Hurricane Sandy Impact on Members and Facilities
Friday, November 02, 2012
Following the unprecedented storm that has affected so much of the eastern United States this week, our members have been undertaking the restoration of air traffic operations. NATCA and PASS, which combined represent over 30,000 FAA employees, have worked together to help restore the full operation of the NAS.
Our members are working through very serious conditions to fully restore aviation operations along the eastern seaboard.
Throughout all of this, these NATCA and PASS members have nonetheless stayed committed to their work as FAA employees. Even in the face of personal hardship, they are putting their jobs first as air traffic controllers, systems specialists, engineers and architects, and aviation safety inspectors, among others. They're displaying tremendous dedication and making incredible sacrifices by volunteering to come to work early and stay late in order to keep the aviation system safe and restore critical operations in the region. Some of these individuals even stayed on site during the hurricane to ensure aviation safety.
Meanwhile, members across the country continued to keep the rest of the system moving as safely and efficiently as possible. All of our members are true examples of the focus, commitment and selflessness of today's federal employees, and NATCA and PASS commend your dedication to safety and professionalism.
Below are reports from several facilities on how they dealt with the storm and the task of getting their operation back up and running, as well as the impact on their members:
ATLANTIC CITY TOWER (ACY)
Reported by Andrew Elias, Facility Representative:
“The airport did not want to officially close but the tower went ATC Zero. Coast Guard helicopters and news helicopters were up at first light on Tuesday. The tower opened and resumed normal operations at 2 p.m. Tuesday.
"Four of our members have not been able to get back to their homes due to the barrier islands still being closed. Most should be able to get back today (Friday). We have been extremely busy with all the traffic flying along the beach; Coast Guard, military, the governor, the President, TFRs, news helicopters, NOAA aircraft, ariel surveyors. It all stops when the sun goes down."
BOSTON TOWER (BOS)
Reported by Jim Peterson, Facility Representative:
“Monday morning there were very few flights in and out of Boston, and towards afternoon, nothing was moving. The non-essential personnel were told not to come in. As the storm intensified and the night shift was in place, I had a conversation with the manager who agreed to release some people on excused absence so they would not be traveling on the roads at night in unknown conditions. This left four bodies in the operation until the 2 p.m. - midnight controllers showed up.
“There were sporadic power outages but, as far as I know, no major damages. Tuesday's shifts were fully staffed to handle the reloading of BOS by the airlines.”
JFK TOWER (JFK)
Reported by Steve Abraham, Facility Representative:
“We had four members – Will Gallo, Chris Jurczyk, Ryan Kaye and Ralph Tamburro – who all worked the 24 hours from Monday at noon through the storm until Tuesday at noon.
“I have four members who lost everything. Of my 42 members, six have power [as of Thursday afternoon]. There is now a tremendous gas shortage in New York.”
LaGUARDIA TOWER (LGA)
Reported by Bill McLoughlin, Facility Representative
Photo credit to JetBlue Airways
“The hurricane had a major impact at LaGuardia. Prior to the storm, the FAA had decided to start releasing personnel and reduce staffing as we knew the airport would be closed. NATCA members who lived close by immediately volunteered to remain and man the operation to ensure the safety of the facility/operation and their coworkers who lived farther away. Those remaining worked long shifts and quick turnarounds to keep constant staffing. Local NATCA representatives voluntarily cancelled collateral duties and union details to return to the facility to relieve those who stayed.
“Their duties included working LGA Class Bravo airspace to assist Coast Guard aircraft, NYC police aviation units, and search and rescue aircraft if necessary. Other duties were communicating with and assisting Port Authority operations, FAA tech ops personnel, disseminating vital weather information, forwarding visual weather observations to the airport weather unit and coordinating with the FAA Systems Command Center. They also kept a record of and logged all airport operations and pertinent information.
“As of this writing [Tuesday], LGA airport is half-submerged, making any arrivals or departures impossible. (Editor’s Note: The water was removed over the course of Tuesday and Wednesday, allowing LGA to reopen Thursday morning). A loose barge crashed into the runway 22 deck severing optic transfer cables and power lines. This resulted in a loss of localizer equipment and the control tower's main transmitter site causing us to lose all frequencies. The controllers reverted to using hand-held transceivers to restore communications. In addition to that we lost the VOR, runway and approach lighting and many other navigational aids.
“Many thanks to all the dedicated aviation professionals in New York City who went above and beyond the call of duty to provide any services possible and ultimately restore the system to full operation as soon as they can.
“Most members are without power but most can now make it into work. There were no injuries or significant losses as far as I know. Those with small children or experiencing school closures may need a little extra time.”
NEWARK TOWER (EWR)
Reported by Ray Adams, Facility Representative
“EWR was continually staffed by a few controllers throughout the storm. We solicited volunteers to work for 24 hours straight during the worst of the storm. The airport is a mess [as of this writing on Tuesday] and we are in the process of restoring capability. We lost our ASDE-X and communications abilities. The controllers are working off portable VHF radios. The radar is still spinning and we are providing support to search and rescue helicopters.
“A backup shift of controllers came in [Tuesday] by car as the roads were opened to traffic this morning. Some could not make it due to the downed trees and power lines on the local roads.
“When there are no planes, the controllers assist in the re-establishment of critical airport systems like communications, lighting and navigational aids. They also monitor and support search and rescue flights and use their perch 300 feet in the air to spot problems such as fires and transformer explosions on the ground in the surrounding area.”
NEW YORK TRACON (N90)
Reported by Dean Iacopelli, Facility Representative
“The facility maintained approximately 25 percent of its normal non-midnight shift staffing. Volunteers stayed at the facility to work and maintain the operation during the storm and helped prepare for the recovery from the storm. With most airports closed and traffic light, they reviewed emergency and other air traffic control procedures. There was nothing remarkable as far as any damage to the building.”
POTOMAC TRACON (PCT)
Reported by Matt Sullivan, Facility Representative
“Just like Dulles, on Monday after a joint telcon, we [PCT NATCA and management] decided to go to minimum staffing.
“We asked for volunteers to stay. Once we had the agreed-upon numbers, we started sending people from the day shift home. Together with management, we called people for the evening watch looking for volunteers to come to work. Once we had the required amount of volunteers, we called others scheduled to work and advised them not to come in. We did the same for Tuesday based on airline projections of proposed departures. We worked Monday and Tuesday at minimum staffing because of the workload. ATC services were never stopped. All decisions that were made were done in collaboration.
“Lots of rain in the area but no major damage. We are proud of our people who came through as they always do!”
TETERBORO TOWER (TEB)
Reported by Mike Brennan, Facility Representative
“Sandy had a pretty big impact on TEB and my members. During the storm and continuing though right now [as of this writing on Tuesday] we are running skeleton crews. I worked from Monday morning at 7 a.m. and left work at about 8 a.m. Tuesday morning. It was myself, one other controller – Khair Carvan – and one FLM. As the storm intensified, we made the decision to tell the midnight crew to stay home. We didn't want to chance having our people on the roads during the storm.
“We evacuated the tower sometime around 8:30 p.m. Monday night due to the winds. We were concerned that the east-facing windows would blow out. They were making some loud noises and we didn't feel safe staying in the cab. We went to ATC Zero until about 1 a.m. when the wind died down, and we returned upstairs at that point.
“We had three people come in Tuesday morning (two CPCs and one Front Line Manager), and as of Tuesday afternoon we were trying to keep that same rotation across the three shifts. I'm working with my Air Traffic Manager (ATM) to come up with an ongoing plan for the coming days.
“With no planes to handle, we were really working with the Port Authority to stay up to date on the airport status. We were also involved in many telcons to plan as much as we could. We were making many phone calls to our membership, as well, informing people to stay safe and check in with the facility when they could.
“During the storm it was intense. The highest wind gust I saw was 64 knots. The altimeter got down to 28.58. Before we evacuated, the tower was shaking. There were transformers exploding as far as the eye could see on a pretty consistent basis for a few hours. We had lots of equipment outages and the tower power surged on multiple occasions throughout the night Monday. The airport was closed due to flooding on Tuesday.
“I've got everyone in the membership accounted for as of this time. Everyone seems to be all right so far with power outages being the biggest problem most are facing. There are quite a few members that may be facing power issues of in excess of a week.
“We continued through the week staffed with two CPCs per shift. That was accomplished by a combination of working scheduled shifts as well as overtime. Gerald Quaye, Christine Denham DeFrank, Carlos Wyre and Robert Gambale all volunteered and got this done. The effort and willingness of the members to staff the facility and make it into work was outstanding. I'd also like to add that management came through as well, keeping a member of the management team in the building at all times. Since I was in the facility, I was in constant contact with the ATM, and we collaborated to keep the airport staffed and our members as safe as possible.”
WASHINGTON CENTER (ZDC)
Reported by Rich Santa, Facility Representative
“The only impact we had was that there was no traffic. There was a little bit of leave associated with the hurricane. I'm pretty sure no one lost their homes or even power. There was minimal staffing, and all non-essentials were sent home."
WASHINGTON DULLES TOWER (IAD)
Reported by Scott Starkey, Facility Representative
“At IAD NATCA, I was very concerned about making sure the airport stayed open. Someone above the facility level made the decision that IAD would be the international airport for all international diversions inbound to New York and D.C. during the storm. We had some concern because at that point IAD had two international aircraft proposed into IAD alone. We were not sure how many were inbound for New York.
“On Monday after the telcon at 9 a.m., I made the joint decision with management on the desired staffing level on the day, evening and mid-shifts. Both management and IAD NATCA worked jointly and separately to ensure communication with all employees on the affected shifts. Management began notifying FLMs who needed to come into work and when. I, as the FACREP, asked for volunteers to stay on the day shift; the others went home to their nervous families. I then contacted the two controllers we needed for the evening shift to get an idea if they thought they would make it in. I also explained to them that if the mid-shift people did not make it in, they would be working from 1 p.m. to 6 a.m. I then notified the evening shift people who were not needed to stay home Monday night.
“Both controllers made it in for the evening shift and only had to work 10 hours. Only one controller and no FLM made it in for the mid-shift. On the mid-shift, the loan controller (we had no FLM) fielded lots of phone calls from international airlines about airport conditions. Ultimately we had no diversionary aircraft. All the international airlines canceled all flights into D.C. and New York.
“On Monday, we had a big surge of departures. United departed all but six aircraft to avoid damage to the aircraft. All other airlines also departed their aircraft. Most of the GA and corporate aircraft also departed. The only ones left over were all placed in hangars. I have never seen the terminal with only six commercial aircraft and no corporate or GA aircraft visible before that day. It was like a ghost town.
“As for the airport, the airport authority MWAA was able to keep everything open. ATC services were never stopped.
“We had minimal property damage of members homes. There was some basement flooding and some with no power.
“I am proud to say that my members made every effort to make it to work and many did. I am also excited to say that management sought out my help and worked collaboratively on this for the first time.
“We have had a larger than normal arrival demand on Tuesday and Wednesday, due to aircraft returning after the storm. We have worked well with PCT to manage the arrival rate into IAD to help do our part to keep up with the demand. So a big thanks to all at PCT with helping the tower out.”
WASHINGTON NATIONAL TOWER (DCA)
Reported by Connie Thompson Jr., Facility Representative
“Washington Tower was up and running during the storm. The airport was open but pretty much all airlines canceled their flights. Many flights started to roll back in Tuesday evening. Right now, things are getting back to normal with the operation and I believe most are relieved the storm wasn't worse.
“We had a very good collaborative effort between management and our local. We both were very proactive in updating our emergency procedures, updating our members' contact information, along with making preparations for staffing. Continuous communication between management and the local was great and the most pertinent information was able to be delivered to the members. We solicited volunteers and scaled back the operation with a primary focus on those who had to commute the farthest along with those with small children, especially since all the public school systems were closed.
“Our folks take pride in providing safe and efficient service to our users so with the threat of a major hurricane, we wanted to do everything possible to ensure that this safety was never compromised. We provided valuable updates and data to the airlines and participated in a massive airport meeting. The level of preparedness and cooperation was outstanding and inspiring.”
The view from Charleston Tower during the storm's West Virginia blizzard.
A NOTE OF SUPPORT FROM OUR CANADIAN BROTHERS AND SISTERS
We here in Canada watched in disbelief at the scope of the disaster that unfolded the past few days along the US east coast.
It is with great sorrow that we hear of and see the extent of the damage and loss of life that has occurred. We pray that all of your members and families are safe.
Our thoughts and prayers are with our Sisters and Brothers of NATCA.
It is impossible to believe that every one of your members is not affected by this disaster in some way, yet I see that this morning JFK, LGA and EWR are all back in operation and flights from Canada to the USA are "business as usual." Another tribute to the people that make our profession what it is.
As the next few days unfold please be assured that your friends in Canada are thinking of you and we are ready to help you and our colleagues at NATCA in any way we can. Please do not hesitate to call.
Canadian Air Traffic Control Association