Alaskan Region


Jonathan Eisenmayer
Fairbanks Air Traffic Control Tower


Air traffic controllers who work inside airport towers are responsible for many different functions, including - but not limited to - clearing planes for takeoff and landing and instructing pilots as to which taxiways they need to take to get on and off the runways.

A controller may tell a pilot to taxi to Runway X via Taxiway J and hold short prior to clearing the plane for takeoff. The same scenario occurs when a plane lands at the airport.  It is important that the air traffic controllers monitor their radars and continually look out the tower windows to scan the airport for potential problems on both the runways and taxiways.

In Fairbanks, Alaska, controllers handle many general aviation flights all year long, but the number of aircraft going in and out of the airports can grow especially large during the fall and summer seasons. On September 8, 2006, during the prime fall hunting season, Fairbanks controller Jonathan Eisenmayer was working local control with a slightly larger than average load of aircraft coming in and out of Fairbanks International Airport (FAI).

Aircraft N3536G radioed the tower for clearance to takeoff.  With another aircraft, WAV501, on a 1.5-mile final approach, Eisenmayer instructed N36G to hold short of the runway, to which the pilot responded, "Holding short, ready for takeoff."

Eisenmayer then turned his attention away from the holding aircraft and towards a runway crossing he was handling downfield.  Upon completion of the crossing, Eisenmayer scanned the runway and noticed N36G positioned on the runway ready to depart as WAV501 was fast approaching.

Eisenmayer quickly assessed the situation and determined there was not enough time for N36G to exit the runway prior to WAV501 attempting to land, so he instructed WAV501 to go around and then told N36G to exit the runway.  

Eisenmayer then called N36G on his radio and told him that he was not issued a takeoff clearance and that he needed to report back behind the hold lines.

With a third aircraft on a 1.5-mile final approach, N36G was again instructed to hold short of the runway, to which the pilot read back, "Holding short, ready for takeoff."

As Eisenmayer watched, N36G appeared to cross the hold lines once again.  Eisenmayer again instructed the pilot to hold short.  Finally, the pilot understood what was meant by hold short and complied, allowing the third plane to land safely prior to his own departure.

The quick thinking on the part of Eisenmayer to scan the airport for trouble, even after confirming with the pilot to hold short, prevented a runway accident from occurring at FAI.

"This type of save is the very essence of why we have controllers with binoculars in towers at most of the busy airports," said FAI Facility Representative John Brown.  "Eisenmayer's actions were very quiet but likely prevented a ground collision."

 

Click Here to go back to the main Communicating for Safety page.