"Operation Raincheck" a major success at PCT
Thursday, May 10, 2012
Representatives from the FAA, Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security joined NATCA members at Potomac TRACON to brief 200 area pilots on various air security measures in place around the Washington region.
No matter how old you are, there’s always something new to learn. That’s especially true when you’re a pilot who flies in the greater Washington area. Last Saturday, as they do each spring and fall, NATCA members from Potomac TRACON (PCT) educated 200 pilots on the intricacies of flying around such a sensitive region, while also giving them a tour of the facility.
Events similar to “Operation Raincheck,” as it is known, are held at various facilities around the country. But Washington is its own unique region, with complications and higher security than anywhere else in the U.S. — after all, aircraft are prohibited from flying over many parts of the city, and the surrounding area.
During the two-hour session, pilots toured the TRACON and saw the faces of the people who help guide them through airspace across four states. They not only got to meet with NATCA members, but also with representatives from FAA security, the Secret Service’s flight unit and the Department of Homeland Security’s National Capital Region Coordination Center.
Randy Horner, a staff specialist at PCT and a 23-year FAA veteran who helped coordinate the event, said that the program has been a hit since it started in the aftermath of 9/11 when a host of new flight restrictions for the region were put in place. And while the success of the program has excited him, it was borne out of necessity.
“There was a real need to do this after 9/11, where we had a bunch of new procedures put in place, and we went from 50 pilot deviations the year before up to 700 the following year,” Horner said. “It’s important for us to connect with the people who fly in this region, and to clear up some misconceptions that people might have about the security procedures in the capital region."
He said the feedback from attendees has been universally positive.
“The people who come just absolutely love it; we got 10 pages of positive feedback from this session,” Horner said. “It’s one of the most popular events in the area.”
Karl Ludwig, NATCA’s safety representative at PCT and a 24-year FAA controller himself, said the program makes the skies safer by educating pilots on the intricacies of flying through the region. He added that it has been a great joint effort between the union and the FAA.
“We’re definitely collaborating a lot with the FAA and a lot of people for this,” he said. “We’ve been trying to get as many people to come each time for the question and answer session and they’re always receptive.”
Ludwig said a lot of the pilots are surprised to learn just how intricate the airspace restrictions are around Washington.
“We have some guys who fly right up to the edge of restricted airspace, and they think that since they’re outside of it, nobody’s watching them,” Ludwig said. “And then the Secret Service tells them that they were watching the aircraft long before they even got close and they didn't even know it. And the pilots like knowing that, as you would imagine.”
PCT facility representative Matt Sullivan said it’s nice to be able to see the faces of the pilots they serve, and to develop personal relationships with them.
“Everyone benefits by getting to know each other,” he said. “It’s good for them to be able to visualize and get a sense of the people they’re talking to in the air, and it’s good publicity for us. It really is just a great program.”