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April 02, 2015 // Facility Spotlight: Grant County Tower (MWH)

Grant County (MWH) is a class D, level six, up down facility located in the state of Washington, south of Seattle Center (ZSE), west of Spokane (GEG), and north of Pasco (PSC) and Tri-Cities (YKM). It boasts an impressive 100 percent NATCA membership, consisting of nine CPCs, five trainees, and a staff specialist.

According to FacRep Chris Gerpheide, the airfield was commissioned in 1942 as the Moses Lake Army Air base. It was renamed Larson Air Force Base and served as a military SAC base until 1965 when the Air Force shut it down and the port of Moses Lake took over. At that time, it was commissioned as an airport and FAA facility. MWH was named FAA Airport of the year for the NW Region in 1993, according to the Port of Moses Lake’s publications.

In 1969 MWH was the test facility for the first 747 and has just completed testing for the new 747-800 model and 787-800 and 900 models. In addition, MWH has hosted some of the largest aircraft in the world like the Antinov 225 because of their large runways, taxiways, and parking ramps. In addition, Gerpheide adds there is a premier flight school located on the field along with FBOs capable of handling any aircraft flying today.

One of the biggest things that sets MWH apart are its 10 runways; the largest is 13,503 feet long by 200 feet wide.

“Our traffic is a great mix of small, large, heavy, and occasionally super heavy aircraft,” explains Gerpheide. “We are a primary testing facility for the Boeing Company, and many of the iconic aircraft flying today have received portions or their entire air worthiness certifications at our facility. These aircraft include everything from the modern Boeing fleet, the Concord in 1974, ERJ-45, and, coming soon, the all-new Mitsubishi regional jet. The Concord at the Imperial War Museum in Duxford, U.K., actually boasts ‘Miss Moses Lake’ on it today.”

Adding to the unique airspace is the assault strip that the military uses for training, which consists of a 3,000-foot runway where C-17 transport aircraft conduct high angle descents to the small, narrow runway. MWH is also a preferred facility for the Navy in training their P3, F18, C40, and new P8 pilots.

“We are lucky in having low terrain, 300 days of sunshine, and a community that is used to seeing every make and model of aircraft flying overhead,” says Gerpheide.

Although it has 100 percent membership, MWH is understaffed.

“Despite our low numbers, our approach control runs 16 precision approaches to our airport and four precision approaches to a satellite airport to our north (EPH),” Gerpheide says. “Several Military Training Routes (MTR) begin or end within our airspace, including military drop zones, IR routes, and SKE routes. There are five other airports (municipal and private), located within our class D airspace, making our operations, wake turbulence, and intersecting runway operations very complex.”

Having been an FAA employee for just over five years and FacRep for over a year, Gerpheide is incredibly proud and considers it an honor to have been elected FacRep.

“Being the NATCA rep at our facility has been an incredibly rewarding experience,” he explains. “In talking with my counterparts at other facilities, it’s clear we face many of the same issues the big facilities have, like short staffing. Despite the increased workload, the NATCA members I serve are incredibly dedicated to this job and take pride in our operations. Their willingness to go above and beyond has really shown me how much a unified workforce can accomplish without sacrificing the quality of service we provide to the users. That’s really the best part about NATCA; this dedication goes beyond our facility and extends all the way from our members on the floor, up through my incredible RVP Jim Ullmann, and the NEB. Anytime we have needed help, guidance, or advice, NATCA members have stood ready to assist. I look forward to all the challenges and triumphs we face in the coming years, knowing there is such a great network of experienced, like-minded individuals working for a common goal.”