The secret is out…it is sunny and warm in south Florida. And there are a lot of people from the north who would prefer the south Florida weather in the middle of winter for a dose of vitamin D. This winter reality means busy airports, busy airspace, and long security lines. In other words, pack your patience and some extra fuel.
So was the case on a recent flight from Cincinnati (KLUK) to the Fort Lauderdale – Hollywood International Airport (KFLL). FAA-mandated ground stops are not uncommon this time of year due to capacity issues even with mitigation strategies in place such as making use of military airspace and other restricted to accommodate a higher volume of traffic. Aircraft must be appropriately metered into Florida so that the system is not overwhelmed – everything from ATC staffing to physical space in the air and on the ground. Introduce some weather into the equation and things get even tighter. “Controlled chaos” is the phrase that comes to mind.
An RNAV (GPS) arrival is a guarantee into south Florida to ensure an orderly flow of traffic and separate the southbound arriving traffic from the northbound departing traffic. Our common route of flight from Cincinnati takes us through a departure gate used by Cincinnati approach control, KENLN, located on the BLUEGRASS departure from the Cincinnati Norther Kentucky International Airport (KCVG), and then south over Lexington, Knoxville, Atlanta, and then the published Standard Terminal Arrival Procedure (STAR) in southern Georgia at the ZPLEN intersection for the TEEKY arrival into KFLL.
Those responsible for the naming of arrival fixes are certainly clever and funny and often use local themes and landmarks to name fixes. Take, for example, the FRISBE departure from KFLL that has you pass over two initial fixes, LLBOW “Elbo,” and ROOOM “Room” paying homage to the famous Elbo Room in Ft. Lauderdale Beach founded in 1938. Well done! But I digress.
The fist thing you’ll notice for our TEEKY arrival into KFLL is the amount of information to consume on the chart itself. In fact, the FAA version is two pages. In this case, I prefer the Jeppesen equivalent chart as all of the information is located on a single page. In the iPad era, with the ability to pinch and zoom, it doesn’t really matter how small the print might be.
Evident by the altitudes and speeds noted on the procedure, the TEEKY is reserved for turbojet aircraft. This restriction is also stated in the notes section of the arrival, along with a notice to pilots to expect a “descend via” clearance as part of the arrival.
Descend Via – An abbreviated ATC clearance that requires compliance with a published procedure’s lateral path and associated speed restrictions and provides a pilot-discretion descent to comply with published altitude restrictions until descending to the “Bottom Altitude” published on the STAR
Given the amount of crossing restrictions, vertical navigation is a must on this procedure. The Collins Pro Line 21 suite makes this relatively simple by setting the bottom altitude of the procedure – 6,000’ landing west – and selecting vertical navigation, “VNAV,” on the controller. It’s up to the pilot to control the speed with the throttle, but the navigation computers will do the rest. In an aircraft equipped with auto throttles, the pilots only need to watch the automation do its thing.
On the TEEKY, we must cross FIGNA at or below FL310 (31,000’), JASBO at or above FL260 and at 280kts. DANNA must be crossed between FL230 and FL260, TEEKY at or above 12,000’, and BANTY between 10,000’ and 11,000’ at 250kts and HEEZE at 7,000′. Given we are landing runway 28L at KFLL (west), we’ll continue to GOYLE at a mandatory 7,000’, and finally, FAMBA, at a mandatory 6,000’. You can see how busy this could get if you didn’t have the advantage of vertical navigation.
We were in a conga line of about eight aircraft flying the same procedure to the same destination. This was mix of airline traffic and business aviation traffic with a variety of capabilities, but the arrival procedure equalizes everyone by the same arrival path, mandatory altitudes and speeds. Beyond the mandatory speed of 250kts at BANTY, given the close proximity of aircraft, we were further given multiple speed restrictions by ATC. “Slow to 230 kts,” slow to 210 kts,” “slow to 170 kts and maintain 170 kts to the final approach fix on the ILS for Runway 28R.”
Yes, as you can imagine there’s a lot of radio traffic and the importance of clear, concise radio communication and precise execution of the instructions is paramount and what makes the system work safely. The local approach facilities will assume pilots have the appropriate procedures, frequencies and information at the ready to respond to multiple requests quickly. It’s also expected that pilots will fly precise altitudes and speeds when required (remember that when your CFI is strict about maintaining 85 kts. on downwind, 75 kts. on base and 65 kts. on final (or whatever your training aircraft calls for.))
After landing, it is also necessary to have awareness of the taxiway layout and likely path to the FBO as the instructions will come just as quickly as the speed restrictions in flight. After our hurried taxi instructions, we were parked on the ramp and the passengers on their way for a cold weather reprieve.