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January 31, 2013 // Facility Spotlight: San Marcos Tower

There are six air traffic controllers at San Marcos Tower (HYI) and they’re all NATCA members. The members at this 100 percent NATCA Federal Contract Tower (FCT) in Texas organized so quickly that they had a NATCA charter before the tower even opened!

Open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. CST, this 100-foot tall tower opened Sept. 1, 2011. The NATCA charter was signed three days prior.

The six members of all Certified Professional Controllers (CPCs), work with controllers at Austin Approach Control (AUS), and guide mostly general aviation aircraft, student aircraft, corporate aircraft and some medical EVAC aircraft. HYI controllers also work with the Randolph Air Force Base training squadron, guiding its military aircraft when they fly into HYI to practice emergency landing procedures.

HYI NATCA Facility Representative Ed Mears said that a unique part of working at the facility is that with Austin close by, HYI gets involved working a lot of special events such as the inaugural Formula 1 motor race held last November and University of Texas athletic events. Another unique aspect is that four of the current HYI members are retired from AUS, so they know very well the airspace and needs of the sole facility with which they work.

Mears said with the University of Texas 20 miles up the road and Texas State University nearby, HYI sees an increase in traffic for all athletic events. He said the Formula 1 race, the only one of its kind in America, creates a surge in traffic as well.

“Every hotel room around here for miles was sold out,” said Mears. “We had lots of helicopter taxis to the (race) track.”

Mears said HYI also sees periodic Bonanza fly-ins, wherein about 150 of the aircraft fly to San Marcos Airport in March to fly around the area for fun. For events creating a huge increase in traffic, the FAA gives HYI temporary radar displays, which Mears said NATCA is working on getting permanently for the tower.

“The biggest thing San Marcos has been trying to do ever since we opened is get a radar display in the tower,” said Mears. “NATCA has been working really hard with the collaboration workgroup to make that a permanent thing.”

Like most FCTs, HYI doesn’t have a large number of air traffic controllers, making it hard for the group to hold NATCA solidarity events because usually half of the group is working during the event. HYI members do make sure to wear their NATCA 25th anniversary t-shirts, and they sometimes get together with their NATCA brothers and sisters at AUS solidarity events.

Even though there is a small group at HYI, Mears said the NATCA atmosphere is “pretty good.” He said the manager at HYI is a retired FAA manager and understands the importance and value of having a good, collaborative relationship between labor and management.

Mears said the best part of being the HYI NATCA facility representative is having a say in the work environment and representing the controllers.

“That’s the best part of being a FacRep anywhere, really,” said Mears.

For HYI NATCA members, there is plenty to do outside of work. Mears said Austin is “the mecca” for things to do, as it’s right down the road from San Marcos and offers a vibrant nightlife and plenty of sports events. For outdoor enthusiasts, the San Marcos River flows through the heart of the city. People can kayak, snorkel, swing, and float on inner tubes. They can also relax in the parks that surround the river. The city boasts more than 1,700 acres of parks and natural areas ranging from soccer fields to natural areas with foot trails and rugged bike paths.

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