Atlantic City, N.J., Air Traffic Control Tower
To an outsider, the service of air traffic control would appear to involve just two people at any one time; a single pilot on one end of the radio and a single air traffic controller on the other. But the essence of a successful air traffic control operation is built on teamwork, especially when situations arise involving aircraft in distress. A crew of five air traffic controllers, led by a controller-in-charge, were working during the start of the Fourth of July weekend last year at Atlantic City, N.J., Tower were called upon to respond to not only one, but two events within 30 minutes of each other.
The first involved a Beechcraft Bonanza 36, a single-piston aircraft. The weather reported in the area was low instrument flight rules (IFR) conditions. The Bonanza took off from Ocean City, N.J., Municipal Airport – which lies seven miles south of Atlantic City International Airport – headed for Glens Falls, N.Y. The pilot established intermittent radio communications with John Bradley, the controller working the South Arrival Radar position. Bradley issued a climb to 7,000 feet and a northbound heading. Bradley then observed the aircraft descending and turning east. When asked, the pilot was not able to communicate his intentions due to a radio problem.
The Bonanza appeared to have problems maintaining a heading and altitude. In broken transmissions, the pilot informed Bradley that his autopilot was malfunctioning and he was unable to disengage it. The malfunction caused the aircraft to pitch up uncontrollably. Immediately, word reached the tower to stop departures. With the erratic flying of this aircraft, the Bonanza found its way directly into Atlantic City’s departure path, making it a threat to all departing traffic. Controller Peter Grebenschikoff then opened a North Arrival Radar (NAR) position to relieve Bradley of other aircraft on the radio frequency, making it easier for him to focus on the Bonanza. Grebenschikoff was able to assist with information gathering from pilot reports and weather stations and learned that cloud tops were reported at 4,500 feet. Bradley suggested to the Bonanza pilot that he try to climb to get on top of the clouds so that he might be able to work out his aircraft’s difficulties.
The pilot climbed, reported on top of the cloud layer at 4,500 feet and finally was able to disengage the autopilot. He then continued the flight and was handed off to the next facility without further incident.
Soon after, another situation arose that required quick action from the Atlantic City team. An F-18 military jet en route to McGuire Air Force Base at Fort Dix in New Jersey, flying through Atlantic City’s airspace, declared a fuel emergency and requested vectors to the nearest airport. Randy Trainor, working the clearance delivery position, obtained weather reports from nearby airports. The pilot requested vectors for an Airport Surveillance Radar (ASR) approach to Atlantic City. Bradley, still working the South Arrival position, then handed the aircraft off to Stephen Barringer, working the East Arrival Radar position. Barringer conducted the ASR approach.
Traffic was busy. Both Bradley and Grebenschikoff had to move other aircraft to allow the F-18 an expedited handling to the airport. Meanwhile, local Controller Adam Cohen ensured that no other tower traffic affected the safe arrival, while ground Controller Mark Franklin coordinated the airport’s emergency responders. The aircraft was able to complete the approach safely and landed without further incident.
Said Atlantic City Tower NATCA Facility Representative Keith Johnson about the events: “It is a credit to all personnel involved that both of these situations ended without incident. The air traffic teamwork displayed ensured that the best possible service was provided to both users. The controller-in-charge who was responsible for the operation, ensured that he had the right people, in the right position, at the right time.”
"This save can only be described as the essence of a team effort. Six dedicated controllers concerned only with the safety of the flying public made not one, but two back-to-back saves in the span of a half hour. After the first plane experienced mechanical problems upon takeoff, this team of professionals worked together seamlessly to clear the runways, stop all departures and make sure emergency personnel were mobilized while communicating with the pilot to get him back on the ground in a safe and expeditious manner. Not 30 minutes later, a second aircraft declared a fuel emergency. Once again this team jumped into action exactly as they had done earlier to get the pilot on the ground safely and calmly.
The actions of our controllers in Atlantic City are a testament to the preparedness and ability of members throughout the Eastern Region and the country. These six controllers demonstrate the kind of disciplined teamwork that averts disaster in a very fast-moving and complex air space system. This kind of focus and excellent response is the hallmark of professionals always poised to make the difference in a life and death scenario. I am proud to represent these fine NATCA members.”
- Phil Barbarello, Eastern Regional Vice President
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