Aviation In Canada

Monday, June 20, 2005

IFR Unit Division

I'm sorry I didn't find my data board picture, but until I can get one to post, I'll give a little detail about the division of Moncton FIR's airspace for some background on how we work. Without this info, the databoard picture would mean less, anyway.

Every center in Canada has "specialties" within it. These are groups of people who work one or more sectors who tend to do similar tasks frequently, so they don't have to learn too many skill sets. This allows them to be better at what they do regularly. For example, in Moncton, we have Halifax Terminal, which deals with a relatively high volume of traffic and a complex mix of aircraft types in a crossing runway environment. Then we have our high level airspace, which feeds Gander for eastbound oceanic traffic, and receives them from Gander for the westbound flow and feeds them to Boston. This daily flow of traffic one way and then the other involves upwards of 350 aircraft all trying to be in the best spot of the jetstream (or out of it on the westbound leg) within a few hours. This takes a good eye to spot conflicts well in advance, and a number of special procedures and techniques not useable outside this area. Then there's low level which takes up everything else.

While terminal does the fast-paced sequencing and departures, they run more aircraft closer together than anyone else in the CTR. High level handles a shear volume of aircraft all in the high level, Class A airspace. Low level, the catch-all for the remainder, deals with the lowest overall traffic volume, but has the highest complexity for operations and background knowledge required. You don't, for example, see many pilots of 747's and A340's having navigation difficulty, where down low, we see all kinds of pilots from high-timers to "new releases" in all different types of aircraft. Also, our high-level specialty doesn't get involved in arrival vs. departure situations, and their airspace is, by necessity, largely radar-covered and all of their area is controlled airspace. Terminal also is all-radar, and their knowledge base need not be very large to contain the primary airports they deal with. With low level's airspace capped at FL280, we have to know low level airspace and airways, along with high level airspace and airways, and deal with uncontrolled airspace (if a pilot understands the nuances of it, it's pretty easy; it's those that don't that require a lot of attention), as well as at least a basic knowledge about a number of airport situations, frequencies, and so on.

This is what leads to specialization within the job. A certain set of knowledge or skills is required day-in and day-out, and the practice level must be good to deal with the specific sets of circumstances regularly. Traffic flow and geography make a big difference in where internal airspace boundaries are drawn and who works what areas and what traffic. Each specialty may have several sectors as well, and each group's area is divided as traffic dictates the need for. If you look at Moncton ACC's area, the high and low level airspace is very differently divided from one another, all because of where the majority of traffic operates within it. I'll try to find an image of our sectorization that I can post here, too, for information sake.