FAA Orders Voluntary Slot Controls at San Francisco

Last month the FAA designated San Francisco International Airport a Level 2 airport under the International Air Transport Association Worldwide Slot Guidelines. In publishing the Oct. 17 notice, the FAA cited the airport’s plans to build runway safety areas for its four runways between 2012 and 2015 and the potential delays this work could have on flights.

The notice indicates the Level 2 designation would apply between the hours of 6 a.m. and midnight and would take effect beginning with the summer 2012 travel season.

IATA defines Level 2 airports as those “where there is potential for congestion during some periods of the day, week, or season which can be resolved by voluntary cooperation between airlines.” In these cases, an independent facilitator is appointed to facilitate development of airline schedules that will enable the airport to operate during the congested time periods at a reasonable level of service. This facilitation effort involves representatives from the affected airport, airlines, air traffic service providers, and other stakeholders.

The schedule modifications that take place at Level 2 airports are voluntary (slots are not allocated) in so far as airlines serving the airport are not required to make them. However, as noted in IATA’s Worldwide Slot Guidelines, “airlines operating at a Level 2 airport must be willing to make voluntary schedule adjustments in order to avoid exceeding the coordination parameters, otherwise the airport could be designated as Level 3 and require mandatory slot allocation.”

The notice required the airlines serving San Francisco to submit schedule information to the FAA within three days after the notice’s initial publication.  The FAA cited the IATA Slot Conference, which takes place Thursday through Saturday in Singapore, as the reason for the very tight submittal deadline. The IATA Slot Conference, held twice yearly, is the forum where initial discussions of slots and schedule adjustments are made.  Facilitators, including FAA, are required to attend the conference and all airlines (including IATA and non-IATA) may also participate.

For over a year, San Francisco has been working in partnership with FAA on a range of initiatives that will significantly boost the airport’s capacity by 2013.  The airport is continuing these efforts, which include early deployment of “NowGen” air traffic improvements including:

  • Reduced Simultaneous Offset Instrument Approach minimums, which would permit simultaneous approaches to Runways 28L and 28R when fog and other adverse weather conditions affect the airport
  • Enhanced dependent parallel runway operations when weather conditions are too poor for SOIA approaches
  • Area navigation offset approach procedures
  • Required navigational performance/area navigation procedures

Airport staff are hopeful that the Level 2 designation will provide them, the FAA, and their airline partners with an even broader toolkit to manage flight delays during RSA construction.

ACI-NA will continue to track developments related to the notice and the airport’s initiatives to manage flight delays during construction.