Joint Base Elmendorf – Richardson Community
Air traffic controllers monitor, direct 200 aircraft during Northern Edge
Story by Cpl Anabel Abreu Rodriguez on 05/30/2019
JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska — Air traffic controllers with the U.S. Air Force’s 3rd Operations Support Squadron managed the airfield May 13-24, during Exercise Northern Edge 2019.
Approximately 10,000 personnel, 200 aircraft and 11 vessels between the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps participated in Northern Edge. Joint participants gather in Alaska biennially to execute and support flying, ground and naval operations to sharpen their skills and to develop cooperative plans and programs.
In support of the exercise, air traffic controllers monitor and direct the movement of aircraft on the ground and in the air.
“Northern Edge has caused an increase in operations tempo.” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Shantell Crown, air traffic control training manager, 3rd Operations Support Squadron “The increase in operations tempo sets these guys up for success. If they can learn how to handle these situations in this type of environment, then I’m very confident they can handle any kind of situation.”
A team of seven air traffic controllers managed all aspects of the airfield. Five of the positions worked out of the top of the air traffic control tower, enabling visual monitoring. The air traffic controllers provided the pilots instructions on:
– Flight data: flying route, altitude, destination, help with coordination for ground and local control
– Ground control: taxiing to and from the runway on the airfield
– Local control: takeoff and landing clearance on the runway
– Approach: aircraft approaching the airfield intending to land
Lastly, the watch supervisor is the safety observer. This member of the team acts as the extra pair of eyes, ensuring the tower follows all rules, regulations and, if necessary, provides additional guidance.
At the base of the tower, a radar final controller and an assistant guide the aircraft to the correct altitude and angle of approach for landing.
The increase of aircraft on the airfield demands more out of supporting elements. Air traffic controllers were no exception as they encountered their own challenges.
“A task I became a little more experienced with during the exercise was spacing out the diverse air frames for landing.” said U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Lucas Bowers, air traffic controller, 3rd Operations Support Squadron.
The increase in operations tempo required permanent units stationed on JBER to augment service members to maintain proficient work flow.
“Ultimately the entire air traffic control team has come together and worked really well and met all the challenges they faced.” said Crown. “I think we all do it by remembering that flexibility is the key to air power.”