Managing Traffic Congestion Around Atlanta’s ‘Gateway to the World’

Supply Chain Dive — For 20 years and counting, Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL) has worn the badge of honor of busiest airport in the world. About 275,000 passengers traverse the airport each day, and nearly 650,000 metric tons of cargo and mail passed through the facility in 2016.

“It is a major gateway to the world — one can reach pretty much any destination within one or two flights from Hartsfield-Jackson International,” Jon Slangerup, Chairman and CEO of American Global Logistics, told Supply Chain Dive.

With the airport’s sprawling network of flights and connections, it’s no surprise major companies such as Coca-Cola, Home Depot and UPS have set up shop nearby in the city of Atlanta, offering them close proximity to the airport to receive supplies and ship their goods.

With growth comes growing pains, and one of the biggest issues plaguing the city’s streets is traffic congestion — but the city has a plan.

“Technology can be a great enabler of easing congestion in high volume areas,” Slangerup said. Through satellites, sensors and automation, the greater Atlanta area is implementing technology solutions to ensure people and goods flow freely — both in the air and on the ground.

Technology to manage hundreds of flights per hour
Despite thousands of flights arriving and departing every day at Atlanta’s international airport, air traffic suffers from very little congestion. In fact, in addition to being the busiest airport in the world, ATL has also been ranked the most efficient airport in the world since the early 2000s.

“Air Traffic Control is a very well-planned, highly-structured system,” a spokesperson for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) told Supply Chain Dive.

Atlanta’s international airport has five parallel runways, allowing several flights to take off and land simultaneously. In good weather conditions, as many as 132 flights can land each hour, the FAA said, with that figure dropping to 98 flights per hour in low visibility conditions.

The efficiency has been the result of numerous sophisticated technologies used to manage air traffic.

“Time-Based Flow Management (TBFM) is an important tool that air traffic controllers use very effectively to manage traffic at ATL,” the FAA spokesperson said. The tool monitors planes’ locations in the air and determines the most efficient schedule to get the aircraft to its destination.

In addition, the FAA has deployed satellite and automation technology at ATL for greater accuracy and more efficient routing, through tools such as Performance Based Navigation (PBN) and En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM).

“In the past, pilots flew over one ground-based radio transmitter and then flew over the next one in a zigzag pattern,” the FAA said. “PBN enables aircraft to fly much more directly from departure to destination by using satellite signals.”

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