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August 17, 2013 // Facility Spotlight: Palm Beach Tower/TRACON

48 controllers work at Palm Beach Tower/TRACON (PBI), making the facility 99 percent NATCA membership.

This level 9 facility operates 24 hours a day. The current tower is 97 feet tall, but the new tower, which controllers will move into on Sept. 10, is 231 feet tall. Construction for the new TRACON is set to begin in November this year.

PBI TRACON controls the surrounding airspace from the surface up to 12,000 feet. West End Bahamas is 60 miles east of the facility, and Lake Okeechobee is 50 miles west of the facility. There are many other airports in PBI’s airspace, including three other satellite airports with towers, Witham Field (SUA), Boca Raton (BCT) and Gwinn (United Technologies) (64FA), and some of the busiest uncontrolled airports – Lantana (LNA) and Palm Beach North County (F45). PBI TRACON works next to Miami Center (ZMA) and Miami Approach Control (MIA).

PBI’s traffic is about 60 percent corporate aircraft and 40 percent air carrier aircraft. PBI NATCA Facility Representative Shane Ahern says the facility sees a lot of “island traffic” due to its proximity to the Bahamas and the Florida Keys.

Working at PBI is unique because traffic increases exponentially during the winter months due to the high demand of travel to Palm Beach Island. Ahern says the facility runs anywhere from 1,100 to 1,600 operations a day, with Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Sundays the busiest traffic days for PBI.

“Everyone heads here in the winter as a premiere vacation destination for the rich and famous,” says Ahern. “People such as Jack Nicklaus, Ernie Els, Alan Jackson, Jimmy Buffet, and more all base their flight operations out of PBI.”

Ahern says the annual Honda Classic Golf Tournament hosted in Palm Beach County also increases the facility’s traffic.

Ahern has immense enthusiasm and passion for NATCA, which is clearly reflected in the strength of the PBI NATCA local. Now in his ninth year as PBI Facility Rep., Ahern says the local truly represents solidarity and what it means to be a union family.

“Palm Beach has been through a lot throughout the past and we have always been able to come out on top of any bad situation,” says Ahern. “Whether it was Hurricane Wilma, or thinking our TRACON may be moved, the controllers here have always motivated me and supported me in ways I can’t thank them enough for.”

He continues, “I truly feel that all of the members at PBI have had me and my family’s back 100 percent of the time I have spent here as FacRep, and I surely know I will always have theirs.”

Ahern attributes his passion and ability to motivate his local to the example set by other leaders in NATCA.

“All of the great people you meet in NATCA and the aviation community always have a way of invigorating my career,” he says. “Other FacReps and NATCA leaders in the area have made South Florida a special group and a special place. I feel we are at the epicenter of what it means to stand together and work together.”

With such a great NATCA atmosphere, the PBI NATCA local is seeing a lot of new controllers who are raring and ready to get involved in the Union.

Ahern plans to keep the enthusiasm and excitement going by hosting a solidarity event shortly after the controllers move into the new tower.

“We are working on including our surrounding facilities – including FLL, FXE, FPR, VRB – and would love former NATCA President John Carr to come and speak to us about the importance of the PAC,” says Ahern. “Mitch Herrick and I are currently in the planning stages of the event. Should be a lot of fun!”

In addition to the great work PBI NATCA does at the facility, Ahern says many PBI controllers are pilots and participate in local community activities.

“The last two years, NATCA Charitable Foundation (NCF) has supported a walk for Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JRDF).”