NATCA Honors Controllers For Quick Thinking And Lifesaving Decision Making At Archie League Awards

NATCA President Paul Rinaldi.  Image via NATCA on FLICKR, Credit Douglas Jones

NATCA hosts annual ‘Communicating For Safety‘ convention and honors the air traffic controllers who went above and beyond durning the last year.

NATCA President Paul Rinaldi.  Image via NATCA on FLICKR, Credit Douglas Jones

NATCA President Paul Rinaldi.
Image via NATCA on FLICKR, Credit Douglas Jones

Last week I was honored to attend the National Air Traffic Controllers Association’s (NATCA) premier safety convention,  ‘Communicating For Safety’ (CFS).  The annual event drew 1,400 people from across the country.  Attendees included hundreds of  NATCA air traffic controllers, FAA management, and hundreds more from the aviation industry worldwide.

CFS is broken into two parts.  One part is a convention where NATCA, the FAA, and the aviation industry show how they are working together to make the National Airspace System more efficient and safer for everyone involved.  The second part is NATCA’s Archie League Medal of Safety Awards, which highlights some of the best lifesaving moments by NATCA controllers from across the country.

The safety convention part of CFS was as diverse as the people who attended the convention.  They had industry leaders, like Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, who talked about new equipment they are designing to make it easier for controllers to interface with their radar equipment.

NATCA President Paul Rinaldi spoke at length about the political issues facing the National Airspace System.  NATCA and many other unions have been pushing back against the ‘sequester’ that is slowly starving federal organizations like the FAA.  The political gridlock in Washington is making it harder for controllers to do their jobs: major staffing shortages, cuts to equipment acquisitions budgets, and cuts to general maintenance budgets.  Politicians are putting unnecessary risk into the world’s most complex – but still the safest – air traffic system in the world.

The main focus of the CFS convention was to get real controllers together and talk openly about some of the issues facing controllers in the workforce.  These issues are the same as elsewhere in the transportation industry: including fatigue, workload-overload, complacency and distractions (i.e. cell phones and text messaging).  Controllers and managers discussed solutions to these problems.

Archie1

The Archie League Medal of Safety Awards

The Communicating for Safety convention concluded with NATCA’s annual Archie League Medal of Safety Awards banquet.  Archie League was credited as the first air traffic controller, who used two flags to signal pilots at the St. Louis Airport when it was safe to land.  NATCA honors Archie and his vision for a safer air traffic system, by highlighting some of the most dramatic, and lifesaving moments by air traffic controllers over the past year.

NATCA President Paul Rinaldi opened the awards banquet by saying, “Tonight you will laugh, you will cry, and most of all you will feel pride for your profession.”  And boy, was he right.

Watching these events unfold would make most people cringe, and vow to never fly again, until that moment where the air traffic controller comes in to save the day.  In Alaska, it was the quick thinking of the Anchorage Center controllers who used a pair of military bombers to help them make contact a lost airplane that was below their radio coverage.  In Miami, controllers averted disaster as an air carrier mistakenly taxied onto an active runway, just after another aircraft was cleared for takeoff.  In Houston, Stewart Pearcy helped guide the pilot of a single-engine Cessna 172 to safety, after the pilot was caught by a fast moving storm.

Jared Mike from Seattle Terminal Radar Approach Control safely guided a pilot through the steep mountaintops of Washington State, with precise vectors to Boeing Field, a small airport where the plane could land.  The entire time the pilot, Philip Bush, who admitted at the event that this flight “was the scariest moment in his entire life”, kept informing the controller that he could not see out front windows of the airplane because they were covered in ice.  Bush told the crowd of over 1,500 people that while he was trying to safely navigate through the mountains “it was the calming voice of Jared that helped him get through”.

Some of the presentations showed how controllers’ quick actions and professionalism during a crisis saved additional lives.

Last year Asiana flight 214 crashed at the San Francisco Airport.  Even as the tragic event unfolded, the controllers rerouted other aircraft that were on approach to the airport, and notified emergency services to get the fire equipment on the scene.

Listening to the audio replay from that day, you could hear the tears in the voice of Alexis Shirkey as she informed the surrounding air traffic facilities that the San Francisco Airport was closed due to an aircraft accident.

As the plane burst into flames, the smoke filled the sky.  Controllers in the tower watched in horror as the smoke rose and began to obscure their view of the crash site.  It was not until emergency crews arrived that the controllers in the tower knew that anyone had survived at all.

In fact, 307 passengers and crew from the Asiana flight survived the crash.  A brief moment of silence was held for the three people who lost their lives in that tragic crash.

If it was not for the quick action from this dedicated group of professionals, there is no telling how bad this could have been.  Their teamwork during this crisis showed what true professionals these men and women are.

The entire crew of the SFO Airport Tower on the tragic day.  David Caldwell, Dan Ferlito, Nicole Findlay, Russell Kipker, Dawn McMullin, Fred Naujoks, Joseph Okuda, Peter Sachs, and Alexis Shirkey Image via NATCA on FLICKR, Credit Douglas Jones

The entire crew of the SFO Airport Tower on the tragic day, in no particular order:
David Caldwell, Dan Ferlito, Nicole Findlay, Russell Kipker, Dawn McMullin, Fred Naujoks, Joseph Okuda, Peter Sachs, and Alexis Shirkey.
Image via NATCA on FLICKR, Credit Douglas Jones

The final award given at the Banquet is called the President’s Award.  This is the NATCA President’s choice for the best of the best this year.  NATCA President Paul Rinaldi had to choose between all of the dramatic life saving award winners and pick the one he thought was the best.  As you can see this was no easy task.

This year the Presidents Award went to Nunzio DiMillo from Boston’s Logan Airport.  Nunzio was working in the tower around 7pm on Sept 27th of last year.  This was a pretty typical day for Nunzio and all of the controllers at Boston Tower, with multiple aircraft looking to depart, and a line of aircraft waiting to land.

One of those aircraft waiting to depart was a Jet Blue Airlines Embraer (E)190.  The regional jet, which holds around 100 passengers, requested permission to depart and was taxing to the end of the takeoff end of the runway.  At the same time, Nunzio was working a small Cirrus (SR22) who was lining up to land, before the Jet Blue aircraft would be cleared for takeoff on the same runway.

As the Cirrus began to get closer to the runway end, Nunzio could tell something was wrong.  Nunzio a veteran controller of 23 years, quickly checked his tower radar to confirm his suspicions. The Cirrus was not lined up for the runway, but was actually about to land on the taxiway that the Jet Blue E190 was currently occupying.

Nunzio quickly told the Cirrus to ‘Go Around! Go Around!’  The Cirrus pilot did not question Nunzio; he gave the plane max power and initiated a climb.

T.R. Wood was the pilot of the Jet Blue E190 who saw the Cirrus coming at him and knew there was not much he could do to avoid it. Wood tried to maneuver the E190 off the side of the taxiway in hopes to minimize the impact with the Cirrus.  He heard the plane power up, and said as the plane passed overhead the sound from the propeller driven aircraft was “deafening”.

Wood told the crowd that his self-defense maneuver would not have saved the E190 if Nunzio had not acted.  In fact Wood talked about how his wife, and the mother of his children, was sitting right where the Cirrus would have impacted the E190.

When a complete review of the event was conducted, the Cirrus came within 30 feet of colliding with the Jet Blue aircraft.  After this event, Nunzio the consummate professional, continued to work the busy traffic session.  He worked over 90 aircraft in the hour surrounding the near disaster.

Click here to watch the video replay of Nunzio’s dramatic save.

Left to right: NATCA Executive VP Patricia Gilbert, Capt T.R. Wood, Nunzio Dimillo, NATCA President Paul Rinaldi. Credit: Douglas Jones

Left to right: NATCA Executive VP Patricia Gilbert, Capt T.R. Wood, Nunzio DiMllo, NATCA President Paul Rinaldi.
Credit: Douglas Jones

(You can see Nunzio’s acceptance speech of the Presidents Award and hear the full story from Capt Wood by clicking here.)

All of these controllers got up and accepted their awards, most of which had similar acceptance speeches.  They all thanked their co-workers, because air traffic controllers are part of a team.  They rely on each other, and they help each other in times of crisis.   They other thing they all said was, “I was just doing my job.”  Every one of these controllers went above and beyond to ensure the safety of these pilots and passengers – and all they can say is, “I was just doing my job.”

(You can view all of the award winners acceptance speeches and the video replays of their award winning events thanks to NATCA, here.)

As a member of the flying public, I would like to thank all the members of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association for their hard work and dedication to make air travel the safest form of transportation in the world.

NATCA, thank you for all you do!

 

NATCA Air Traffic Controllers Prepare for Super Bowl Weekend Traffic Surge

(image by NJ Star -Ledger)

As the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks prepare for the big game this Sunday, air traffic controllers in the New York / New Jersey metropolitan area are preparing as well.

 (image by NJ Star -Ledger)

(image by NJ Star -Ledger)

Air traffic controllers and other safety professionals represented by NATCA throughout the region are ready to continue a massive team effort this weekend that began earlier this week, ensuring a safe, efficient and seamless event in some of the nation’s tightest and most dense airspace.

“It’s already a very small and complex airspace, and now you have this added layer of volume,” says New York Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) NATCA Facility Representative Dean Iacopelli. “We’re trying to maximize the airspace and minimize the delays, and also have procedures in place to be as best prepared for this event as we can.”

NATCA LOGOThe FAA and NATCA have worked collaboratively to develop a plan for the increase of traffic, using the experiences and lessons learned from previous Super Bowl locations and factoring those in with the complexities of the New York metropolitan area airspace. They have also added extra staff to the schedules for today through Monday night (Feb. 3), however, Iacopelli explains that just because extra staff is on hand, that does not mean the number of planes handled can be increased exponentially.

“The bottom line is the [National Airspace] system can only handle so many more planes,” he says. “If we add 50 staff, we can’t add 10 times the amount of planes.”

Caldwell, Farmingdale, Islip, Morristown, Newark, Teterboro, and Westchester Towers as well as New York TRACON and New York Air Route Traffic Control Center are all expecting to be the most heavily impacted by the surge of traffic.

Controllers at New York TRACON, located in Westbury, N.Y., on Long Island, handle flights between a tower and New York Center; they facilitate departures transitioning from the airport to the Center environment and then take the aircraft from the Center environment and line them up in sequence to land at an airport. The TRACON controllers will not only be handling the air carrier flights for John F. Kennedy International Airport, LaGuardia and Newark Airports, but also flights heading to and from Philadelphia International Airport and the general aviation airports in the New York Metropolitan area, including Teterboro, Westchester County and Islip.

With MetLife Stadium only two miles south of Teterboro Airport, air traffic controllers have already started seeing an influx of traffic. The airport can accommodate up to 700 airplanes and most of the spots are already booked.

“We are staffing at full capacity; we have all controllers on duty and plan to have them work overtime. Our membership here at Teterboro Tower has been working tirelessly in preparation for the big game,” says Teterboro Tower NATCA Facility Representative Edmund Granton. “It truly has been a team effort, with a lot of collaboration among NATCA, FAA and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. We’re all working towards a common goal, and we want to make that happen as safely, as efficiently and as productively as possible.”

At Newark, controllers are expecting an increase in traffic although it will be limited due to an hourly cap. There is very limited general aviation parking and the tower expects possibly 30 to 40 extra overnight aircraft, according to Newark NATCA Facility Representative Ray Adams.

“The bigger impact on the airport will be airspace saturation,” Adams said. “Teterboro and Morristown are each located about 10 miles from Newark and share the same airspace and area of New York TRACON. Their traffic is predicted to skyrocket. The resulting saturation may cause delays at EWR.”

The FAA has increased staffing at Newark in the days leading up to the game and will do so after the game. “We are staffing our midnight shift on Sunday night with extra controllers, a traffic management coordinator and a supervisor.”

Farmingdale Tower NATCA Facility Representative Mark Abbey says the tower is normally staffed from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., but for the Super Bowl there will be staff working a midnight shift Sunday into Monday morning.

“We also worked out some new procedures with New York TRACON to expedite handling of instrument flight rules (IFR) traffic,” he says. “It is being handled as professionally as it could be, and it’s quite the collaborative effort.”

National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) Condemns Government Shutdown

control tower

control towerWASHINGTON – The National Air Traffic Controllers Association today condemned the shutdown of the federal government and called on Congress to end it immediately.

As a result of the shutdown, 3,000 of NATCA’s aviation safety professionals, vital to the daily function, maintenance and safety of the National Airspace System (NAS) have been furloughed. 

“It is unacceptable that thousands of our aviation safety professionals have been forced to stay home due to partisan posturing in Congress,” said NATCA President Paul Rinaldi. “I implore Congress to reach an agreement to end this shutdown, which is hurtful to our nation’s aviation system, our economy and the American people.”

During the shutdown, air traffic controllers are working without pay, but essential support staff specialists have been furloughed. Rinaldi said this is akin to a surgeon performing an operation without any staff to prep the room, clean the equipment or provide support during the surgery. In addition, controllers who train new hires will be unable to continue much of the training process. This could result in high controller attrition as frustrated trainees fall further behind in the training process. Controller hiring was already frozen due to sequestration.

Below are just a few of the thousands of projects that will be delayed or halted due to the government shutdown and furloughing of aviation safety professionals.

  • A delay in the opening of a new runway at Chicago O’Hare Airport.
  • A flight inspection scheduled for Janesville, Wis., Airport has been shut down due to the furlough of key personnel. Without an inspection, the approach into the airport will eventually be declared inoperative. This results in inefficiency for air traffic controllers and pilots, and a reduction in the margin of safety.
  • Thousands of certification projects performed by NATCA Aircraft Certification Engineers are now suspended.
  • A halt in the ELD Power Cable Replacement at Dallas Fort Worth Airport (DFW). The cable supplies power to the navigational aids on the diagonal runways at DFW. Construction planned for January will now be delayed for an undetermined amount of time.
  • A hold on hundreds of Aircraft Certification Office projects. This will result in a delay in the approval of safety related equipment modifications to aircraft going through the certification process.
  • A stop for work on Airworthiness Directives, NTSB safety recommendations and other vital safety related work performed by Aircraft Certification Engineers. This could delay the issuance and implementation of mandated safety fixes to aircraft.
  •  A delay of all projects affecting surveillance radars that feed the 100 busiest airports in the NAS.
  •  A halt in the development and implementation of navigational aids for a new runway at Fort Lauderdale airport.
  •  A halt on several runway safety projects, including glide slope relocation at Long Beach, Calif.
  • A delay in major mechanical upgrades scheduled for three air traffic control En Route Centers.

NATCA MEDIA CONTACT: Sarah Dunn, 315-796-1560

NATCA Honors Top Controller Saves at Ninth Annual Awards Ceremony

air traffic controller

Two St. Louis Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) air traffic controllers guided to safety the Navy pilot of an F18, who was caught in bad weather, missed the approach to two airports and had low fuel. A Fort Worth Center air traffic controller’s repeated communication saved the life of a pilot who didn’t know he was experiencing hypoxia. A Tampa Tower/TRACON air traffic controller guided to a safe landing a pilot who lost control of his aircraft shortly after takeoff.

These remarkable flight assists, and six others from around the country were honored last night at the National Air Traffic Controllers Association’s (NATCA) ninth annual Archie League Medal of Safety Awards banquet. Named for the first air traffic controller, the NATCA Archie League Awards honor the top skill, dedication and professionalism that NATCA members demonstrated in 2012 in the pursuit to save lives in emergency situations.

“These assists are the finest examples of air traffic control professionalism and skill,” said NATCA President Paul Rinaldi. “They exemplify the work that’s done in every facility, every single day, keeping the world’s most complex aviation system at its safest.”

“I am proud to honor these controllers for their remarkable work,” said NATCA Executive Vice President Trish Gilbert. “These men and women each displayed the composure, resourcefulness and quick-thinking that defines our profession, and that saves lives.”

Read and listen to the dramatic life saving work of these dedicated safety professionals.

Alaskan Region: Ryan Williams, Anchorage Center (ZAN)

Central Region: Kevin Cook and Steve Clark, St. Louis TRACON (T75)

Eastern Region: Dave Giberson and Corey Grafe, Philadelphia Tower (PHL)

Great Lakes Region: Jeff Richards, Chicago Center (ZAU)

New England Region: Erik Anderson, Boston Tower (BOS)

Northwest Mountain Region: Donovan Carson, Portland TRACON (P80)

Southern Region: Bill Sullivan, Tampa Tower/TRACON (TPA)

Southwest Region: LouElla Hollingsworth, Fort Worth Center (ZFW)

Western Pacific Region: Emily Birkland and Roy Teshima, Oakland Center (ZOA) 

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association represents over 20,000 highly skilled controllers, engineers and other safety-related professionals.

What Do You Mean My Flight Is Canceled Due To SEQUESTRATION???

air traffic controller

The newsrooms are a buzz with the information that was just released from the Federal Aviation Administration on the potential impacts of the Sequestration.   Sequestration is the name given to the draconian cuts that are going to rip apart the government and our economy at the same time.

Today Department of Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood, released a letter to the aviation community highlighting the impacts.

1.  Furloughs of 11-22 days between April and Oct 1st for all 47,000 FAA Employees.

2. Eliminate midshifts at 60 towers across the country

3. Close over 100 air traffic control towers (link to potential closure list)

4. Reduce preventative maintenance and equipment provisioning and support for all National Airspace System equipment.

These impacts will create massive delays for air travelers, and any business that relies on aviation to move their people or product.  Aviation contributes $1.3 Trillion to the national economy.  With over 70,000 operations every single day and 130 million operations annually, the FAA oversees all of them.

Sec. Lahood also points out that flights to the major airports,  JFK, IAD, SFO, LAX could see delays of 90 minutes or more durning peak times.   Those delays will only create more waves throughout the system as gridlock sets in.

The President of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, Paul Rinaldi, had this to say after hearing the news.

“Today’s announcement from the FAA unfortunately confirms the concerns we have been warning about for months – sequestration will significantly and perhaps permanently undermine the capacity of the National Airspace System. The fact that they will not just be furloughing critical FAA personnel but closing air traffic control towers means the system will be even more compromised than anticipated. We share the FAA’s commitment to preserving the safety of the system despite these draconian cuts. Safety is always the top priority of air traffic controllers, but the reality is this – safety will be preserved at the expense of operations across the country. Once towers are closed, the airports they serve may be next. Additionally, we believe the delay estimates provided by the FAA are conservative and the potential for disruptions could be much higher.

“Every one of these actions by the FAA will have an impact far beyond inconveniencing travelers. Local economies will be diminished, military exercises will be cancelled and jobs will be lost. There’s no telling how long these effects will be felt because many of these service reductions may not be reversed. The National Air Traffic Controllers Association continues to urge the nation’s policy-makers to find a solution that prevents or mitigates the impact of sequestration in a way that does not diminish the world’s safest and most efficient national airspace system.”

These 47,000 FAA Employees are real people.  They have families, children, and mortgages.   Like many Americans, they probably cannot afford to be forced out of work for an entire month without pay.  Yet this is what Congress is forcing them to do.

We must take action now to stop these draconian cuts from every happening.   Call your elected Representative and tell them to stop this now!  Call your Senator.  Call the White House.  Tell them all that these cuts are hurting hard working families throughout the country.  Tell them how these cuts are going to directly effect you.

Congress created these Sequestration cuts and they can take them away.  It is time to stop playing chicken with our economy and the lives of millions of federal employees and their families.  End the sequestration now, while you still can!

Sequestration Could Mean Dangerous Cuts To Aviation

air traffic controller

There is no doubt that without the dedication and skill of the FAA’s Air Traffic Controllers, the entire country would suffer.  In a new report from the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, NATCA explains what could happen if the mandatory ‘Sequestration’ cuts take effect.

The report states that all users and operators of the National Airspace System including travelers, general aviation pilots, airlines, businesses and the military will feel the impact of the cuts in the form of a reduction in airport and air traffic control services, a diminishing of the NAS’s flight capacity, increased delays and costs to airlines and lags in air traffic modernization.

NATCA warns that if the FAA budget is cut it could result in the furlough of over 2000 air traffic controllers (12% of the workforce).  “This could lead to a reduction in services.” To the public, this mean delays, less available flights and higher costs.

“As the front line safety professionals in the aviation community, it is our role to warn the rest of the country that these cuts will be detrimental to our National Airspace System and the economy,” said NATCA President Paul Rinaldi.

Currently the National Airspace System moves an average of two million passengers on 70,000 flights a day.  A reduction in flights would result in the potential layoff to pilots, flight attendants, ramp agents, ticket agents, and other aviation related jobs.   Aviation is attributed to 10 million jobs and contributes over $1.3 trillion dollars to the GDP.

The air traffic controllers would not be the only ones in the FAA to be hit with mandatory furloughs and layoffs.  In addition to the 2000 air traffic controllers who will be furloughed,  the FAA will have to furlough 7,500 engineers, inspectors, and aviation professionals.  These layoffs would also indefinitely delay all NextGen modernization projects currently being worked on by the FAA.

“The U.S. has the safest and most efficient airspace in the world and the FAA needs appropriate funding to continue directing it,” said NATCA Executive Vice President Trish Gilbert. “If Congress allows sequestration to become a reality, the aviation community and the economy will take a major hit. We cannot afford to let that happen.”

It is obvious that we cannot let the ‘Sequestration’ cut take effect.  We need Congress and the President to take action to avoid this potentially dangerous situation.  We elected our legislators in Washington to speak for us, not against us.  We need them to come to an agreement before these cuts take effect and send thousands of good jobs out the door.

 

View NATCA’s full report on the impacts of sequestration.

Local Union Members Celebrated for Excellence in Safety

Local Union Members Are Celebrated For Excellence in Safety.

Submitted By Matt Murray
member of National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA)

Every year Air Traffic Controllers help move over seven million operations safely through the National Airspace System.  Sometimes Air Traffic Controllers must go above and beyond the normal operations to provide assistance to aircraft in an emergency situation, or in eminent danger.  On Jan. 18, the Federal Aviation Administration celebrated the excellent level of safety provided over the last year at Boston Air Route Traffic Control Center (ZBW ARTCC).

All of the controllers were recognized individually for their work.  One of the situations was pulled out as the most outstanding flight assist of the year.  Chris Henchey assisted a woman pilot who started out having problems with her navigation equipment in her Cessna 152.  Shortly there after she lost her engine completely.  Chris, was also a certified flight instructor in a Cessna 152 help the woman work through all of the engine restart procedures.  He also went through the emergency checklist with the pilot and set her up for an emergency landing in a field west of Concord, NH.


As the aircraft descended below radio communications range with Chris and ATC,  everyone was preparing for the worst.  At around 1,500 feet above the ground, the pilot restarted the engine and began climbing again.  Chris helped direct her to the nearest airport in Concord, NH where she landed safely.

At the ZBW Safety awards for 2011, Chris got the opportunity to meet the woman pilot of the aircraft he helped save.  She said “You were there when I needed you most”.

Congratulations to all of the NATCA Professional Controllers who helped make Boston Center a safer place this year.  Also a special Congratulations goes out to Chris Henchey who is the New England Recipient of the Archie League Award from NATCA.

Included are pictures from the event (and a link to the Picasa Album for better viewing) , and a video of the Pilot personally thanking Chris for saving her life.

Remembering the Air Traffic Controllers on Sept 11th

We all remember what happened on that dreadful day.  I wanted to share a Dateline Special from a few years back that talks about September 11th from the Air Traffic Controllers point of view.  From the first moment when air traffic controllers at Boston Center (ZBW) realized something was wrong to the moment when air traffic controllers across the country shut down the skies.  Forcing thousands of planes to the ground in fear of more terrorist attacks.

http://www.natca.org/videos/avc-view.aspx?videoid=117

I have also included a short 30 second video of what the Air Traffic Controllers (NATCA) in throughout the United States did in 90 minutes. Keep track of the bottom right of the video as you can see at the time of the attacks there were 3700 flights in the air……