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September 25, 2014 // Facility Spotlight: Philadelphia Tower/TRACON

There are 96 NATCA members at Philadelphia Tower/TRACON (PHL), putting the facility membership at 98 percent NATCA.

PHL is a level 12 combined Tower/TRACON. In 2010 the facility divided into two areas. Area A controllers work the tower and the arrival sectors in the TRACON. Area B controllers work the TRACON arrivals, departures, and satellites.

The facility’s airspace covers a 40-mile radius, from the surface up to 13,000 feet.

PHL controllers work with those at New York Center and Washington Center, as well as with controllers at eight other approaches: New York, Potomac, Allentown, Atlantic City, HAR, Reading, DOV, and WRI. PHL controllers also work with the team of ATCs at three additional towers: Wilmington, North Philadelphia, and TTN.

Everything from small general aviation aircraft, to corporate and commercial jets, to military flights fly through PHL’s airspace.

PHL FacRep Don Chapman says one unique aspect of working at PHL is the ships that are sometimes in the channel procedures. The Delaware River is on short final for Runway 35, the crossing runway at PHL.

“Until recently, we had to send aircraft around if there was a tall ship in the river,” he says. “New procedures now allow pilots to continue on the approach if they see the ship and can safely land.”

Affecting the traffic load at PHL are skydivers, sporting events, and the occasional special event. Skydiving operations are based out of three different uncontrolled airports within PHL’s airspace, so when the weather is warm and the days are long, the “jump planes” are always out.

Philadelphia’s sports complexes are located about two miles north of the PHL extended centerlines. Anytime a sporting event or concert is taking place, there are usually a couple banner tows, news helicopters, and an occasional F-16 flyby that need to be taken into consideration when PHL controllers vector arrivals for final.

Chapman says that Vice President Joe Biden’s home is in Wilmington, Del., so Air Force Two flies in and out on a regular basis.

This past summer, the Special Olympics were held in New Jersey and all the athletes flew into TTN. PHL worked closely with N90, to extend its airspace for the event so everyone could arrive safely to TTN.

The PHL NATCA local holds a solidarity event every year for its members and, in true NATCA family tradition, extends the invite to the members’ families. Additional solidarity events include a scavenger hunt around Philadelphia and a softball tournament.

“The best part about being the FacRep is we have a large cadre of activists that I can depend on,” says Chapman. “Our E-Board is very engaged and we have a lot of joint and internal committees, which allows me to focus on larger issues.”