Daily puzzle in the skies
I highly recommend you watch the video on the left (credit: Eurocontrol). The first time I saw it I just couldn’t believe how busy our skies are today. Talk about metropolitan traffic, it’s almost worse than New York City up there! That’s finally when I realized what an incredibly complex job air traffic controllers have.
I had a chance to speak to Niklaus Gerber, Solar Impulse’s Air Traffic Control (ATC) specialist, who gave me the rundown of what really happens when a plane flies. Before any flight the Flight Director, the team of meteorologists, and the ATC specialist make a flight plan by taking into consideration a number of factors:
The plan is always discussed with experts from Air Navigation Services Providers of all concerned countries, who in turn present the final flight plan to their Control Centers. This is a necessary step to get any special indication of which minimum and maximum altitudes HB-SIA can use when it crosses their airspace, where it can fly and when.
In addition to the ATC’s indications, there are also strict international regulations Solar Impulse, as well as commercial and non-commercial aircrafts, must abide by. Nonetheless, given HB-SIA’s experimental nature, there are certain rules that it simply cannot follow. For example, it’s a low-speed aircraft that flies amongst high-speed traffic, often flying above 6’000 meters. This altitude and above require special instruments that abide to the Instrument Flight Rules when HB-SIA can only fly by the Visual Flight Rules, permitted below 6’000 meters. It’s also an aircraft that requires a long time to gain and lose altitude unlike the usual aircrafts and, finally, as explained the flight profile blog, HB-SIA cannot maintain a constant cruising altitude due to its energy maximization needs. For these reasons the Solar Impulse ATC experts need to request special authorizations to fly.
This is when I realized the amount of work Niklaus and his colleague Michel Masserey have. Aside from being fully engaged in the flight planning exercises that go on 3-4 days before a scheduled flight, they also have a year-round mission to raise awareness about the project across the globe in preparation for the Solar Impulse tour around the world, scheduled for 2014.
I think that from this day on, I will bless all ATCs when I land somewhere. I still can’t believe how they work out what seems to me like a chaotic muddle, into smooth departures and landings: worse than a jigsaw puzzle!
I highly recommend you watch the video on the left (credit: Eurocontrol). The first time I saw it I just couldn’t believe how busy our skies are today. Talk about metropolitan traffic, it’s almost worse than New York City up there! That’s finally when I realized what an incredibly complex job air traffic controllers ...