RIIIIINNNNGGGG...... voice mail picks up ..."Hello, you have reached Major City airport's control tower. We are unable to take your call right now. However, your call is very important to us ....please, leave a message at the sound of the beep".....BBBEEEPPPP
It could happen....
This week's incident, two planes coming into Reagan National Airport in Washington DC were unable to reach the control tower to get a clearance for landing. The first plane coming in was an American Flight 1012 which is a Boeing 737. It had 91 passengers and 6 crew members on board, but was unable to make contact with the air traffic controller.
The pilot radioed a nearby FAA facility in Warrenton, VA. FAA, also, tried numerous times to contact the air traffic controller at the Reagan tower. STILL NO ANSWER.
As, I am sure most of you have followed this story and know that everything worked out fine in the end. Both the American Flight 1012 and United Airlines Flight 628T, an Airbus, landed safely. After taking steps to make sure their air space was clear they landed without the help of the tower's controller. It turns out that the traffic controller had fallen asleep.
I am a bit conflicted (as usual). I think the pilots did exactly what they needed to do. Of course, the talk shows are having "experts" with alternate points of view weighing in on how it "should" have been handled. Both planes landed safely, isn't that the important part?
The pilots were trained professionals that took all the necessary precautions to land safely. The first pilot going in (The AA pilot) was communicating with other planes in the area and the FAA so he knew there weren't other planes in his descent path. The only problem is he had no way of knowing if anything was sitting on the runway. Thank you very much, SLEEPY.
My problem is that I feel that the air traffic controllers that are up in the tower ALONE are put in an unsafe position. There are a lot of "what ifs". I can imagine sitting up in a quiet tower with long stretches of nothing happening, a person could fall asleep. (I am not saying that's right, or acceptable or anything along those lines.) AND what about the little human inconveniences of having to eat, drink and use the bathroom. Maybe he wasn't asleep but had severe diarrhea. Maybe, he is just saying he nodded off because it sounds better than "I had just crapped in my pants and was trying to clean myself up".
The thing is...had there been a second person there, whatever was going on wouldn't have mattered so much.
As I was researching the whole "air traffic control" issue, I ran across some interesting stuff. Most of the articles cite facts and figures pertaining to issues such as controllers being over worked, over stressed, working in under manned towers, and the shortage of quality controllers. I did happen to notice a few that were some what more entertaining though.
Conversations that have been recorded between the pilots and the air traffic controllers: I have no idea how true the first two are but I found them listed on several aviation themed web sites. Who knows?? Kind of funny though.
The tower at the small but busy airport in Sarasota, FL is open from 6AM until 10PM but most of the traffic is during the daylight hours. In 1975 there was a National flight that came in every night at about 8:30PM. One of the regular pilots of this flight was a jokester. On a particular night a controller that was in communication with the flight coming in from Tampa heard:
Pilot: Sarasota Tower, National 123 with you..........guess where?"
The Controller: (presumably after making sure there was no other traffic) turned off the tower lights, then replied "National 123- Sarasota tower.....guess where?"
The Pilot: (after a period of around 15 seconds) Sarasota Tower, this is National Flight 123 from Tampa we are exactly 10.3 DME on the 300 degree radial, inbound for landing."
The Controller (turning the lights back on) You are clear to land.
Tower: "TWA 2341, for noise abatement turn right 45 Degrees.”
Pilot: “Centre, we are at 35,000 feet. How much noise can we make up here?”
Tower: "Sir, have you ever heard the noise a 747 makes when it hits a 727?”
Here's a little video dealing with the more from a passengers point of view.
The Good...I have great faith in pilots. I was in an emergency landing a few years ago and while it scared me sh******.the pilots, remained calm and told us what was happening. Big thumbs up to the guys that can fly and LAND a plane.
The Bad....The glitches. All the things that occasionally go wrong. Especially when they result in death or injury.
The Weird..... I spotted an article in the Kansas City Star that the guy that got suspended last year (around March) for letting his 9 year old direct traffic at JFK is returning to work. That isn't the weird part. The paper says he is returning after a year of paid suspension.
Can that be right? He got a year off with pay????