Category Archives: GA airports

LAMP Looks Ahead With Sensible Aviation Weather Elements at Over 1,500 Airports

Most pilots are dedicated aviation weather geeks because, at the least, their lives, and those of their passengers depend on the crew’s current knowledge of what Mother Nature is doing at Chicago Executive Airport, the flight’s destination, and everything between them. To the list of the weather information sources that pilots frequent, the National Weather Service has added LAMP, for Localized Aviation Model-Output-Statistics (MOS) Program.

In other words, LAMP focuses on more than 1,500 airports (including Chicago Executive) and provides forecast guidance on “sensible weather elements.” Sensible means they are “perceivable elements” of weather, such as temperature, dew point, wind speed, direction, and gusts, sky cover, ceiling, visibility, obstruction to vision, precipitation and type, lightning, and convective activity. And as the capture from the PWK page shows, pilots can select the sensible elements they want to see. They can also get the same info in text form, if they are so inclined.

What makes LAMP a worthwhile weather product addition to any pilot’s weather briefing resources is that it is totally automated. On the downside, it might not be as accurate as a forecast tweaked by a human meteorologist, but the LAMP graphic is updated hourly. This hourly update incorporates the latest surface conditions to create hourly forecasts that look up to 25 hours into the future. Regardless of who or what is predicting the weather, no source is 100 percent, so LAMP pairs nicely with human-involved weather products such as a Terminal Aerodrome Forecast (TAF).

At each airport’s LAMP page pilots can access fresh forecast info for the next 24 hours. The page delivers both “categorical and probabilistic forecast guidance” on the given elements, and using the selection click-boxes at the top of the page, pilots can extract the information they want. When selecting the ceiling and visibility category forecast, it includes a “conditional forecast” that takes precipitation into account. “This data attempts to account for some of the temporary fluctuations that occur in flight.”

To learn more about the LAMP, visit its homepage on the Meteorological Development Lab.

FAA Publishes Practical Guidance for TALPA Winter Safety Ops

imageResponding to questions about what all the changes to the braking reporting system means to pilots and airport operators, the FAA published Draft Change 1 to AC 150/5200-30D, Airport Field Condition Assessments and Winter Operations Safety. The updated AC guides airport operators, although much of the information will also interest pilots because their safety depends on their knowledge and understanding the new Takeoff and Landing Performance Assessment (TALPA) programs. The industry has only until this Friday, January 13 to comment on the changes however, so read on.

The Seven Principal Changes

1. Airports will not report a Wet runway when a Slippery When Wet NOTAM is in effect

As part of pavement maintenance, airports conduct a friction survey to make sure it meets minimum prescribed values for skid resistance. If the pavement meets or exceeds this minimum value, when its Wet, according to the Runway Condition Assessment Matrix, it gets a Runway Condition Code (RwyCC) of 5, which stands for Good braking action. (The Runway Condition Codes replaces Mu values and indicate braking action, which is based on the Runway Condition Matrix that is based on the type and depth of precipitation.)

If the pavement does not meet the minimum friction requirements, the entire runway is Slippery When Wet, and it starts with a Runway Condition Code of (RwyCC) of 3, which means the braking action is Medium. As Mother Nature makes additional wintery deposits on a Slippery When Wet runway, the airport must downgrade the entire runway with a RwyCC of a lower value, 2  or 1 (braking action is medium-to-poor or poor respectively).

2. Emphasizing the unacceptable aspects of reporting friction (Mu) values to pilots

Airports still use Mu friction values for some things, such as friction surveys after pavement maintenance and determining the effectiveness of “friction-enhancing treatments” (such as putting urea on ice or brooming the snow off a grooved runway), but the FAA says reporting Mu number to pilots “is no longer acceptable” because there has been “no consistent, useable correlation between Mu values” and braking action.

3. Describing when a Wet condition report is associated with other winter contaminants

Airports will report  the runway as “Wet” when water 1/8-inch (3 mm) or less “is the only condition present on the runway.” The same applies to taxiways, aprons, and holding bays. Airports will also report the surface as ‘Wet’ conditions when other winter contaminants, or chemicals applied, appear in any particular third of the runway.

4. Explaining how airports generates their runway surface condition reports

A single runway surface condition report, generated for each active runway, allows pilots to identify Mother Nature’s winter “contaminants” on each third of the runway and understand how each will most affect aircraft performance. The new AC says, “Reporting from both ends of the same runway may cause confusion to pilots by advertising two sets of Runway Condition Codes for the same surface. This redundancy also unnecessarily clutters the NOTAM system which also adversely affect pilots.”

image5. Details on special mitigation options

Airports must update runway condition reports any time there is a change in the runway surface, this includes the airport’s efforts to improve the runway conditions, which could lead to a higher RwyCC. The takeaway for pilots is that they should monitor an airport’s Field Condition (FICON) NOTAMs for updates and changes for the best information.

6. Clarifying Use of Conditions Not Monitored NOTAMs

When a small airport’s staff, weary of fighting Mother Nature, needs some sleep, they’ll issue a “Conditions Not Monitored” NOTAM, which includes the last field condition reported before going to bed. In this situation, airports should not use an Airport Unattended NOTAM as a substitute because it conveys inaccurate news about whether or not the airport staff, ATC, FBOs, and other airport services are available. When seeing “Airport Unattended” while planning a winter flight, prudence suggests a confirmation phone call to the destination’s FBO or airport operator.

7. Time is the difference between “Conditions Not Monitored” and “Surface Conditions Not Reported” NOTAMs

When the staff at a small airport is unable to report changes in the field conditions because they are getting some much needed sleep, they should issue a “Conditions Not Monitored” NOTAM with the expectation that after a short nap, they will return to work and resume reporting the airport field conditions. If, for some reason, the airport staff is unable to report airport conditions for 24 hours of more, the airport should issue a “Surface (SFC) Conditions Not Monitored” NOTAM that covers the entirety of their absence.

A caveat for pilots: If an airport has published in its Airport Master Record a set schedule when it will not monitor conditions, like weekends or National Holidays, it does not have to issue a “SFC Conditions Not Monitored” NOTAM. In other words, to avoid being caught unaware in winter, when flight planning to smaller airports, always check the destination’s Airport Master Record for the pertinent schedule.

NPIAS Report to Congress Lists Five-Year Airport Improvement Program Eligibility

ILThe FAA recently sent Congress its National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS) for Fiscal Years 2017 to 2021. Since 1984, the report has identified the airports that make up the national airport system, they role the play in it, and the types of airport development they are eligible for and the amount of Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funding to help pay for it over the next five years.

Chicago Executive Airport (PWK) is one of 3,340 public-use airports (3,332 existing and eight proposed) “that are important to national air transportation. This year the FAA estimated that these airports will need approximately $32.5 billion in AIP-eligible projects between 2017 and 2021. All commercial airports are included in the report, as are a smaller number of general aviation airports that make specific contributions to the NPIAS.

Digging deeper into the report, the FAA lists Chicago Exec as a National Reliever, and it is eligible for $83,851,701 in AIP funds. That’s not a guarantee, just the estimated maximum amount of AIP funding the airport is eligible to apply for. The report does not list specific projects. That involved process, which involves the airport, local and state authorities, as well as the FAA are the next steps.

As the report explained, airport improvements grow out of current and forecasted traffic at each airport, the use and age of their facilities, and changing technology that requires airports to upgrade or replace the equipment and infrastructure that supports them. The FAA works with state aviation agencies and local planning organizations to identify public-use airports for inclusion in the NPIAS.

imageThe FAA said AIP projects are expected to decrease at large and medium-sized hub airports and increase at small hubs. “Development at all other airport categories remain flat.” Contributing to this is the conclusion of the FAA’s decade-long airport capacity effort and runway safety area (RSA) initiative. This included Chicago Exec’s EMAS, which recently demonstrated its contribution to safety and is pictured in the report.

In the NPIAS hierarchy, there are 395 primary airports (think O’Hare and Midway) that handle the majority of the nation’s commercial (airline) traffic. Logically, the remaining 2,937 NPIAS airports are nonprimary.

On this list, Chicago Exec’s listing assigns it a National role, meaning it “supports the national airport system by providing communities access to national and international markets in multiple states and throughout the United States. National airports have very high levels of aviation activity with many jets and multiengine propeller aircraft.”

And it is categorized as one of the nation’s 259 Reliever airports, defined as “An airport designated by the Secretary of Transportation to relieve congestion at a commercial service airport and to provide more general aviation access to the community.” And doesn’t that succinctly summarize Chicago Exec’s contribution to the communities that surround it as well at the nation in which it plays a significant role?

New Runway Takeoff & Landing Performance Assessment Starts October 1

matrixWhen the weather is not sunny, dry, and clear, pilots preparing to takeoff or land need to know what condition the runway is in. To improve these reports, the FAA and aviation community have developed new standards to improve safety during inclement weather. Airports will begin using the new Takeoff and Landing Performance Assessment (TALPA) standards on October 1, 2016.

The new standards communicate runway conditions in terms directly related to their affect on aircraft performance. Airport operators will employ the Runway Condition Assessment Matrix (RCAM) to report runway conditions. The matrix is a standardized format that is based on aircraft performance data supplied by the airframe manufacturers for the type and depth of each runway contaminant.

The new standards replace subjective judgments of runway conditions that are now reported with a Mu number that describes a coefficient of braking friction. Using the FAA example of this system, a runway covered with 2 inches of dry snow would be reported as: “FICON 2IN DRY SN OBSERVED AT 1601010139. 1601010151-1601020145” along with Mu values as “TAP MU 29/27/29 OBSERVED AT 1601010139. 1601010151-1601020145.

Starting October 1, these conditions would be reported this way: DEN RWY 17R FICON (5/5/3) 25 PRCT 1/8 IN DRY SN, 25 PRCT 1/8 IN DRY SN, 50 PRCT 2 IN DRY SN OBSERVED AT 1601010139. 1601010151-1601020145. With this information, pilots would then consult the aircraft flight manual to determine what performance they can expect from their airplane. Note that the numerical Runway Condition Codes, based on the RCAM, subdivide the runway into three segments when the contaminants vary.

Airport operators will assess the runway surfaces, report the contaminants, and use the RCAM to determine the Runway Condition Code. The same code can cover the entire runway when there is no variation in the contaminant. These codes will replace Mu numbers, which the NOTAM system will no longer use.

This does not mean pilots should stop reporting braking action. They will still be used and shared. However, the terminology used in these reports will change on October 1. “Medium” will replace the “Fair” braking action assessment. And airports will no longer be able to report a “NIL” braking action condition. Under the new system, NIL conditions require airports to close that surface until they are satisfied that the NIL braking conditions no longer exist.

Chicago Exec urges aircraft operators to review the appropriate performance sections of the aircraft flight manuals for their airplanes and develop procedures that will enable them to take full advantage of the new runway condition reports. For more information, see Safety Alert for Operators (SAFO) 16009.

Airport Interns at Chicago Exec Get First-Hand Air Operations Area Experience

PWK-28Mowing grass and whipping weeds may seem a mundane, menial summer job, but that’s not true at Chicago Executive Airport. As the four airport interns are learning this summer, these tasks are an excellent first-hand lesson in life in an airport operation area. Often referred to as the AOA, it is defined as any area of an airport used or intended to be used for takeoff, landing, or surface maneuvering of aircraft. This includes paved and unpaved areas, including runways, taxiways, taxi lanes, ramps, and aprons.

In other words, the AOA is everything inside the airport fence, and nothing moves within it without the FAA control tower knowing about it. Anything that moves on the airport, airplanes, helicopters, trucks, lawn mowers, or interns with a weed whip, must be cleared for the movement by the tower so there is not an unfortunate, unintended meeting of any two of them, explained James Kelly (below), a Tinley Park-native who will start his senior year at Lewis University, where he’ll earn a degree in aviation administration, with a minor in flight dispatch.

The students started their internships with a class that certified them to drive on the AOA. Working with an airport diagram they learned where they could and could not drive, how to identify their location on the airport and read the signs and pavement markings that identified them, and how to communicate with the tower’s ground controller.

“We got a tour of the tower,” said Conner Wagner, (on right, with Will Thompson and “their” truck, Airport 8) who hails from Jackson, Michigan, and graduates in 2017 with a degree in aviation management operations with a minor in business from Western Michigan University. “It was interesting to see how the controllers coordinate all the activity on the ground and in the air, all the vehicles and planes in the airport operating area.” A classmate, Brendan Stauton, is also interning at PWK this summer. Working toward a professional pilot degree, he’d returned to campus to take the FAA checkride for his instrument rating, which he passed, said Wagner.

PWK-34In accordance with the airport’s wildlife management plan, the interns mowing efforts are coordinated so that the grass stays between 5 and 8 inches in height. Any shorter and insects would be readily visible, attracting their predators, and any longer would provide too much cover for mammalian prey from their predators. And while they are mowing or whipping weeds, the interns are looking for animals, inspecting the fence line for places where animals have dug under the fence, and keeping an eye out for burned out airport lights.

After reporting a burned out light, the interns learned how to replace them under the watchful eye of a member of the airport maintenance crew. Airport Operations Coordinator Andrew Wolanik and Assistant Airport Operations Coordinator Bryce Walter are the interns’ primary supervisors. Mowing and whipping occupy roughly half their time. They have undertaken any number of different airport projects. In the week before Independence Day, they were building 180 sets of wheel chocks from scratch. They will secure the airplanes moved from their usual homes in Areas 2 and 3, so the airport would have someplace to park cars for Chicago Exec’s July 4 weekend activities.

Three of Chicago Execs four summer interns learned about the opportunity through the aviation degree programs in which they are enrolled, and their summer efforts are bookended by the end of the last school year and the start of the next. Will Thompson of Winnetka, a political science major who just finished his freshman year at Villanova University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, learned about the program from PWK Civil Air Patrol unit he joined in 2014. His internship is shorter than the others. With his sights set on being an aviators, “I’m in U.S. Marine ROTC, and I have some training to do before school starts.”

Assistant Airport Operations Coordinator Builds Career on Chicago Exec Internship

PWK-17A full-time position as the assistant airport operations coordinator was the last thing Bryce Walter expected when he secured an internship at Chicago Executive Airport. Receiving the offer in mid-December 2015 for the internship that started with the New Year, the Grand Rapids, Michigan, native’s immediate concern was finding a place to live. “All my friends told me I needed to get a place in the city, because there are a lot of fun things to do there,” he said, and they were right. Now building a career and future at Chicago Exec, he’s looking for a place closer to the airport.

Completing his degree in aviation management operations at Western Michigan University in August, Walter briefly considered a flight degree, and earned his private pilot certificate in the process, but quite a bit of job shadowing at the Grand Rapids airport revealed greater opportunity and a more diverse series of challenges. “But the initial hurdle is that nobody wants to hire someone in operations who doesn’t have experience, so I knew I needed an internship to get some. I started looking and found that not a lot of airports want to help people get started with internships.”

In the end, he found three, and his final choices were Aspen, Colorado, and Chicago Exec. “I’ve been to the Chicago area quite a bit, and it was more appealing than Aspen,” said Walter. And it’s closer to home, where he and a partner run a wedding DJ business. “During the 2016 season I’m only doing one wedding a month,” he explained, adding that his business partner is “really slammed.”

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Chicago Exec Hosts Wildlife Hazard Management Training Session

PWK-35Mitigating wildlife hazards is especially important to Illinois airports because they are smack-dab in the middle of the Mississippi Flyway, North America’s main migratory thoroughfare between north and south.

Approximately 50 staffers from airports large and small, Aurora Municipal (ARR); Bult Field (C56); DuPage (DPA); Joliet Regional (JOT); Lake in the Hills (3CK); Rockford International (RFD); and University of Illinois Willard (CMI); attended the Wildlife Hazard Management Training Session held June 28 at Chicago Executive Airport (PDK).

The FAA has required wildlife assessments and management plans at Part 139 commercial airports like O’Hare and Midway since 1990, and strongly recommended that general aviation airport’s (like Chicago Exec, where the USDA recently completed a wildlife assessment) voluntarily do the same because wildlife and airplanes have had unfortunate meetings from the dawn of powered flight. US Airways Flight 1549, brought down by geese in 2009, is the best-known incident. Calbraith Perry Rodgers didn’t have the same happy outcome when he met a flock of birds in midair shortly after he became the first pilot to fly across America in the Vin Fizz, a Wright Flyer Model B. Flying another Model B, he died on April 12, 1912 in Long Beach, California.

Starting at 9 a.m., representatives from USDA Wildlife Services, the FAA, and the Illinois Aeronautics Division discussed their roles in wildlife hazard assessment, management, and mitigation. For any airport, having the USDA complete a wildlife assessment is the key that unlocks federal and state funding that enables them to develop and act on their unique plans to reduce the wildlife hazard.

Reporting wildlife strikes is a key element, and the FAA Wildlife Strike Database collates all of them. Since it was established, the number of strikes has increased every year, not because their numbers are increasing, but because of better reporting. At the same time, those reports show that airport wildlife management plans are working because the number of strikes resulting in damage is decreasing.

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Chicago Executive Airport Viewing Area: A Safe Place to Watch Planes

PWK-18Designated spots at airports where people curious about or interested in aviation could watch airplanes take off and land used to be a lot more common than they are today. Most of them were at commercial airports, like Chicago Midway and Chicago O’Hare, where people could pass some time before their flights boarded. They were popular with families with energetic kids because it better focused their attention. Dedicated viewing areas at general aviation airports were—and are—rare. People, families, just drove to the airport, usually to a fixed-base operation or the airport office, and found a spot on the grass.

And then 9/11 happened. And wandering around a commercial airport like Chicago Midway or Chicago O’Hare became nearly impossible. And 10-foot-tall chain link fences surrounded a good many general aviation airports. But not at Chicago Executive Airport. It is one of the rare general aviation airports with a dedicated viewing area. If you haven’t seen it, it is located on Palatine Frontage Road. And to a degree, it’s famous. It is first on the list of airports nationwide when you ask Wikipedia about “public viewing area.”

Wikipedia defines a public viewing area as “a space set aside for members of the public to safely view sites of interest, such as airports, railroads, construction sites or other facilities…. In locations that have inherent dangers and would not normally be accessible to the public, viewing areas provide a way to satiate the public curiosity without exposing inordinate risk.” This describes Chicago Exec’s viewing area, but not completely.

Situated outside the airport fence, with a safe and unobstructed view of the approach ends of Runway 34 and Runway 30, PWK’s viewing area includes a sizeable parking area, seating in either the bleachers, benches, or at a picnic table. Next to the bleachers, a protected bulletin board displays notices and posters of upcoming airport events and activities.

PWK-20.jpgPassersby may usually observe at least one or two cars parked in the lot and many spectators return at different times of day or days of the week because there is always an opportunity for surprise. As an airport serving all of general aviation, no one can predict what type of airplane will next take the runway. Business aircraft are Runway 16/34’s usual patrons, but others run the gamut from current, classic, and antique single-engine prop planes, with an occasional military veteran now serving its civilian pilot. But these surprises do not appear without notice. If spectators listen in to the tower conversation, they’ll know what will soon fly into view.

Airplanes, Airspace & Chicago Executive Airport

Terminal ChartTo those on the ground, airspace is invisibly boundless. All that changes in an airplane. To make flying safe for pilots, their passengers, and people on the ground , the sky is subdivided into unseen slices delineated by altitude and distances from specific points on the ground, like airports. In each of five airspace categories, pilots and aircraft must meet specific training, equipment, and procedural requirements, from weather and visibility minimums to getting clearance from air traffic control before crossing one of these invisible dividing lines.

Naturally, the more airplanes and airports there are in a given area, the more complex the airspace, like that which covers Chicagoland. O’Hare International (ORD) anchors the angular funnel that is Class B controlled airspace, which is roughly 10 nautical miles in diameter where it touches the ground. When measured east to west, the top of the funnel, at 10,000 feet, is 60 nautical miles in diameter. If O’Hare was the only airport covered by this funnel, guiding airliners to and from it would be a simple matter. But it is one of roughly 16 public and private aerodromes, one of which, Chicago Midway (MDW) is encompassed with its own bubble of Class C controlled airspace.

Looking at the Chicago Terminal Area Chart above, Chicago Executive Airport (PWK) is easy to find. It is in the notch cut into the 5-to-10-nautical mile ring that encircles O’Hare. That cutout raises the floor of Class B airspace, entry into which requires an air traffic control clearance, from 1,900 feet in the rest of the 5-10-mile ring to 3,000 feet, as do the corner slices adjacent to the PWK notch.  Those wide blue tinted lines cutting through the rings denote the recommended paths and altitudes for pilots flying under visual flight rules beneath the Class B airspace.

And it is a busy airspace funnel. The FAA’s Air Traffic Activity System tracks and reports the number of operations (takeoffs and landings) at airports with control towers and the number of airplanes fed to those airports by the air traffic control facility responsible for the airspace, which for Chicagoland is located in Elgin. In 2015, it handled 1,248,503 operations, with 782,905 of them being airliners, most of which were on their way to O’Hare or Midway. That same year Elgin routed 318,434 air taxi (aka charter flights) and 110,407 general aviation operations to their destinations.

PWK NotchPlugging Chicago Executive Airport into the Air Traffic Activity System showed that in 2015 its control tower handled 76,901 operations. Of that number, the FAA classified the majority of them “IFR Itinerant,” meaning the airplanes taking off or landing were going to or coming from some other airport. Of the 34,188 such operations in 2015, general aviation accounted for 21,719 and air taxi (charter) tallied 12,376. It’s a busy place that is a notched neighbor of an even busier place.

The point is that each operation represents an airplane that’s going someplace, either starting or concluding its flight. The floor of the Class B airspace over Chicago Exec starts at 3,000 feet and climbs to 10,000 feet. Nearly all business jets depart PWK on an instrument flight plan. Before takeoff, air traffic control  clears them through and out of Class B airspace on a specific departure route that keeps them safely separated from all the other airplanes flying in the funnel. ATC reverses the process for airplanes bound for Chicago Exec.

When the weather is good, most of the other general aviation traffic, from people flying their own planes on business or for pleasure and newcomers learning to fly, stay out of Class B airspace by flying beneath its floor. Over Chicago Exec, that’s 3,000 feet, but directly east or west it quickly descends to 1,900 feet with steps down in the adjacent transition areas. So when you look up at the sound of an airplane flying over, see no other airplanes in the immediate vicinity, and wonder why it is so low, remember that the pilot is avoiding the invisible layers of the Class B airspace, and that this single airplane is just one of more than a million making its way to or from Chicagoland every year.

Airport 101: Signs Point the Way at Chicago Executive

PWK-19As they do around town, signs tell pilots where they are on Chicago Executive Airport and point the way to the runway and ramp and the taxiways that connect them. The only difference is that airport signs are color coded, lighted, and much closer to the ground on their frangible mounts. And they are sometimes painted on the pavement, usually identifying positions on low visibility taxi routes. In all, there are six types of airport signs. They relay mandatory instructions, location, direction, destination, information, and runway distance remaining.

Mandatory instruction signs are red with white letters and identify critical areas, such as the entrance to a runway or areas where aircraft entry is prohibited. Runway hold position signs are adjacent to the yellow hold short markings on the pavement and their alphanumeric display identifies the intersecting runway. If the taxiway intersects the runway at midfield, the runway numbers on the sign correspond, left and right, to the respective runway’s threshold.  Similar signs that bear a runway number and APCH or ILS indicate holding positions that keep aircraft a safe distance from the runway in foul weather so they do not interfere with instrument approach operations or the electronic systems that are guiding pilots to the runway.

Location, direction, and destination signs use combinations of yellow and black. Taxiway location signs use yellow characters on a black background with a yellow border. Often they are connected to direction or runway holding signs. Direction signs use black symbols in a yellow background and identify the intersecting taxiway with its alphanumeric designator and an arrow pointing in the direction a pilot would normally be expected to turn.

Direction signs are generally located on the left side of the taxiway before an intersection. If there is more than one way to go, the taxiway designations and their associated arrows are displayed clockwise starting from the first taxiway on the pilot’s left.

PWK-17Information signs have black characters on a yellow background and provide pilots with all sorts of pertinent information such as applicable radio frequencies or noise abatement procedures. Their content is determined by each airport’s operator.

Runway distance remaining signs are white numbers on a black background and are installed along one or both sides of a runway. The number indicates the distance, in thousands of feet, of the remaining useable runway. The last sign—1—will be at least 950 feet from the end of the runway.

All signs work in conjunction with pavement markings, which correspond to each airport’s diagram. The diagram is the pilot’s airport map that shows and names each runway and taxiway that lead to ramps and hangars and fixed-base operators. And at airports with towers, like Chicago Exec, the ground controller provides them with a taxi clearance that delineates their route from point to point, and will provide progressive instructions to newcomers that will lead them, turn-by-turn, to where they want to go.