Aviation In Canada

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

ATC Radio Usage

Continuing the subject of radios, I thought I'd post about radio usage. The Moncton FIR is the smallest FIR in Canada, and our low level sectors have about the same footprint of our FIR. I say about the same, because it's a little different thanks to history. Anyway, within that area, we have divided it into several sectors which are based on the normal flow of traffic so that we can best match our resources to the needs of the aircraft. Each of those sectors requires at least one radio transmitter so we can talk to the aircraft. As it turns out, our traffic patterns, the aircraft we deal with, the diversity of our airspace (radar, non-radar, oceanic and domestic, etc), and a certain need for redundancy requires more than one transceiver per sector. We typically call our transceivers "frequencies" since that's how we refer to them when changing pilots to different sectors.

As workload varies throughout the day, we consolidate our sectors differently. For example, in the middle of the day, all of our sectors may be separated, each being worked by a different controller, perhaps with the addition of a "data man" if an individual sector is busy enough -- one person on the radio and hotlines and one on the landlines. In the middle of the night, traffic flow is so light comparatively, that our sectors will be "rolled in" to one, with the inclusion of Halifax Terminal's airspace and their frequencies. In such a configuration, the one controller working the entire low level airspace can have as many as 17 different frequencies to monitor, 16 hotlines, and about 30 phone lines to answer. Mind you, there won't be a lot of activity on each one. The normal method of operation is to have all of our transceivers engaged for transmit, so you may hear a controller having a radio exchange with an aircraft, but never hear his responses. He could be on a completely different frequency, even though I am working him in the same manor as I am working you. This has the disadvantage of allowing one aircraft to make a call, feeling he is alone and not "stepping" on anyone, at the same time as another on a different frequency, and neither knowing about the other aircraft's call.

Some ATC units have "radio retransmit units", also known as "frequency coupling". This allows the incoming transmission on one frequency to be rebroadcast on the same controller's other frequencies. This means aircraft on separate frequencies, perhaps located several hundred miles away, can hear aircraft in other areas so they know someone else is transmitting. So, for example, if I am receiving a long, detailed readback of an oceanic clearance, other aircraft on my other freuqencies would hear them and know not to call in, since it would ruin my chances of hearing the readback in its entirety. This would mean me having to go back to the oceanic aircraft and having to ask him again for the readback.