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NATCA Salutes Gulf Coast Controllers for Dedicated Efforts - (1/30/2006)

CONTACT: Darrell Meachum, 817/797-6083

WASHINGTON -- The National Air Traffic Controllers Association is saluting its members at facilities across the Gulf Coast for their efforts in ensuring safety and their tireless work ethic and dedication to the evacuation, relief and recovery missions following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita last summer.

NATCA will be honoring the facilities tonight at its annual awards banquet in Washington, D.C. The facilities are Baton Rouge Tower; Beaumont-Port Arthur, Texas, Tower; Gulfport, Miss. Tower; Jackson, Miss. Tower; Lafayette, La., Tower; Lake Charles, La., Tower; Meridian, Miss., RAPCON; Mobile, Ala. Tower; New Orleans Lakefront Tower and New Orleans-Louis Armstrong Tower.

"The storms devastated the homes and lives of dozens of air traffic controllers but NATCA members put the safety of the public first by displaying an extraordinary level of skill and selflessness during the evacuation, relief and recovery efforts," NATCA President John Carr said. "Many of the air traffic control facilities handled large volumes of traffic before the arrival of the storms in order to ensure the area¡¦s occupants were safely evacuated."

After the storms hit, controllers returned to the facilities to assist in rescue operations despite their own personal losses. At New Orleans-Louis Armstrong Tower, for example, of the 18 controllers, 10 had no homes left and many worked as long as 20 straight hours to assist in the relief efforts, with many controllers sleeping on cots in the facility. At the height of the rescue operation, this facility ran about four times the number of operations it usually has in a normal day.

"As I look back on the days and weeks that followed Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, I am struck by the horrific destruction and desolation," said NATCA Southwest Regional Vice President Darrell Meachum. "The working conditions after Katrina were especially deplorable for the air traffic controllers in New Orleans. Controllers slept in storage rooms and under desks for weeks on end as they braved their positions to safely guide the rescue planes in and out of the hurricane stricken area."

Here are some more facts about the air traffic control effort during and after the storms:

-  The 23 air traffic controllers at Baton Rouge Tower, who normally work approximately 200 to 250 operations a day, hit 1,700 at one point after Katrina, which is comparable to a normal day at Chicago O'Hare.

- The Gulfport Tower was significantly damaged by Katrina. Air traffic controllers, all of whom suffered damage to their own homes and property, resumed full air traffic operations just a few days after the storm as construction workers bolted plywood over missing exterior walls. Air traffic operations surged as a constant stream of relief flights arrived and departed at the damaged airport.

- At Lafayette, La., Airport, one hour west of Baton Rouge, the 14 controllers normally work 200 to 250 operations as well. In the days after the storm, they handled 1,200 operations.

Concluded Meachum: "At a time when their own families and homes were destroyed and in danger, the air traffic controllers who work along the Gulf Coast deserve recognition and our gratitude for their selflessness and heroism."

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