Controllers Save the Day

March 11, 2009 by Bruce Landsberg

This was my second year in assisting NATCA to judge which of its members were worthy of the Archie League awards. Archie League was the first controller and it’s a fitting way to honor him. There were some remarkable incidents that were noteworthy on two counts.

First, I am in awe of the controllers who managed some incredibly difficult situations. If you haven’t been to NATCA’s website to hear the audio it’s educational to say the least. It absolutely shows the value of asking for help when we get in over our heads.

The President’s Award is chosen from all the regional winners as the best example of superlative controlling. This year, a tower controller from Lake Charles, LA literally talked down a new student pilot flying a Cessna 172. The pilot was having difficulty landing and controller John Charlton talked her through several visual approaches until they were both sure that the landing would be successful.

There were several instances where IFR pilots, in instrument conditions, suffered engine malfunctions or outright failures and were guided right to the runway, oftentimes in a glider that started the flight in a different category of aircraft. We are reminded of that situation with the recent Airbus water landing in New York.

In many of these cases the controllers were pilots and it clearly made the difference. The FAA should give hiring preference to pilots and it should provide salary incentive to those controllers who become pilots. In listening to some of these saves, it’s clear that the additional knowledge was critical. How about it FAA?

Finally, as in years past, the judges wondered how some pilots got themselves into such dire straits. It’s easy to second guess and judge AFTER events have played out and we, from the comfort of our armchairs and keyboards, can opine on others’ decisions but sometimes there is a strong desire to press on and you can hear it in many of the award submissions or read it in the narratives. Those pilots were fortunate that Lady Luck or Providence smiled on them.

ASF felt additional recognition was warranted that we awarded Controller Commendations to six outstanding controllers over and above the Archie league recipients.

Awards honor controllers who save lives

All we can say is “Thank You!.”

Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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  • Leo Robinson

    First of all, thank you to all controllers for your great work.

    Bruce, I wanted to know, around most of the world, are controllers getting the adequate support that they Deserve during crash investigations?

    Years have gone by when this was not the case, are things any different today?


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