Towers Rethink Procedures For 'Taxi Into Position and Hold'

Most airlines and pilots appear to support FAA in its recent and much belated efforts to improve the safety of controllers' use of "taxi into position and hold" (TIPH).

Echoing the sentiments of several industry officials, Cptn. Larry Newman, safety chairman for the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), insists that ALPA is "very supportive" of the steps FAA is taking, adding that "we've been calling for something to be done for a number of years."

"It's not an easy decision for them," Newman adds, "because there's a lot of pressure to maintain capacity."

TIPH, which allows controllers to position aircraft at the beginning of the runway instead of at an off-runway hold line, is widely seen by controllers, some airline officials, and airport operators as a way to keep things moving at busy times. Otherwise, pilots have to wait until they're cleared to move from the hold line onto the runway.

The main controllers union, the National Association of Air Traffic Controllers (NATCA) -- embroiled in FAA contract issues (go to www.AviationToday.com for more details) -- would not clarify their position for this article.

But speed kills, as they say; or at least, it can create some frightening incursions and near misses. A recent incident a lot of groups point to, including the Allied Pilots Association (APA), involved a three-way operational error using TIPH on Feb. 17 at Los Angeles Int'l Airport (LAX).

Like ALPA, APA strongly supports FAA's policy revision on TIPH. APA also is a member of the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations (CAPA), whose president, Cptn. Gary Boettcher, categorizes FAA's actions as "poor." The agency failed to properly consult the industry before making its revisions, he says.

For FAA, the most significant part of its March 20 policy revision on TIPH is the section directing air traffic control managers to "review the impact that airport configuration and local conditions may have on the application of TIPH procedures." That, of course, is followed by a requirement that the ATC management also revise its procedures.

By placing the onus for assessment on individual towers, FAA expects it will get the best strategies implemented, because they conform to each airport's unique configuration and needs.

In its policy revision, the agency also suggests some areas where procedural changes may occur, such as "reading back the pilot's stated position, annotating flight progress strips, posting or arranging flight progress stops according to aircraft's intended takeoff position, or marking the location of aircraft with color-coded chips on a magnetic diagram of the airport."

In the meantime, airports are still allowed to use TIPH, as long as they follow other newly prescribed procedures from FAA, an agency spokeswoman tells Air Safety Week. Most of the large airports that experience acute air traffic congestion also have applied for waivers from FAA to do the risk assessment, and develop a plan with new safety procedures.

Some smaller airports have simply stopped using TIPH, probably because their need of it isn't as great as the larger facilities.

FAA expects all the new procedures to be in place by Nov. 1, she adds.

While airports take the broader look at their unique situations, there's also new procedures controllers already have to implement that add to the radio communications from the tower to the pilots, and which irks CAPA.

For example, when an aircraft is authorized into TIPH, "inform it of the closest traffic that is cleared to land, touch-and-go, stop-and-go, or [on] unrestricted low approaches to the same or parallel runway separated by less than 2,500 feet." Likewise, aircraft in those other positions must hear about the craft waiting in TIPH.

That "introduces a lot of unnecessary verbiage" on the radios, CAPA's Boettcher insists. There's really no need for controllers to tell pilots in TIPH something like "you've this one final, you've got that one on final," especially in busy airports. All the extra verbiage will not prevent pilots from sometimes forgetting about another plane.

Miami Int'l (MIA) poses a special situation with a set of runways on one side of the facility generally devoted to takeoffs, with another set on the other side for landings. Occasionally, conditions permitting, the tower instructs a craft to come in on the takeoff side, Boettcher says. But a pilot waiting to takeoff wouldn't know that.

APA's Newman believes that LAX officials already told FAA that some of its new language requirements are not effective, and the agency is working on it.

Boettcher suggests that what FAA really needs are more supervisors on duty, so they're each watching fewer scopes. But "it's a money issue" for the agency, which doesn't want to hire the extra personnel.

For its part, APA acknowledges controllers' concerns that towers are not sufficiently staffed to handle the new procedures. Still, APA "believes that decisions on whether to address known safety risks cannot be based on administrative issues."

The Air Transport Association (ATA) says its position is that "TIPH will not cease, nor are we expecting a major operational issue to result. ...This will ultimately add structure to a procedure already in place, provide clear safety and capacity benefits, and clear accountability for FAA facility plans and programs."

>>Contacts: Cptn. Dennis Breslin, APA, (817) 302-2350; Cptn. Gary Boettcher, CAPA, (202) 756-2956; Linda Shotwell, ALPA, (703) 481-4440; FAA Public Affairs, (202) 267-3883

[Copyright 2006 Access Intelligence, LLC. All rights reserved.]

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