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Jan. 6, 2017 // A D.C. State of Mind

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Pictured from left to right: La’Shonda Jackson, Angela Hudson and Adam Greiner in DCA Tower.

Controllers at Washington National Tower (DCA) have the important responsibility of managing flights in airspace over our nation’s capital. With safety and security of utmost importance, controllers there have learned how to ignore potential distractions and stay on task.

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Angela Hudson watches traffic at DCA.

“We are a very high-profile facility and we have tours on a daily basis – sometimes several times a day,” the tower’s most immediate past NATCA FacRep, Angela Hudson, said. “Having additional people in the tower, distractions can pile up very quickly and we have to tune them out.”

The breathtaking scenery from the tower cab may pleasantly surprise visitors who don’t know what to expect on their tour of the facility. The tower, located in Arlington, Va., overlooks the Potomac River and southwest D.C. – a picturesque view that can make it hard for them to leave.

“It’s something we’ve gotten used to here,” Hudson said. “We’re used to the additional voices, but we’re facing forward and doing our job.”

A complicated job, that is. Due to the high security of D.C., the tower manages prohibited areas in its airspace where no one can fly. The Pentagon is less than a mile northwest of the airport. DCA also has more helicopters using its airspace than most facilities, and they operate with fixed-wing aircraft.

“We’re constantly on our toes making sure we know where everyone is and everyone is accounted for,” Hudson said.

Hudson works closely with the tower’s management to ensure that everyone is on the same page about remaining focused.

The Turn Off Tune In campaign, in its third year, has helped an already highly responsible workforce stay on task by building awareness and education regarding the safety impact of distractions – including cell phones – in the air traffic control environment. Cell phone charging stations are becoming commonplace at air traffic facilities across the country as a byproduct of the campaign in order to help keep distractions out of the operational environment.

DCA Air Traffic Manager Hilary King loves the fact that when he goes up toward the tower cab, he sees all the cellphones lying on the counter of the charger in the break room.

“Safety is our number one mission, and remaining focused on the operation definitely goes hand in hand with that,” King said.

The FAA and NATCA have published this story jointly. Learn more about how controllers and managers are eliminating distractions by visiting the Turn Off Tune In website.

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DCA Controller Christian Richardson.