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April 18, 2014 // Facility Spotlight: Los Angeles ATCT

Though Los Angeles is home to the movie stars, the real stars are the 50 NATCA members and air traffic controllers who keep those celebrities safe when they fly in and out of Los Angeles ATCT (LAX).

At this level 11 tower, air traffic controllers guide aircraft on final approach into the airport inside the outer marker, and provide initial separation for aircraft departing LAX.

The LAX tower cab is relatively new, having been commissioned in 1996. From inside that cab, controllers work with both the arrival and Del Rey sector controllers at Southern California TRACON (SCT). They also work closely with LA Center (ZLA) and the Command Center.

Veteran LAX NATCA Facility Representative Mike Foote says one unusual thing at this airport is the close proximity of Santa Monica (SMO) and Hawthorne Municipal (HHR) airports.

“LAX controllers actually release SMO departures and separate from both SMO arrivals and departures,” he says.

Foote adds that LAX has one of the most interesting fleet mixes in the nation with LAX controllers working more group VI aircraft than any other airport in the country.

While most people may associate LA with beautiful weather and a healthy dose of smog, says Foote, the truth is that the tower’s location on the beach exposes it to what is known as the “marine layer.”

“We go from perfect visual conditions to RVRs of 600 very quickly,” he says. “When the marine layer rolls in, the airport operates completely fogged in with SCT controllers operating Parallel Monitor positions at a reduced rate.”

However, Foote says the biggest issue facing LAX controllers is the lack of size and antiquated design of the airport.

“The airport was designed for DC3s, but we are working B748s and A388s,” he explains. “The restrictions on this airport are too voluminous to capture in words. We had to resort to multi-colored charts with layers of restrictions to be able to capture them all.”

With Hollywood nearby, there is always an event affecting traffic for LAX NATCA controllers. From the Rose Bowl to the Oscars, there always seems to be something going on. Foote says that while LAX is busier with charter jets during a special event, it is actually the constant stopping of LAX traffic to work the VIP jets in and out of SMO that makes for an interesting day.

LAX NATCA not only hosts events for the tower’s local, but also for the “extended NATCA family,” as Foote likes to call it. He says LAX sponsors an LA Basin NATCA Holiday event every year that has turned into a very fun get together, where controllers and their significant others can interact outside of the “normal NATCA business environment.”

While LAX is a demanding professional environment, Foote says the workforce there is a good-natured group that loves and takes pride in their jobs.

“When the marine layer is not a factor, it is hard to complain about the view,” he says. “Ocean to the west, Hollywood sign to the north, and mountains all around.”

As a longtime FacRep, Foote says the last 14 years has been a very rewarding job, though it has definitely had its challenges.

“I get to represent some of the most talented controllers in the entire NAS and work to mitigate some of the worst restrictions in the entire NAS,” he says. “We always seem to be the exception to the rule here, but no matter how difficult the airport wants to make the job, our controllers somehow make it work. It has been a privilege representing such a talented, fun-loving group.”