En route sector capacity model final report
January 29, 2016
Accurate predictions of en route sector capacity are vital when analyzing the benefits of proposed new air traffic management decision-support tools or new airspace designs. Controller workload is the main determinant of sector capacity. This report describes a new workload-based capacity model that improves upon the Federal Aviation Administration's current Monitor Alert capacity model. Analysts often use Monitor Alert sector capacities in evaluating the benefits of decision-support aids or airspace designs. However, Monitor Alert, which was designed to warn controllers of possible sector overload, sets sector capacity limits based solely on handoff workload and fixed procedural constraints. It ignores the effects of conflict workload and recurring workload (from activities such as monitoring, vectoring, spacing, and metering). Each workload type varies differently as traffic counts and airspace designs are changed. When used for benefits analysis, Monitor Alert's concentration on a single workload type can lead to erroneous conclusions. The new model considers all three workload types. We determine the relative contribution of the three workload types by fitting the model to the upper frontiers that appear in peak daily sector traffic counts from today's system. When we fit the Monitor Alert model to these same peak traffic counts, it can only explain the observed frontiers by hypothesizing large handoff workload. Large handoff workload would imply that decision-support aids should focus on handoff tasks. The new model fits the traffic data with less error, and shows that recurring tasks create significantly more workload in all sectors than do handoff tasks. The new model also shows that conflict workload dominates in very small sectors. These findings suggest that it is more beneficial to develop decision-support aids for recurring tasks and conflict tasks than for handoff tasks.