Outstanding Collaboration Over Presidential Campaign Flights Receives National Recognition, Praise
Friday, January 11, 2013
“Collaboration was the only reason that we were this successful,” said Las Vegas TRACON (L30) NATCA Facility Representative Chris Thomas.
From June 7, 2012, to Nov. 1, 2012, President Barack Obama made 11 trips in and out of McCarran International Airport. For Las Vegas Tower (LAS), L30 and other nearby facilities, that meant Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) and possible disruptions for LAS users. But due to the “can-do” attitude and collaboration at every level in the facilities, users experienced minimal disruptions and Air Force One was able to smoothly arrive and depart LAS.
LAS NATCA Facility Representative Jamaal Haltom and Thomas both said that the coordination and collaboration seen in preparation of the many “Presidential movements” throughout this past campaign season had never been done before.
“We’ve had issues in the past with not having a proper plan in place to deal with these kinds of situations,” said Thomas. “This year, specifically with the Presidential movements and the way Nevada was with the election, it almost felt like Air Force One was one of our busiest carriers.”
“In the past there was not collaboration and there would be Presidential movements when the airport was delayed and controllers were working by the seat of their pants instead of knowing what was going to happen,” said Haltom.
When Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Air Traffic Managers (ATM) learned from the Las Vegas U.S. Secret Service (USSS) Agent Charles McKay in early summer 2012 that the President would be making numerous visits in and out of Las Vegas, the ATMs passed along the news to Haltom and Thomas. Learning from past experiences, the ATMs and NATCA Facility Representatives agreed to hold frequent meetings at which they would invite all involved parties to discuss what was going to happen. During these meetings, the participants created a process early so everyone was prepared by the time Air Force One departed for its first flight into Las Vegas. Inviting all parties meant not only LAS and L30 ATMs, NATCA Facility Representatives and controllers, but also users of LAS such as helicopter and general aviation aircraft operators, representatives from FAA Public Affairs, the USSS, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and representatives from nearby facilities that could be affected, including Los Angeles Center (ZLA), Henderson Airport, Nellis Air Force Base, North Las Vegas Tower and Jean Airport.
“That made a tremendous improvement on the way we did things,” said Thomas.
“This ensured that the flying public was delayed as little as possible,” said Haltom. “The collaboration made it safer, better and more efficient for everyone involved.”
The idea to gather everyone at a meeting came from the weekly process meetings that LAS and L30 hold to discuss events happening at each facility.
LAS Air Traffic Manager Jim Burgan and LAS Operations Manager Scott French were involved in the coordination that occurred for the Presidential movements. French was particularly impressed with the collaboration that took place in preparation for the President’s four-day stay in Las Vegas in late September 2012. That was a particularly challenging time as French said typically the President stays in Las Vegas overnight or flies in and out on the same day. On short trips, the airport can easily switch on and off TFRs, whereas these four days required special TFRs. Air carriers had a waiver from TFRs during this time, but helicopters and general aviation aircraft did not, which could have been detrimental to the airport as both are a huge part of its business and revenue. So, all involved parties and those potentially affected by it sat down and discussed the potential losses and challenges and discussed a solution. They determined that they could relocate helicopter operations to a small airport south of McCarran, Jean Airport, and Haltom negotiated with the L30 NATCA and management teams to formulate a plan and procedures that would allow general aviation aircraft to land and depart LAS during the four day TFR.
French was also impressed with Haltom’s and Thomas’s forward thinking in planning and creating the procedures.
“This was not an easy thing to create procedures, but it makes it so much easier when you have a great relationship with your local NATCA folks,” said French.
He was also impressed with Haltom’s collaborative abilities.
“Jamaal immediately took the lead after we developed procedures, and he did face-to-face employee briefings, which increased the buy-in and compliance and allowed for seamless operations,” he said. “When a NATCA Rep is there staying past his shift and talking to people, it added tremendously to the smooth operations. NATCA and management’s can-do attitude made this a nationally recognized event.”
The outstanding work and collaboration of all involved parties during the President’s many trips in and out of Las Vegas throughout campaign season was noticed nationally. The Las Vegas USSS Liaison, Agent Charles McKay, sent an email to the LAS and L30 ATMs, and wanted them to pass it along to all the parties that were involved and helped make for smooth operations. The email read as follows:
“With the election finally over, I wanted to send out an email thanking you all for the hard work over the last year. This campaign was extremely tough on McCarran Int’l Airport and all of its employees and it does not go unnoticed.
If I could get the President himself to write thank you notes, I would ask him to write every single one of you receiving this email. The dedication and commitment you all bring to helping the Secret Service complete its mission is irreplaceable. Each of you play a crucial role in protecting the President (and other elected officials) and I hope you realize that every time we have a visit into Las Vegas. I also hope you know that while working as the airport liaison agent, I constantly remind our employees and traveling staff that you all are the reason McCarran is a fantastic airport…and trust me, I get many compliments on the cooperation you all give us…”
Thomas, Haltom and French said it was gratifying to receive that recognition.
“It was extremely rewarding because that’s what defines us here at Las Vegas,” said French. “It’s never that we’re looking for an accolade, it’s the fact that we are collectively doing the right thing the first time and we all do it together. I think that’s really important.”
Thomas was very appreciative that McKay took the time to send the email. The recognition validated Thomas’s feelings that they are doing the right thing at the facilities. The recognition reminded him of how proud he is to be a part of Las Vegas and its great collaborative attitude.
“From talking to other FacReps across the country, I have it pretty lucky with my facility,” he said. “Our union and management work really well together on everything. Any issue, it doesn’t matter, management is willing to sit down and talk to us…It’s truly been a huge benefit at our facility.”
The LAS and L30 ATMs and NATCA Facility Representatives made sure that everyone involved in pulling off smooth operations during President Obama’s visits to LAS received McKay’s email, and they felt that should also include NATCA leadership. They made a specially framed letter to NATCA leadership, in honor of their commitment to collaboration.
Haltom said they wanted to recognize NATCA President Paul Rinaldi and Executive Vice President Trish Gilbert because of the importance NATCA’s executive leadership has placed on collaboration at Las Vegas’ facilities. Haltom said that LAS and L30 FAA management realize how good the collaborative attitude is at their facilities compared to others and they wanted to recognize Rinaldi and Gilbert.
“The collaborative spirit at our facility couldn’t be as good, no matter how much management wanted it, if myself and Chris [Thomas] didn’t understand that that’s the message our national leadership provides,” said Haltom.
“Collaboration at the facility doesn’t just happen with us, collaboration starts at the top,” said Thomas. “If Trish and Paul and the FAA Administrator and their counterparts aren’t willing to collaborate, it’s never going to work at the facility levels. So, it was very important that we were getting the award from the Secret Service and we thought Paul and Trish deserve it just as much.”
“It’s an honor to have these dedicated professionals share their recognition with Paul and me,” said Gilbert. “We couldn’t be more proud of their outstanding work and collaborative attitude, which ensured operations ran smoothly for Air Force One and all other operations. Collaboration is invaluable to the success of not only special operations like these, but also every day procedures.”