21 July, 2019

How Delta works with air traffic control to navigate around summer weather

​Summer is Delta's busiest season with more customers flying on more daily departures.

Teams in the airline's OCC work strategically with the FAA and air traffic control centers to navigate flights around unpredictable summer weather and minimize disruption for customers and frontline teams.
Understanding how weather can affect down-line flights and why quick, safe recovery initiatives are key to keep flights on schedule.

The probability of thunderstorms and rain showers often set the stage for planning flight operations every day during the busy summer months. 

Delta is on track to carry more customers than ever this summer, and as flights continue averaging 90.1 percent full, millions of customers are counting on Delta to get them to their destinations. This means when Mother Nature has other plans, it's up to teams in the OCC to help navigate flights around disruptive weather to lessen any potential impact.

"Summer operations present unique challenges as a result of peak customer volume combined with the unpredictable weather – especially in congested airspace like the New York metros," said Mike Schwartz, Director of Operations Management. "We use key learnings and data from seasons past to continually improve what's best for our customers and frontline teams."

This is where Delta's Strategic Planning Team comes into play, serving as the airline's direct access to the FAA and air traffic control centres around the country. Every two hours, the team connects with the Air Traffic System Command Center in Washington D.C. via conference call with other airlines, to work through any issues that may affect flights such as weather or adjustments to airport arrival and departure capacity.

Air traffic control initiatives, like "Ground Delay Programs" (GDPs) and "Ground Stops" (GS), may be issued to slow air traffic or temporarily halt movement in and out of an airports when disruptive weather moves in. If airspace surrounding an airport becomes blocked by weather or when a weather system moves directly over the airfield, GDPs and GS initiatives are issued to decrease the numbers of arrivals and departures for all flights.

Additionally, pilots and flight superintendents work with air traffic controllers to coordinate suitable routes and deviations if they find themselves in the path of a thunderstorm system. Because aeroplanes are unable to go over thunderstorm systems, manoeuvring around an expansive system may add to flight times.

Staying on schedule by recovering delays in the network

Similar to rush hour traffic, weather delays across Delta's system can stack up over time, impacting flights later in the day in other cities.

When severe storms impact a Delta hub, the effects can ripple across the system, and even cause delays in locations with fair weather.

This is where Delta's OCC team comes in, working behind the scenes to minimize the impact of storms before, during and after a disruption.

Considering what constraints inclement weather can cause, the team works with all 22 air traffic centres around the country to keep flights moving at a safe pace while understanding what arrival or departure rates per hour could work best to set the airline up for a successful recovery following a disruption.

Part of running a complex global operation means customers may possibly experience effects of disruptive weather in other parts of the country. If flights deviate around weather or spend time in a holding pattern due to a ground stop – especially in Delta's hub cities – those delays can affect down-line departures.

For example, a flight from Nashville to Los Angeles is delayed while the weather in either station is clear with no chance of storms, but the aircraft is coming from Delta's largest hub in Atlanta – where air mass thunderstorms have popped up due to daytime heating and is delaying the aircraft's arrival in Nashville.

As a result, teams in the ops centre may be able to call a reserve crew or reroute an aircraft to minimize the delay for our customers.

Learn how unpredictable weather factors into operational decisions, and stay tuned for the next chapter in the Summer Operations Series. ​

Recommended for you...