NATCA controllers do Master-ful job in Augusta
Friday, April 13, 2012
The Masters Golf Tournament is called “a tradition unlike any other,” but for the NATCA tower controllers at Augusta Regional Airport (AGS), that tradition creates a week of air traffic that truly is unlike anything else they see during the rest of the year.
On a normal day, seven regional commercial planes fly from Augusta to three airports in the Southeast: Charlotte, Atlanta and Washington-National. But the Masters creates an annual weeklong glut of added private air traffic which dwarves anything the tower normally deals with.
“We go from handling 120 flights a day to over 800, both private and commercial, during Masters week,” said Mike Sheppard, the facility representative at AGS. “We handle it all, from the regional jets to [Gulf Stream] 5’s and Cessna 182’s.”
In order to handle the increase in traffic flow, Sheppard and his team begin planning for the week nearly 10 months ahead of time. Augusta coordinates with the TRACONs in Jacksonville and Atlanta, which split the airspace near the airport.
Similar to what Indianapolis ATCT (IND) did during the Super Bowl, AGS directed plane traffic to three additional airports in the region: Daniel Field, a public-use airport in Augusta, along with airports in Thomson, Ga., and Aiken, S.C., located just across the Savannah River.
“We take the airspace and cut it up into three different sectors,” Sheppard said. “We had charters at the outside airports, and a lot of private jets in at Bushfield.”
Sheppard said the busiest weekdays during the week was Wednesday, when most of the sponsors and attendees begin to arrive, and Friday, when the field of players was winnowed from 95 to 63.
But Sunday evening was the busiest by far, as golfers and patrons headed home en masse after watching Bubba Watson’s thrilling victory in a playoff over Louis Oosthuizen.
“We overstaffed, and we bring in people from other facilities in the region to work the radar so we can have our guys working the tower,” Sheppard said. “We needed nine guys working each of the sectors.”
Meanwhile, the traffic management units in Atlanta and Jacksonville were also very busy. Greg Hendricks, the NATCA representative for Atlanta Center's (ZTL) TMU, said nearly 5,000 flights bound for the Augusta region came across their airspace during the week. That doesn’t include flights from the east and north that went through Jacksonville Center's (ZJX) territory.
Hendricks said ZTL is familiar with event-related traffic because they handle weekly NASCAR-related traffic from planes departing the Charlotte area, but that Masters week is in a class all on its own.
“It’s really just a huge undertaking,” Hendricks said. “Other than the Olympics [in 1996], and the Super Bowl [in 2000] there’s really nothing that we do that takes up this much space and has such a significant private-plane presence.”
Both Hendricks and Sheppard said the week passed without any problems, although finding space to park all the jets was a hassle. But Sheppard is retiring later this year, so he was happy to have his final Masters week be yet another successful one.
“It’s not like this sneaks up on us; it’s on the calendar and it’s the same every year,” he said. “This is it for me as far as The Masters goes, and it all came together smoothly.”