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May 02, 2014 // Facility Spotlight: Anchorage TRACON

There are currently 24 NATCA members at A11, including four six-month TDY CPC’s and two brand new hires who have joined the Union. There are only two non-members at the facility, and one is a new hire who hasn’t had time to join just yet.

A11 is currently a level 8 TRACON. According to A11 NATCA Facility Representative Nick Hoggan, it was downgraded from a level 9 about two years ago due to a steady decrease in traffic.

Originally Anchorage was an Up/Down facility, but the TRACON was de-combined in October of 1991.

A11 controllers guide aircraft within 35 nautical miles around Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport (ANC), from the surface to 20,000 feet.

A11 controllers frequently work with those ANC, Lake Hood Tower (LHD), Merrill Tower (MRI), Elmendorf Tower (EDF), and Anchorage Center (ZAN).

“We also communicate with Palmer and KENAI Flight Service and most recently Bryant Army Airfield, which just opened a Class Delta airspace,” says Hoggan.

Hoggan says a variety of aircraft fly through A11’s airspace, including a regular mix of small, large and heavy aircraft at all times of the day. Controllers work Cessnas, Pipers, and other small aircraft, with pilots practicing for their private pilot licenses. A11 controllers also guide heavy cargo haulers from all over the world, regional jets and Medevac aircraft on high priority flights, Airbus and Boeing aircraft transporting people into and out of the state, short-trip SAAB and Beech Jet aircraft providing service to the Alaskan Bush, and even World War II remnant DC6s that still transport cargo around the state.

Hoggan says unique to working at A11 is a variety of aircraft that few TRACONs see on a regular basis, as well as dealing with VFR situations on a much more regular basis than most facilities. ANC is in very close proximity to three other major airports, and during certain times of year the weather is such that the visibility is below VFR flight rules. During these periods, it is not uncommon for the area five to 10 miles outside ANC to be completely free of any obscuring weather.

“Because of this, we see a high demand for Special VFR departures and arrivals to and from all four major airports in this small area, which has caused us to reevaluate what rules we can use to keep these aircraft safely separated,” says Hoggan.

There are numerous events that affect air traffic for A11, including airshows, expos and military exercises. Every other year there are “Red Flag” and “Artic Thunder” events, which are large force exercises where jets and support aircraft from all over the U.S. and some foreign counterparts train together.

“During these periods our military traffic can double or even triple,” says Hoggan.

Elmendorf AFB also has an airshow every year, which generally closes down air traffic to MRI and EDF for certain periods during the day. Hoggan says aviation expos attract aircraft from all over the country, as does a very prominent hunting and fishing season in Alaska, which increases small aircraft traffic significantly, specifically heading out to rural Alaska in search of that perfect hunting location.

“When staffing permits, we try to have meet-ups where controllers can get together, get a bite to eat and mingle,” says Hoggan of how A11 NATCA promotes solidarity and camaraderie. “We try to schedule it so all facilities can attend so our controllers can meet their counterparts and network. Sadly, with our current staffing issues, we haven’t been able to do much more than that these last couple of years.”

Hoggan says the local NATCA members are positive and are very supportive of the Union. He attributes that in part because of the local’s good relationship with local management.

“We communicate well and are usually able to work any issues out fairly rapidly,” he says.

For Hoggan, the best part of being the A11 NATCA Facility Representative is how much he’s learning about NATCA and its interactions with the Agency.

“I find it eye-opening being able to see what happens behind the scenes and what hurdles we may have to overcome in the future,” says Hoggan.

“I think it is amazing getting to meet NATCA members and leaders from all over the country,” he adds. “I have made some fantastic new friends in a very short amount of time.”