible to talk to nearby airplanes in the vicinity on VHF while over the ocean?

Yes. There's a specific air-to-air frequency for this purpose.

Quoting washingtonian (Thread starter):
Last question: How will NextGen affect a typical crossing? Will airplanes simply have a more accurate picture of what is nearby them?

I don't think it will affect things much, since the sort of ADS-B technology on which NextGen is based requires ground stations, which isn't possible over the ocean. That said, there is the possibility for eventual satellite tracking of aircraft, which would help space things closer together since controllers could figure out where airplanes actually are rather than approximating based on times and position reports.

-Mir



7 billion, one nation, imagination...it's a beautiful day
User currently offline26point2 From United States of America, joined Mar 2010, 850 posts, RR: 0
Reply 3, posted (3 years 1 week 2 days 8 hours ago) and read 4143 times:

Quoting washingtonian (Thread starter):
How difficult is it for a pilot who wants to change course or altitude while over the ocean to get clearance to do so?

The tracks can be very congested. Nearly everyone wants to fly Eastbound overnight and Westbound during the day. Diversions and changing altitudes for weather can be approved but not always available. The HF radio operator is just that, a radio operator. he is not an ATC. Your request goes to him which in turn gets passed on the ATC...then the reply takes the reverse course. This process can take some time.


User currently offlinetdscanuck From Canada, joined Jan 2006, 12709 posts, RR: 80
Reply 4, posted (3 years 1 week 2 days 7 hours ago) and read 4113 times:

Quoting washingtonian (Thread starter):
How difficult is it for a pilot who wants to change course or altitude while over the ocean to get clearance to do so?

It all depends on what you're asking for and how that conflicts with other traffic. The actual process is easy, especially if you're on CPDLC, but it's not quick and you may not get what you ask for.

Quoting washingtonian (Thread starter):
What role does ACARS have in all of this?

If you're CPDLC, the datalink is probably going over ACARS (HF). If you're doing datalink of any kind on an oceanic run it's going over HF or SATCOM, so ACARS is still available for company traffic, automatic reporting, health monitoring, etc. as well as CPDLC.

Quoting washingtonian (Thread starter):
Last question: How will NextGen affect a typical crossing? Will airplanes simply have a more accurate picture of what is nearby them?

Not much in the near term. NextGen will normalize self-reporting of position, rather than relying on radar, which well help with oceaninc because GPS coverage is just as good over the ocean as it is over land. ADS-B won't work out of range of the groundstations but, as long as CPDLC or the equivalent is available, the airplane could just automatically report GPS position over datalink and it would look, to ATC, just like an ADS-B feed with low update rate.

Tom.


User currently offlinerfields5421 From United States of America, joined Jul 2007, 7607 posts, RR: 32
Reply 5, posted (3 years 1 week 1 day 21 hours ago) and read 3926 times:

Quoting washingtonian (Thread starter):
Is it possible to talk to nearby airplanes in the vicinity on VHF while over the ocean? How difficult is it for a pilot who wants to change course or altitude while over the ocean to get clearance to do so?

Some of the pilot stories from Sept 11, 2001 would interest you.

While most of us know of the fantastic efforts is Canadian cities like Gander and Halifax and Goose Bay to accommodate a larger group of diverted aircraft - a great many aircraft turned back to Europe.

Pilots have written about the VHF conversations between various aircraft crews and different airlines. Many non-US flag carrier crews expressing their concern and sympathy to the US airline crews.

One account I read - the pilot talked about feeling like being left alone to face the unknown as he observed aircraft after aircraft drop below the NAT track and turn back toward Europe on hastily arranged new routes.

The best description of a Trans-Atlantic flight process I've ever seen was a document written for Flight Simulator folks by an Olympic Airways A340 pilot - It describes the entire process - from route and weight planning to communications to file/re-file destination - etc. The file is CROSSATL.ZIP on Flightsim.com - you have to register with the site to download it. It was written in 2002 - so some details might be a bit different - but it is still very informative.

[Edited 2011-11-16 07:04:40]

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