Facility Spotlight: Hilo Tower/TRACAB
Friday, June 14, 2013

On the southernmost Hawaiian island lies Hilo Tower/TRACAB (ITO), home to two volcanoes and 14 NATCA members.

The facility is at 98 percent NATCA membership, and ITO NATCA Facility Representative David Peralta says he can see them getting to 100 percent soon.

The 120-foot tower, commissioned in 1979, is open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. local time.

ITO is a TRACAB, meaning the TRACON is in the tower cab as opposed to an Up/Down facility. Controllers in the tower are responsible for Class Delta airspace, and controllers in the TRACON work arrivals and departures within a 25 nautical mile radius, and up to 14,000 feet.

The only other air traffic controllers ITO NATCA members work with are those at Honolulu Control Facility (HCF).

Controllers at ITO work mostly tour helicopters, along with Hawaiian Airlines B717s, FedEx aircraft and some military UH60s. There are also P3s, G5s and other military aircraft that use ITO’s airspace to practice AR's or stay in the VFR pattern. Peralta says when tour season is at its peak and a cruise ship is in the area, the tour helicopters run double time – at about 25-40 operations per hour.

Peralta says working at ITO is different than working at another air traffic facility because the Arrival Radar (AR) position is situated next to the Local Control position in the tower cab, making coordination much easier. AR has real time weather updates by just looking out the window, and can easily vector aircraft for visual approaches.

“For our airspace, it's easy to see how having an AR controller in the cab increases the quality of service,” says Peralta. “Especially living in the rainiest city in the world, raining 275 days out of the year.”

Peralta says the view from ITO is beautiful and another unique aspect of working there. From the tower cab, you can see whales breaching offshore in the winter, snow on the Mauna Kea volcano, Hawaii’s tallest volcano, and sometimes you can even see lava flowing out of the out of the Pu?u ?O?o vent up by the Kilauea volcano, one of the world’s most active volcanoes.

ITO members show solidarity with a daily display of NATCA gear and weekly basketball games. Peralta says while Hilo doesn’t offer much for NATCA members in terms of a nightlife, they have fun grilling and hanging out. They recently had a huge bonfire at one of the members’ nine-acre ranch house.

Peralta thinks the NATCA atmosphere at ITO is good, which would only be right as Peralta leads the local with strong dedication and a passion for the Union.

“I love NATCA, and I let it show,” he says. “The best part of being the FacRep is having a voice and having the power to change things that aren't right.”