Officials unveiled a new “Hub Control Center” at Charlotte Douglas International Airport on Wednesday, which they hope will help cut down on delays and make handling hundreds of daily flights at the busy airport more seamless.
Accessed deep in the bowels of the airport, the control facility isn’t something passengers are ever likely to see. Through its windows, sitting above the center of the terminal building, dozens of workers scan screens with planes crawling across them and look over the airfield, tracking and working out how best to keep them on time.
“Hopefully, more on-time departures,” Mike Bryant, director of tower operations for American Airlines, said of the new hub’s purpose.
American Airlines operates its second-busiest hub at Charlotte Douglas, second to Dallas/Fort Worth. The airline operates some 650 daily flights at Charlotte. The company spent $5 million on the Hub Control Center renovation. The facility, also known as the ramp control tower, hadn’t been updated since American Airlines first moved into the space in 1996.
When a plane is on a taxiway or runway, its under Federal Aviation Administration jurisdiction, directed by the air traffic controllers. The workers in the American Airlines control center handle planes once they’re off the runway and taxiway, on what’s called the ramp, heading to or from a gate. Workers there coordinate everything from cleaning, fueling and loading planes to getting them to the right gate.
During American’s nine daily flight “banks” – each bank equals roughly 80 flights in a 90-minute window – they scramble to figure out how to maneuver planes around the crowded gates and try to get everyone in the air with as few delays as possible.
The old center, which was in the same location, had room for 32 workers. The renovated space can accommodate 44, meaning that team members who previously worked remotely in other facilities are now able to work directly in the tower. Airline and Charlotte Douglas officials hope this improves communication and coordination.
“They are the heart and soul and brain of everything that happens in our operation,” said Terri Pope, American’s vice president of Charlotte hub operations.
The Hub Control Center is the latest part of Charlotte Douglas to get an update. The airport is spending some $2.5 billion over the next 10 years on improvements including a new entrance roadway, an expanded terminal, new gates at Concourse A and a fifth parallel runway. The FAA is also building a new control tower at Charlotte Douglas that’s more than twice the height of the existing tower.