Im an (FAA) air traffic controller and I know for a fact that NATCA, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association has said nothing about a slow down being done at this time to prove any kind of a point.
you have many delay causing situations come together. Things like strong wind patterns low ceilings and even thunderstorms 100 miles away can cause problems. Many airlines these days also do not allow ATC to exercise an operation call Land And Hold Short.
Look at Flightarrivals.com this evening at about 3pm and you will see anywhere between 190 to 250 arrivals scheduled for the next two hours. Keep checking it through out the evening and you will find that number doesn't go down till about 8 or 9pm.
At its best usable runway configuration ORD
can not handle this amount of traffic. Airport capacity is a black and white thing. Only one plane can use a runway at a time unless we want to change the separation standards and at ORD
this usually means two runways for departures and two runways for arrivals. Thats clearly not enough.
Weather plays a big part in ATC operations. ATC can clear planes to take off and land all day. But if there is a level 5 thunder storm 1 mile off the end of the runway the pilot will refuse to fly into it. So lets say you have a storm approaching ORD
from the west and it is blocking one of the arrival corner posts. You can think of an arrival corner post as a freeway and this freeway has a wreck on it now. Im sure you have been on a freeway when traffic has to stop so that a wreck can be cleared right? Its much like this in the air. In order to separate huge amounts of traffic, class B (like ORD
) is set up in an X and + pattern. Usually the X is how planes enter the air space and the + is how planes depart the airspace (with the airport in the middle). If a thunderstorm closes off one of those X entry points (or another point for that matter) you will have delays. And if the traffic is such that on a good weather day you have delays your bad weather delays are going to be worse.
Question: Did you know that airborne sequencing for ORD
can start as far away as Denver, Louisville or Pittsburgh? It sure does. When you have an airport as busy as ORD
it is a daily occurrence to have a line of planes from Cleveland to ORD
, all of them 5 to 6 miles apart, one after the other, all doing the same speed. I had a chance to watch this at Cleveland center and its a beautiful thing.
Take Dallas, Chicago, LA
, Houston or any cities freeways for example. At rush hour they are usually clogged and congested. Drivers can usually see they are congested. Same thing happands in the air and at airports. The only things is sometimes you cant see what is causing the problem.
I can tell you one thing though. The controllers are not the route
of the problem. The controllers are not purposely reducing the arrival and departure rate to make a point.
Controllers want nothing more than for the system to run smoothly every day because if it does we have done our job.
Side Note: The FAA is just now coming to the reality that over 50% of its controller workforce is going to be eligible for retirement in the next 5 to 7 years. It takes anywhere from 3 to 5 years to training people like me and believe it or not, everyone cant do this job. So if the FAA doesn't start hiring expect delays to get worse. Not because of weather or runway construction but because they are not enough of people like me to separate.
How to solve the problem:
Determine airport capacity.
Implement slot controls