ALASKA REGION

Meaghan Howard
Anchorage Air Route Traffic Control Center


Controllers working at the Federal Aviation Administration’s en route centers pride themselves on a close camaraderie and place a premium on teamwork. Individually, they have a keen sense of situational awareness but are also cognizant of the big picture, even after aircraft are handed off.

These are traits taught the minute a new controller walks through the front door. For Howard, a 24-year-old developmental controller only two years into her FAA career, the skills she brought to the facility, combined with her training experience thus far, carried the day on November 3 and ensured a safe outcome to a potentially very serious situation.

Howard was working Anchorage Center’s Sector 7 radar position. A co-worker, Terry Tramp, was working as the interphone controller at the same sector.

Federal Express Flight 21 (FDX21) had just been issued a radar vector prior to a handoff to Anchorage approach control. The pilot acknowledged a clearance for a path of flight for “direct Yeska, direct Anchorage” and was transferred to the Anchorage approach frequency.

But for an undetermined reason, the pilot did not fly the direct Yeska route. The aircraft continued on a southwesterly heading, placing it in direct conflict with another aircraft, Arctic Circle Air flight 106 (CIR106).

CIR106 had just departed Anchorage International Airport and was at a flight level of 10,000 feet; the same altitude as FDX21.

An impending situation between the two aircraft developed. The controller was also working the final approach for Runway 6 at Anchorage International. If FDX21 had correctly followed controllers’ instructions to fly the direct Yeska route, it would not have become a sudden traffic problem for CIR106.

Enter Howard, who was certified on the Sector 7 radar position and grew increasingly concerned when it appeared that the aircraft were not separated.

Howard asked Tramp to call Anchorage approach and alert them to the two aircraft’s perilous course at the same altitude. Tramp made the call and the Anchorage approach controller took immediate action to separate the aircraft and avoided a potentially serious incident.

Dan Mawhorter, manager of quality assurance staff in the FAA’s Western En Route and Oceanic Operations, wrote a message to other FAA officials, praising Howard’s work to ensure safety with quick thinking and dedication.

“This was an excellent example of paying attention even after completing a handoff and communication change, instead of just dropping the data block,” Mawhorter wrote. “The teamwork both at the sector and between the center and approach control was equally superb.”

Concluded Mawhorter: “Both of these controllers accomplished the extra step necessary to ensure safety.”

Click Here to go back to the main Communicating for Safety page.