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February 28, 2014 // Facility Spotlight: St. Thomas ATCT

For some lucky people, going to work and enjoying the tropics go hand in hand! A 99 percent NATCA facility, St. Thomas ATCT (STT), lays smack dab in the middle of Caribbean paradise!

Nine NATCA members operate this Level 5 island facility from 7 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., or 7 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., depending on daylight savings time, as St. Thomas does not participate in time changes.

STT Facility Representative Toni Harrison says the facility is 40 feet tall and was commissioned in 1990 after Hurricane Hugo, and most recently in 1996 after Hurricane Marilyn.

STT controllers are responsible for aircraft in Class C airspace, from the Earth’s surface to 3,000 feet, and within five nautical miles. They mostly work with controllers at San Juan CERAP, the combined center and approach control in Puerto Rico.

Harrison says a broad mixture of airplanes fly in and out of St. Thomas, including small aircraft like Cessnas, B727s to 767s, A320s, E190s, SF34s, and all types of business jets including Gulfstreams, Globals, Falcons, Challengers, and Learjets. The mixed aircraft also includes some military C-130s, C-5s, and C-17s.

The wide range of aircraft that fly through the small, lower level tower’s airspace is one of a couple of things that that make working there unique, according to Harrison.

“We also get Christmas winds that will send B757s and B767s around short final due to gusts as high as 35 knots,” she says.

STT’s busy season starts in November when vacationers leave the cold weather behind for warmer climes. Harrison says they also see an increase in traffic towards the end of the year because St. Thomas’s large New Year’s Eve. April is also a busy month due to tourists visiting for Carnival.

Harrison says the local holds quarterly NATCA meetings and also tries to make San Juan CERAP’s NATCA events since it’s only an 18-minute flight.

Though STT NATCA is a small local, Harrison says they have an “awesome” atmosphere and all get along.

“Since we have only one controller who is non-NATCA we plan all of our meetings when he’s working so everyone can attend,” she says. “In May we will be 100 percent NATCA due to his retirement.”

The best part of being the NATCA FacRep in St. Thomas? The members.

“We work together efficiently as a team with the goal of safety first,” says Harrison. “We’re always watching out for each other to ensure the airplanes are safe.”