D.C. Facilities Well Prepared for Inauguration Weekend
Thursday, January 24, 2013

Four years ago, 1.8 million people reportedly flocked to Washington, D.C., to witness the first African American President, Barack Obama, take the oath of office on Jan. 20, 2009. For Washington Dulles Tower (IAD), it presented unique challenges.

“It's hard to plan for an extra 800 to 900 aircraft on top of our usual air traffic," Facility Representative Scott Starkey said.

Everybody knew the inaugural ceremonies of 2013 weren't going to be as big of a turnout as it was four years ago, but that didn't stop air traffic controllers from taking every necessary measure and revisiting lessons learned from 2009 to make sure they were prepared for any scenario.

"This inauguration was much different from the previous ones I've worked, especially the last one in 2009," Starkey said. "It literally had no impact on air traffic. The good thing was we were prepared and very well coordinated with all entities of air traffic."

Starkey said his facility joined with others in the Washington, D.C., area, the FAA Command Center (DCC), and air traffic management to prep and plan together for eight months to get ready for this past weekend.

At first IAD was told to expect 600-800 additional aircraft, but ended up closer to 100. Starkey said it was also spread over many days rather than arriving on one and departing on the other.

Starkey said in 2009 an entire runway was closed off because they needed more parking spaces. This year, most aircraft dropped their passengers off and immediately departed.

Starkey worked Tuesday, Jan. 22, because he thought the most traffic would be leaving Washington, D.C., that morning. But most of the traffic actually departed late Monday night, Jan. 21, leaving the midnight shift with its hands full.

“The Traffic Management unit at ZDC, PCT and DCC did a great job re-routing departures that were on bad routes or who were unfamiliar with the DC area,” Starkey said. “The Traffic Management Unit (TMU) did their best to stay ahead of the game and make the adjustments before the flight plans printed out. This allowed the controllers at IAD and PCT to concentrate on just working the traffic.”

As Starkey managed the air traffic organization, NATCA member Donna Polinsky, staff specialist at IAD, coordinated all the logistics and any security measures that needed to be taken with the Secret Service and the airport authority.

"If we had foreign dignitary aircraft flying in, for example, she was the one who knew about it and would have them parked in a more secluded area, and then [she] coordinated its caravan to pick them up," said Starkey. "Those are just some of the things Polinsky would handle, and she played a key role in making this run smoothly no matter the amount of traffic."

PCT Facility Representative Matt Sullivan said his facility and others in the D.C. airspace work a lot of high profile security air traffic. He said political events are a fact of life in his control room and "no other radar room is under the scrutiny that PCT endures."

"The Presidential Inauguration this past weekend was a prime example of great teamwork," said Sullivan. "From the towers to airspace and procedures, to traffic management monitoring the flows, to the controllers actually talking to the traffic, all hands contributed to a successful event. PCT received numerous accolades from outside agencies for our performance."