CRJ200 Airline Pilot

The personal experiences, thoughts of an CRJ captain

Expect Departure Clearance Times (EDCT) to ORD

Posted by Jeffrey on October 9, 2008

Bad Weather Ahead

Bad Weather Ahead

Expect Departure Clearance Times” is a tool used to meter the amount of traffic coming into a particularly high volume airport such as ORD during inclement weather.

Check ORD’s current weather forecast here.

If you have ever flown into ORD, it is an amazing experience. To me the controllers are the best. They have such apparent control over the their domain, so even though a lot of pilots like to second guess the system, it is probably one of the best implemented systems in the United States.

Two great books that address ATC and aviation weather, and should be included in your aviation library are: ATC & Weather: Mastering the Systems and The Air Traffic System: A Commonsense Guide. Both are unique and invaluable introductions to the air traffic control system.

On with my story…

Consider this…on a VFR day and all runways available for takeoff and landing, ORD lands somewhere between 90 to 100 airplanes…an hour! THAT is a lot of airplanes. Figure in too that these airplanes come from every direction and vary from a Cessna Citation to a Boeing 747. In addition, on multiple occasions, when I turn base to final, I am almost exactly 2.5 miles behind the aircraft in front of me and our speeds are matched. Pretty much, they taxi off and I land and the process starts over.

If you are a departing aircraft, you are usually cleared for takeoff before the preceding aircraft has even lifted off. Granted the airplane in front is most likely going to turn one direction and you are going to turn another and you have the aircraft in front of you in sight. Safety is almost NEVER an issue if EVERYONE is doing THEIR job!

100 aircraft an hour only happens though if the weather and winds are cooperating.

What happens if the weather deteriorates enough that they can squeeze everyone in 2.5 miles behind the other aircraft? Well, you guessed it…slow down!

If the weather gets bad enough they won’t be able to get the 2.5 mile separation and it goes up to 5 miles between aircraft hence you start getting flow times or “expect departure clearance times.”

If they go from six runways to four runways, you have severly limited the number of aircraft that can arrive.

Just with these two examples, you can see that the amount of aircraft arriving in an allotted amount of time is seriously degraded.

So what happens?

Well, you get “Expect Departure Clearance Times” or EDCTs or flow times.

Yesterday we were in MKE to going to ORD. They were down to two landing runways and two takeoff runways due to weather. 700 feet overcast and 2.5 miles visibility. We were issued an EDCT time two hours later than our original departure time.

So here is how it went the other day. We showed up at MKE at our scheduled show time. MKE Ops told us we had an EDCTtwo hours from our scheduled departure time. After talking to MKE Clearance and my regional controller, both of whom confirmed our EDCT, we settled down and waited.

Another SkyWest crew, that arrived while we were waiting, decided to fuel up and head to the Z Ramp and wait out their EDCT…without any passengers! Not a team player, if you ask me. Yeah, the crew will get two hours pay for sitting out there, and even though I’m all for making money, they are basically just taking money from the company and burning expensive jet fuel. Why? Don’t know. Everyone has their reasons.

One reason though I think they sit out there is because they think that if they are waiting out there, ATC will get them going sooner, whereas the reality is that the company you are flying for AND ATC are making the EDCT. Granted, there are times that it is beneficial to sit out there because if the weather improves and the flow times are lifted, so you can go. It’s a judgement call. Personally, if I have no passengers it doesn’t benefit anyone to just SIT and waste company money. Second, I make an educated guess as to when I should head out to the runway to wait out my EDCT. There have been times when I’ve boarded up, went out to the runway and my EDCT was extended. Just can’t do anything about that. There have also been times when I boarded up, my EDCT was extended, then extended again. At this point you have to decide on a plan of action: 1) wait it out or 2) head back to the gate. I usually talk it over with my First Officer, Flight Attendants, my Regional Controller, and the station operations. At that point, I can make a decisions whether to head back to the gate or not.

One thing that I consider heavily is what would benefit the passengers. On some occasions, it’s just better to head back to the gate, let the passengers get off the airplane and make other arrangements. On other occasions, it’s better to head back to the gate so the passengers aren’t just sitting on the airplane. It’s a flight-by-flight thing.

Either way, EDCT and dealing with them are part of the job. Hopefully, this will help you understand the process a little better. For the FAA Official word on EDCT, click here.

Till next time…

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One Response to “Expect Departure Clearance Times (EDCT) to ORD”

  1. […] another occasion, we pushed back from the gate in Cincinnati (CVG) and we were issued an EDCT time to Chicago (ORD). We parked the airplane on a taxiway and then waited…and […]

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