The New York area is home to some of the most congested airspace in the world. Every day, thousands of flights are funneled through constrained corridors in the sky to arrive and depart from three of the busiest airports — JFK International, LaGuardia and Newark.
With Delta's significant presence at two of the three airfields, maintaining a high degree of safety while also improving reliability and minimizing disruptions prompted by weather and the sheer volume of flights has been a primary focus of Delta's operational teams, leading them to take a unique approach to address the complex challenge.
For the first time this summer, Delta has embedded two Operations and Customer Center employees into the Federal Aviation Administration's Air Traffic Control System Command Center — a facility similar to Delta's own OCC — to better collaborate, exchange operational best practices and delay mitigation tactics with the government organization that manages traffic in the skies across the U.S.
"We've worked to navigate the challenges of the New York airspace for years, and each year we see incremental improvement," said Mark Hopkins, Delta's director of Air Traffic Management, who has led the airline's efforts to improve Northeast operations. "Positioning our own teams in the FAA Command Center to share insights and better understand how traffic is managed system-wide will undoubtedly improve our ability to operate more reliably and safely."
Having embedded teams in the FAA's central command is particularly important this summer as runway construction at JFK has challenged an already complicated operation. While the focus will be on the Northeast operation, Delta will be able to share and glean insights on how the rest of the U.S. airspace is managed as well share airline operational practices.
For example, Hopkins noted that often when weather affects the New York area, air traffic control may hold departing aircraft on the ground based the original route the flight was filed on, even in instances when Delta is prepared to accept an alternative routing that safely takes the plane around the storms. Holding the aircraft on the ground, he said, isn't always ideal as Delta would prefer to get the flight in the air, even if the routing means a slightly longer flight — to keep the operation flowing.
"Our goal is to apply learnings in both directions," said Hopkins of Delta and the FAA. "We want to build more consistency and resiliency into the operation, working together to improve how the entire system operates for the benefit of our customers."
Hopkins expects the partnership will result in more departures and arrivals per hour — especially during inclement weather — as Delta and the FAA work more closely together. Ultimately, improving the throughput of flights into and out of the New York area airports, with an intense focus on safety, will improve operations across both the National Airspace System and the Delta network.