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NATCA Members Receive Air Traffic Control Association Awards - (10/1/2012)

CONTACT: Sarah Dunn, 202-220-9813, sdunn@natcadc.org

WASHINGTON - Every year, the Air Traffic Control Association (ATCA) recognizes those in the air traffic control profession who in the previous year have contributed to the worldwide air traffic control system in an exemplary way. This year, NATCA members John Blakeney, Kissimmee (Fla.) Tower (ISM), Robert Carr, Los Angeles Center (ZLA) and Brian Graham, Jacksonville Center (ZJX), will be among those honored by ATCA today for their achievements. 

John Blakeney, ISM

Blakeney will receive the Air Traffic Control Specialist of the Year Award in recognition of his outstanding 15-year career at ISM. He is the only remaining original controller at ISM since the tower opened in 1997 and is a NATCA charter member at the tower, one of the first that the union organized in the Federal Contract Tower program.

Last March, Blakeney was honored by ISM tower operator Robinson Aviation (RVA) as its Outstanding Controller of the Year for 2011. He was selected from more than 500 controllers throughout the United States.

Blakeney is a native of western Orange County, Fla., and has taken great pride in ensuring the safety of the airport and surrounding airspace of his home community. Traffic at ISM has grown from 58,000 operations in 1997 to more than two million in 2011, and Blakeney is part of a tower crew that handles a diverse blend of traffic, including aircraft from a large flight school and the Warbird Air Museum.

ISM is located just eight miles from Walt Disney World and 10 miles from the Orange County Convention Center.

Robert Carr, ZLA

Carr will receive the William A. Parenteau Memorial Award, presented to “an individual for an outstanding achievement or contribution, which has added to the quality, safety or efficiency of air traffic control.”

Carr, a NATCA member since 1990, won for his performance while serving as an Airspace and Procedures Support Specialist at ZLA from Jan. 1, 2010, through June 30, 2011. During that time, Carr’s efforts and experience were an integral component in the transformation of the Pacific Ocean warning areas within ZLA’s airspace. Specifically, Carr was the point of contact for all coordination during the redesign. Through his direction, ZLA significantly contributed to the goal of more efficient use of airspace.

The airspace, which significantly impacts the arrivals and departures into Southern California, was redesigned in several steps. Carr partnered with the military on behalf of ZLA, instilling a sense of confidence and trust. He worked collaboratively with them to redesign two contiguous pieces of airspace (W-532 and W-289). The redesign significantly enhanced the ability of the airspace users to efficiently schedule and utilize the airspace.

The projected savings from this redesign are astounding. Conservatively, the redesign for W-532 and W-289 demonstrate a total combined annual savings of approximately $1.9 million. From 2011 through 2020, a total combined annual savings is estimated at $20.4 million. And these numbers don’t yet factor in fuel and time savings.

Brian Graham, ZJX

Graham, a NATCA member since 2005, will receive the Andy Pitas Memorial Award, presented to an “individual or group who provided flight assistance that resulted in the safe recovery of an emergency aircraft through the application of exceptional air traffic service.” Earlier this year Graham saved the life of a pilot who was trapped in the clouds.

On Feb. 22, a 40-year veteran pilot, licensed to fly only in visual flight rules conditions (VFR), began to ascent on a routine flight from Ocala, Fla. to Lafayette, Ga., but eventually became trapped in a cloud cover. Stuck in instrument flight rules conditions (IFR), the pilot was nearing the Florida state line and had no idea which way to turn the plane. He was desperate for guidance.

Pilot: Jacksonville Center…I’ve got myself into a situation here. I’m into some clouds and I need to find my way out…I don’t know what to do.

The controller communicating with him attempted to help, with no success. At that point Graham, a highly skilled instructor pilot, volunteered to assist. The pilot was completely disoriented as his plane lost its artificial horizon, which was the pilot’s primary way of telling which way the plane was turned. At one point the pilot panicked as he entered a “spin,” losing 8,000 feet of altitude in a matter of moments. Graham calmed the panicked pilot, talked him through the clouds and eventually got him to VFR conditions. By the end of the ordeal, the pilot was making jokes, and as he left the frequency on which he was communicating with Graham, he said Graham saved his life.

Blakeney, Carr and Graham will be honored later today at ATCA’s Annual Awards Luncheon in National Harbor, Md.


The National Air Traffic Controllers Association represents over 20,000 highly skilled controllers, engineers and other safety professionals.

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