New England Region
In air traffic control, every day is a new day, a new experience and a new set of circumstances. Controllers are educated to be alert and prepared for anything and everything. It is not uncommon for a controller to have a day where all the aircraft are running smoothly and the weather is perfect and the next day the aircraft are battling high winds and rain with low visibility. The controller must be prepared for it all.
At the Boston Air Route Traffic Control Center (ZBW), controllers are responsible for all traffic above a specified altitude over Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont and parts of New York and Connecticut, as well as over parts of the northwestern Atlantic Ocean. With airspace this large, the likelihood of something going wrong is high.
During the winter of 2005-06, veteran ZBW controller Stephen Schmalz found himself in radio contact with two separate pilots who had encountered difficult flying conditions and who turned to him for help.
The first incident occurred on December 11, 2005, when a pilot en route to Morristown, N.J. (MMU) under visual flight rules suddenly found himself in instrument flight rules conditions. The pilot was not certified to fly IFR and declared an emergency to ZBW. Schmalz was working sector R05 at the time and proceeded to help the distressed pilot.
As the aircraft climbed higher to avoid the clouds, Schmalz solicited meteorological reports from other aircraft in the area and encouraged the pilot to look at his instruments to maintain a straight and level heading until he could be directed below the clouds.
Schmalz soon learned of a five-mile break in the clouds ahead of the aircraft and began to calmly direct the pilot in that direction. Schmalz reassured the pilot and told him to remember to keep a straight and level heading. Once the clouds opened up, the pilot was able to descend safely below and was passed off to New York TRACON (N90) for landing.
Approximately six weeks later, Schmalz found himself again on the other end of the radio with a distressed pilot whose aircraft was experiencing mechanical failure.
N434TB was flying from Charlottesville, Va. (CHO), to the Keene (N.H.) Dillant-Hopkins Airport (EEN) when the aircraft’s electrical system died, taking the radio and transponder down with it. The pilot worked to turn off the nonessential electrical components, which allowed the radio to begin working again. He then radioed Schmalz for assistance in landing as soon as possible. Schmalz gathered all the relevant information, such as weather reports, airport information and pireps, and passed it on to the pilot, who requested to divert to Stewart International Airport (SWF) in Newburgh, N.Y. Schmalz vectored the pilot in that direction, lowering him to 7,000 feet. Once he reached that altitude, Schmalz turned the pilot over to N90 for landing approach.
In both situations, Schmalz used his air traffic control knowledge and experience to guide the distressed pilots home. With the help of controllers like Schmalz, the United States' airspace remains the safest in the world.
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