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April 12, 2013 // Facility Spotlight: Fort Worth Center

Eighty-seven percent of Forth Worth Center’s (ZFW) bargaining unit employees (BUEs) are NATCA members. There are 310 total members, including 37 developmentals. In 2012, the “Raider Area” became the first area ever at ZFW to reach 100 percent membership, and a couple of other areas are close to reaching 100 percent.

ZFW is the ninth-busiest center in the United States. It is responsible for 147,000 square miles of airspace over five states, including much of Texas, parts of Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, and New Mexico. Controllers at ZFW work over two million operations per year, or an average of 5,500 operations per day.

ZFW resides inside the boundaries of Houston, Memphis, Albuquerque, and Kansas City Centers. ZFW NATCA Facility Representative Paul Lastrapes says that, generally, the center is designed to work aircraft in and out of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, but several of the areas contain Military Operations Areas (MOAs). This includes Sheppard Air Force Base, where the 80th Flying Training Wing conducts the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training (ENJJPT) program, the world’s only multi-nationally manned and managed flying training program chartered to produce combat pilots for both the United States Air Force and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Lastrapes says that controllers see an increase in air traffic during thunderstorm season, April through June. He says it is not uncommon for most east-west traffic in the United States to be routed through ZFW due to lines of thunderstorms extending from the center boundary north to Canada. Controllers also see an increase of traffic from special events such as the Texas/Oklahoma college football game in October, two NASCAR races per year, and, recently, the Super Bowl.

Lastrapes says there is plenty for members to do in their free time, as North Texas offers just about everything, from four major sports teams — including three that have won world championships — numerous universities, Dallas and Fort Worth art districts, Six Flags, and the Fort Worth Stockyards. The housing costs are low and there are also lakes for boating and fishing, and some of the best shopping and nightlife in the country.

ZFW NATCA members are very involved in their Local. They keep solidarity strong with quarterly business meetings, routinely sending 20 members to NATCA conventions, strengthening their relationship with nearby facilities like Dallas TRACON and DFW, and involvement in many workgroups.

“Getting volunteers for workgroups and other representative roles is not the challenge,” says Lastrapes. “Rather, it’s selecting from many qualified candidates.”

The ZFW NATCA Local also has seven Collaborative Workgroups, and its Safety/Events Review Committee is making tremendous improvement in the facility’s procedures, and has even become a model for other facilities.

Lastrapes says the most challenging and satisfying part about being ZFW’s FacRep is harnessing the energy that permeates through the facility’s NATCA Local, and ensuring they move the ball forward. He says the White Book years were particularly difficult at ZFW, but that the facility’s NATCA members emerged stronger because of how vigilantly they fought.

“As my generation’s time in leadership begins to fade, my personal focus now is building the deepest bench possible so NATCA ZFW continues building on the good work done by those who came before,” says Lastrapes.

Lastrapes and the NATCA leadership at ZFW recently developed a two-hour union introduction class called “NATCA First Class,” that teaches members the basics about the Union and being a member. About 50 members have taken the class so far, and Lastrapes says it is a great pre-requisite to the one-day representative class normally taken by new Area Reps, which will now be available to members who have completed the “NATCA First Class.”

“It is extremely satisfying to see these efforts pay off with a better informed and educated membership prepared to take our Local deeper into the post White Book era,” says Lastrapes.

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