ATL Controllers Conquer Storms with Skill
Thursday, April 28, 2011
The historic, tragic and destructive outbreak of tornadoes in the Deep South this week affected many NATCA members. Thankfully, no members or their family members were killed or seriously injured that we know of.
Two members at A80 were directly impacted by the storms and one indirectly was impacted.
From A80 Fac Rep Mike Ryan:
“Richard Thompson had catastrophic wind damage to his home in Griffin, Ga. Thankfully it was not horrifically worse. The way he described it to me was chilling. In essence, he pulled his small son out of his bed and three minutes later the area where the boy was laying in was gone. It was that close to beyond tragic.
“Jacob James had him home in Senoia struck by lightning which resulted in a fire. There is significant damage to about a quarter of the house.
“Thankfully all controllers and their families are uninjured. Richard and his family are now living with in-laws while repair efforts are being organized. Jacob and his family are in a hotel (A80 members have offered lodging) courtesy of their insurance company until they can find a rental to live in while their repairs are done.
“Scott Damron's father had his home completely destroyed in Ringgold, Ga., but thankfully his father was not at home at the time of the incident. Scott has gone to Ringgold to assist in clean up and trying to salvage what he can.
“All three of these guys will have unexpected financial expenses that are outside the scope of insurance coverage. We are passing the hat locally, and reaching out to the NATCA disaster relief fund.”
While our members in Birmingham, Ala., and hard-hit Tuscaloosa, Ala., report that things are OK with them, Huntsville, Ala., is a different story.
From Scott Pressley:
“An update on the damage in Alabama and a plea for help. Luckily the controllers at both Birmingham and Tuscaloosa are OK. We have some damage to homes but it is scattered and we have been able to assist our own with what they need.
“Huntsville is another story. They are without power and will be for awhile. They are in a cash only environment now because of the power outage. They have for all intents and purposes, run out of gas and water will be gone in a day or two. THEY NEED OUR HELP. I have been talking to Steve Swisher (Fac Rep) and we will use his house for a base. They need non-perishable food, water, grills, propane and could use some generators and gas.”
“Thank you in advance,
Members can send donations to the NATCA Relief Fund via PayPal, https://paypal.com and include this e-mail address when making your donation: email@example.com.
Speaking of Huntsville, ZTL VP Rob Oxenburg is flying relief supplies to Huntsville members in his Cessna 310, with the help of Mike Redmond. Oxenburg reconfigured the aircraft to accommodate a full 700 pounds of supplies. He takes off from Tara Field, right across the street from ZTL in Hampton, Ga.
Money for the supplies is being contributed by the NATCA Relief Fund. In addition, the FAA worked with NATCA to provide duty time for the relief effort.
On the air traffic side of things, it was a very difficult evening for Atlanta air traffic controllers Wednesday night at ZTL, ATL and A80, and also for controllers at surrounding facilties that handles not just their normal traffic volume but many diverts as well. But they all performed with extreme skill and professionalism.
Anyone who flew into or out of the world's busiest airport likely had a rough evening of their own. Here's some perspective from our members:
-- There were 40 go-arounds due to crosswinds and all of those had to be handled by both the tower and A80. We know many more go-arounds may not have been logged because it was too busy in the tower.
-- Normally, departures are done at ATL around 11 p.m. EDT, but last night when the evening shift handed off to the midnight shift (after a 10-hour day), there were airplanes everywhere on the airport surface waiting for the weather to move.
-- A total of seven medical emergencies on flights that had to land quickly.
-- A total of 2,700 operations handled safely by controllers yesterday.
-- ATL Fac Rep Rob Thorne said it was the worst day he has experienced in his five years at ATL Tower.
-- The tower literally swayed all day. One controller told us that leaving the tower at the end of the shift felt like he was getting off a cruise ship.
At ZTL, Fac Rep Rick Baugh says it was a shift that controllers that worked it “will not soon forget. They’ll be talking about it for years to come, just because of the sheer level of traffic and the level of concentration it took.” Baugh added that controllers continued to stay on position even though a tornado was reported just a few miles from the facility.
Said Baugh, “There was significant holding. There were diverts to other airport that we had to take out of the holding pattern and guide them to other airports. We filled up smaller airports like Chattanooga, Knoxville, Greer (S.C.) and Augusta (Ga.). We couldn’t send anybody to Huntsville or Birmingham with the situation there so that limited us.
“We had aircraft deviating around storms, arrivals deviating into departures and vice versa. We also had overflight traffic deviating. We had significantly higher traffic counts because aircraft from the West and Southwest headed to the Northeast corridor had to shift their routes farther south due to the weather.
“It was quite a shift, because your airspace is reduced considerably by the weather. In some cases it’s reduced to a fraction of what you normally have and it’s the only place aircraft will fly. You experience increased aircraft thru those corridors. It’s a significant increase in your workload, stress level, thought processes, everything.
“It was a total team effort. Everybody was involved, even people not working airplanes coming across and helping those who are working those airplanes.”
To read an article in The Washington Post about the experiences of Thorne and his brothers and sisters working at ATL during the storms, please click here: