A Simulating Experience

Between August and September 2005, controllers from O’Hare fast-forwarded to the year 2018, operating a real-time, human-in-the-loop simulation of a new airport layout plan defined by the O’Hare Modernization Program.


Controllers were able to experience first hand the benefits of the new ALP in poor weather conditions. The parallel runway structure greatly simplified poor-weather operations, while maintaining six active runways for maximum throughput. They identified potential issues with maintaining optimal departure sequences, due to limited taxiway or hold-pad availability to re-sequence departures, as changing traffic management initiatives might dictate.

Operational changes were made in the tower that significantly improved the ability of the controllers to manage the workload for the new ALP. Areas of responsibility were redefined to better balance the workload between the two inbound ground controllers. The positions transitioned from what was originally envisioned as an East/West split of responsibilities, to a more North/South split. A repositioning of the ground controller positions on the center platform was performed to support the changes. The workload for two of the local-controller positions was made more manageable by offloading some of the taxiing arrival traffic onto the inbound ground controllers.

Significant improvements to the chokepoint issues were developed during the simulation. The use of underutilized taxiways, coupled with the redefinition of the inbound ground controller responsibilities, created a more efficient operation, even during peak-demand operations. For the West-flow operation, there is still some concern with a particular chokepoint, and the overall taxi length to some of the gates for arrivals on the North-side runways. A proposed solution to this issue was developed, and is currently under consideration.

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By the end of their time in FFC, the participating ORD controllers had a good feel for operating the new O’Hare ALP. They began the project knowing little about the new ALP, but by the conclusion of the simulation were able to operate it effectively and efficiently. Any changes implemented now based on their observation and feedback during the simulation will reduce the risk of discovering needed changes late in the project. In addition to saving on the overall cost of the project, the simulation results will help ensure that the final build-out of the new ALP will be an efficient operation both on the airfield and in the tower, and that there will be few, if any, “surprises.”

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