MCCHORD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. — McChord Airmen and technology provided a unique inter-agency training opportunity with a strategic impact on the nation’s northwest corridor. Since September, members of the 62nd Operations Support Squadron have shared the use of a training simulator here with Seattle-Tacoma International Airport tower controllers to ensure they are certified and ready for operations when the airport’s third runway officially opens Nov. 20.
The addition of a third runway was necessary to reduce flight delays at Sea-Tac, specifically during conditions of poor visibility that require flying under Instrument Flight Rules, according to Ms. Barbara French, the airport’s operations manager. Currently, proximity issues limit operations during IFR weather to just one runway.
The new runway improves poor weather capability and enhances capacity at Sea-Tac with dual dependent approaches fully-equipped to accommodate low-visibility operations. The runway improves Sea-Tacs’s ability to move aircraft in and out of the airport more expeditiously, saving time and fuel.
“We’ve always had delays during IFR weather,” said Ms. French, who served in the Air Force for 11 years, primarily as an air traffic controller. “Instead of having to hold airborne, aircraft will be able to land on another runway.”
When Sea-Tac officially opens the third runway, it won’t be the first time Seattle tower controllers have “seen” what operations will look like. The civilian controllers have been training with McChord’s control tower simulator, which creates a virtual airport environment complete with runways, aircraft and air space.
The idea to extend use of the simulator to Seattle tower controllers was developed this spring during a quarterly meeting with the Federal Aviation Administration, said Mr. Tom Quick, 62nd OSS. “They were discussing the difficulties of training for the third runway,” he said. “We proposed that our simulator might be an option. There were more meetings and we determined it was something we could do so details were worked out.”
Training at the simulator here began Sept. 25, according to Ms. Isabel Cole, a senior Seattle tower controller. Each class consists of three rated tower controllers who receive one day of classroom training at Sea-Tac, then spend two days here in the simulator. When the last class concludes Nov. 14, all 30 controllers will be certified for operations.
The decision to train here saved time and money, said Mr. Todd Thomas, FAA front line manager at Sea-Tac. An alternative sending controllers out of state to train would have cost more than $75,000.
After training was approved, digital images from Sea-Tac were used to create the environment, the programming was updated, and voice recognition capability was added, said Mr. Quick. McChord air traffic controllers taught their Sea-Tac counterparts the basics of the Air Force system and how conduct the scenarios.
“They’re committed to making this work,” Mr. Quick said. “They’ve done a great job of utilizing the simulator to its full ability.”
Senior Airman Darren Firth, an air traffic controller with the 62nd OSS, said it was a great experience working with the FAA, and that he had been back to observe portions of their training.
“It’s interesting to see how they operate,” he said. “They have three runways, we have one, but the fundamentals and phraseology are the same: cleared for takeoff, cleared for landing.”
The simulator allows Seattle tower controllers to run scenarios and transition through different tower and ground positions, using both IFR and Visual Flight Rules. While using the simulator, controllers have been fine-turning and testing procedures that could affect airport traffic flow.
“Every day we’re here and we run a class, we learn something new,” said Ms. Cole.
“We’ve maximized efficiency through using the simulator.” Ms. French said. “You can explain things away and move airplanes around on a map, but until you can visualize something, you don’t know how you will react.”
Sea-Tac will eventually have its own simulator, said Ms. French. “Most facilities want one when they see how valuable they are.”
“The McChord staff shared their tower simulator system – answering a tremendous need to simulate live traffic for our controller,” said Mr. Barry Davis, Sea-Tac acting air traffic manager. “It was also great that we were able to find the capability so close to Seattle allowing training to be completed faster and with significant costs savings to the FAA and the taxpayer.”
“Our heartfelt thanks goes out to the McChord staff for their assistance, since we would not have been able to get the quality of training that was needed if we couldn’t use their simulator,” he said.
“This success has once again spotlighted the national value of both McChord and its Airmen,” said Lt. Col. Robert Cook, 62nd OSS Commander. “We had an opportunity to partner with the FAA on a major regional effort, and I’m very proud of the results.”Print This Post