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High Traffic, Low Staffing and No Radar at Texas Airport - (12/9/2009)

CONTACTS: NATCA Southwest Region Alternate VP for Contract Towers, Ed Mears, 512-417-4633; NATCA National Office, Alexandra Caldwell, 202-220-9813, acaldwell@natcadc.org

NEW BRAUNFELS, Texas – With only three controllers and one manager the air traffic control staff at New Braunfels Air Traffic Control Tower is stretched too thin.

Earlier in the fall the Wright Flyers Flight School – that utilizes the airport – announced that it would be adding several aircraft and more than 50 full-time students.  With operations approaching 10,000 a month, traffic quadrupled in November and as of today, no action has been taken to meet the increase.

The city of New Braunfels and Robinson Aviation – the two parties that contract and operate the tower – have given no indication that they intend to hire even one more air traffic controller.

With the increased traffic and no additional controllers to work it there are no necessary redundancies in staffing for the air traffic operations at New Braunfels.  Controllers are not able to take proper breaks away from the operation, absence for illness or vacation due to the high volume of traffic and the low staffing.  With no radar display in the tower the controllers are forced to sequence the high level of traffic visually.

The city of New Braunfels and Robinson Aviation need to either increase staffing to a more operationally-sound number or reduce the number of operations at the airport.  The only other alternative is for the tower to be admitted into the Federal Contract Tower program.  Congressmen Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, and Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, have written the FAA asking that New Braunfels be made part of the federal contract program.  “New Braunfels is operating at a critical level with absolutely no margin for error,” said Ed Mears, NATCA Southwest Alternate Regional Vice President for Contract Towers.  “Robinson Aviation has other towers – all adequately staffed – across the country.   But New Braunfels has the most chronic safety problem involving staffing that I have seen in my 26 years of involvement in air traffic control.”

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