Toronto Area Control Centre Tour

I had the pleasure of getting a one-on-one tour at the Toronto Area Control Centre from a blog reader last week.

I had previously wrote about a group tour I had with one of my Seneca classes. Most of the information on that post is still relevant today.

This time around I was able to “plug-in” with a headset for an hour to listen to Joe do his magic as he worked the “airports” position. It was a quiet night, which was good for me as I was able to ask a lot of questions about Joe’s job.

It was extremely interesting to see and hear what it’s like on the other side of the radio. One thing I didn’t realize and didn’t pick up on my previous tour was all the co-ordination that goes on with the other airports and controllers over the hotline.

For example. An American aircraft was on his way to the Rogers Centre from New York State to take some photographs. He was going to be just on the edge of Hamilton’s Control Zone, so Joe buzzes “Ham” on the hotline for a “point-out”:

Joe: “Ham, Satellite for a point-out”

Hamilton Controller: “Go ahead”

Joe: “yeah, N1234 is just passing to the west of your zone”

Hamilton Controller: “Thanks!”

Earlier that night, a Buffalo controller called on the hotline for a “manual hand-off”. Joe had to manually put in the airplanes squawk and tail number into the CAATS system so that the radar (and Joe) can keep tabs on the aircraft.

Another new thing I learned has to do with IFR clearances. The tower controller has to call up Joe and confirm that the clearance is valid before issuing it to the pilot. I knew this happened, but I just didn’t know how. One question I do need to ask Joe is: How is a clearance not valid? And what happens when that’s the case.

I was trying to explain what Joe’s job was like to my friends. I came up with the following analogy: “Imagine 300 people calling your phone at the exact same time to co-ordinate what they should bring to the pot-luck party you’re hosting”.

6 Responses

  1. Kurt says:

    Blake does nav canada have regular tours of the facility? I would really like to have a look also from the other side of the radio. Especially since i am just finishing up my IFR.

  2. Blake says:

    I don’t know. It might be best to send them an email to find out.

  3. Al says:

    Yes, I’d be in for a tour as well.

  4. Ramon says:

    Sounds like a very informative tour- I just read your old Seneca tour post, as well. That’s interesting to learn about the lack of notification between FIR; did they seem to thank that was an issue?
    If you are very interested in the ATC side of things, there is an excellent novel: TRACON, by Paul McElroy. I wanted some action-packed aviation reading to supplement all the texts we have to trudge through! It’s a Tom Clancy/Robert Ludlom-style suspense story about traffic controllers working at O’Hare, but apparently the author went to great lengths researching and talking to aviation professionals to make the story as realistic as possible.

  5. Joe says:

    Hey Blake
    regarding a clearance validation, there is no difference from a pilots perspective, but when a clearance is issued by a tower, the tower controller must then obtain a ‘validation’ of that clearance from a IFR controller, since it is an IFR clearance. Its basically letting us know that this clearance has been issued, and allowing us to prepare separation for that clearance before it becomes ‘valid’. To a pilot it just sounds like a standard takeoff clearance.
    When a clearance is issued directly to the pilot, or through FSS, the clearance is immediately valid, and separation must already exist as the clearance is being issued.
    Regarding the coordination, you probably picked one of the busiest specialties for that, as literally every single aircraft we work will require coordinating with at least one other controller, and sometimes many more! I like your analogy.
    Joe

  6. Blake says:

    Hi Ramon,
    Thanks for the book suggestion! I will have to check it out.
    If you haven’t already, take a look at my book review on another O’Hare: controller Bob Richards.
    Joe,
    Thanks for the clarification on clearances!