PRC Controllers’ Many Achievements: Unionism helps Put Out Fires
Friday, July 12, 2013

The controllers of Prescott Regional Airport (PRC) have lately had many reasons to take pride in their facility. They successfully coordinated the air traffic efforts during the recent devastating forest fires in the area and they also reached 100 percent membership in their air traffic control tower located in Prescott, Ariz. More than 75 percent of their membership has been with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for seven years or less. 

Even though the majority of PRC controllers are still fairly young, they understand the importance of strong union membership at their facility. Besides just attending meetings, PRC members plan many other events to bring together the group of controllers.

Josh James, a developmental at PRC, recently organized a NATCA Reloaded event for local members. Everyone got together at the local minor league hockey team to cheer on the Arizona Sundogs. 

The camaraderie between the controllers at PRC isn’t just internal but extends out into the community. Each winter, PRC participates in an Adopt-a-Family program through a local church to spread holiday cheer to a family in need. This tradition began many years ago by the late Charlene Wittman, a former Administrative Officer at the Prescott Flight Service Station when it was located next to PRC as well as the mother to current PRC controller Noel Kingston. 

PRC member Angelic Dumolt has also given a tour of the tower to a local Girl Scout troops and even attended their campout to discuss different careers for women.

During the recent fires that were being fought from PRC over a two-week period, their dedication to safety and their profession shone through. Previously awarded several safety coins from Director of Safety at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Jim Sheridan, controllers at PRC handled the increase in logistics and aircraft throughout the fires with focus and ease. 

“All of this unusually complex traffic required our controllers to work extremely well together and that they did,” said Facility President Geoff Kusel. 

There were a total of 19 aircraft based at PRC that were directly working the Doce fire in Prescott, the Dean Peak fire in Kingman, Ariz. and the Yarnell Hill fire in Yarnell, Ariz., located about 20 miles south of Prescott. Included in the aircraft were several fixed wing tankers, Lockheed P-2 Neptunes (P2V), British Aerospace 146s (BAE146) and Lockheed C-130 Hercules’ (C130), and helicopters and helitankers that included SkyCranes, Kmaxes, Chinooks, Hueys and Eurocopters. 

In addition, there were several fixed wing aircraft that acted as leads, flying ahead of the tankers to provide a flight path for them and indicating where to drop the retardant, spotters and air boss aircraft including KingAirs, Barons, Turbo Commanders and Twin Cessnas. 

The Arizona Department of Public Safety and Prescott Sheriff’s Department provided other transient aircraft to aid in firefighting. Three news helicopters and two McDonnell Douglas DC-10 tankers also flew through PRC airspace.

The influx of aircraft definitely impacted the complexity of PRC traffic and increased the workload of controllers. 

“The upwind for the main runway at PRC, Runway 21L, goes into rising terrain and nearly all fixed wing Forest Services aircraft needed to make a left 270 degree turn over the airport before departing to the fires,” explained Kusel. “Other turboprop and jet aircraft also had to do this overhead maneuver to avoid the TFR for the Doce fire which was only a couple of miles to the west of the airport.” 

The regular airport users were understanding of the situation and, according to Kusel, they all cooperated greatly in their PRC controllers’ ability to provide the best possible service to the firefighting aircraft. 

Whether it is coordinating aircraft for firefighting or enjoying leisure time together, controllers at PRC undoubtedly make a great team.

The Prescott, Ariz. community lined the road for miles as the funeral procession for the Granite Mountain Hotshots passed through Prescott Valley.  Photo courtesy Gina Higa, wife of PRC controller Glen Higa.