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May 16, 2014 // Facility Spotlight: Amarillo ATCT

Amarillo ATCT (AMA) is a level six up/down facility, downgraded about a year and a half ago according to AMA NATCA FacRep Michael Bigler.

Bigler says the AMA NATCA local has 21 bargaining unit members with union membership at 100 percent, of which the local is very proud.

“One of my members is on the Regional Legislative Committee and another is an Article 48 rep for IDS-R,” says Bigler. “We are getting our LSC (Local Safety Council) together to move forward and we are fielding collaborative workgroups to work facility issues.”

Bigler adds that it seems like the AMA local always has something for someone to work on, which keeps the membership active and involved with issues important to them.

The AMA airport was commissioned in 1929 and called English Field. It was then transitioned to an Army airfield during World War II, and then to an Air Force base that was home to B-17 and later B-29 training. Eventually, the airport transitioned to being a Strategic Air Command (SAC) base. In 2003, Bigler says, the airport became known as Rick Husband International Airport in memory of Amarillo native Rick Husband, who was the Commander on STS-107, Space Shuttle Columbia.

AMA controllers are responsible for all aircraft within 35 nautical miles of the airport, and up to 17,000 feet. AMA has one of the largest runways in use at 13,500 feet. Bigler says AMA’s airspace is rather large compared to a lot of facilities, especially for a tower/TRACON this size, which brings with it challenges.

Albuquerque Center (ZAB) is the overlying ARTCC for AMA. Bigler says the AMA controllers are very lucky. Even with the size of the facility’s airspace they only have to work with one sector at ZAB, which helps to simplify at lot of their workload.

About 60 percent of AMA’s air traffic consists of military training flights, according to Bigler. He says T-38s, Tex2s, and the K35R heavy tankers routinely drop in for training. The large airspace that helps to accommodate the training needs of AMA’s users, and makes it very interesting for the AMA controllers at times.

“We are fortunate to also have the final phase of the V-22 Osprey assembled here and flight tested along with commercial air service by Southwest, American Eagle, and United,” says Bigler.

The abundance of military training always presents its own unique set of challenges, says Bigler, especially when AMA controllers are constantly trying to blend the military aircraft in the with slower and less maneuverable aircraft, and guide them to the same runway.

“Another challenge we constantly face is the amount of wind we have to work with day in and day out,” he says. “It is not uncommon to see 30- to 40-plus knots on any given day.”

Bigler says that just recently AMA NATCA had the privilege of receiving a visit from NATCA’s national and regional leadership during a members’ meeting.

“Having Paul, Trish, and our RVP Tim Smith make the trip all the way to West Texas was a highlight that our members will not soon forget,” he says. “They all shared insights about where our Union was heading, what will be needed to secure the future of those that come after us, and the commitment that it will take to get us there.”

He adds, “It was a message that the membership heard and understood and have already been talking about doing whatever it takes to make sure this Union remains a success.”

Bigler says the AMA local is like a family in some respects, as they all occasionally have issues, however they remain a cohesive and dedicated group who have a sense of pride in what they do and how they do it.

“Collaboration has played one of the major roles in helping shape attitudes and driving professionalism in our workplace,” he says. “Most, if not all disagreements are handled at the local level and we approach any issue with what our interests are and then shape our conversations around that instead of placing blame, and it works very well.”

Bigler gives a lot of credit for the success of this collaborative environment to the AMA local executive board, whose members maintain the existing great relationships and continue working on issues while Bigler travels extensively to teach Interest Based Communications. He is also the Regional Coordinator for Collaboration for CSA-S.

“Without my E-board and the dedication of our members, our facility would not be as successful in maintaining a sustained collaborative workplace,” he says. “I have worked 26 years in this profession and I have never been more proud of the people I represent and this great Union of ours.”