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Transcript: Podcast Interview With ZID Members Bob Obma and Brittany Jones, Great Lakes Region Archie League Award

Doug Church:  Hello, and welcome to the NATCA Podcast. I’m Doug Church, Deputy Director of Public Affairs at the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

We continue our series of podcasts looking at the 2020 Archie League Medal of Safety Award Winners, and today we want to focus on the Great Lakes Region.

During any normal shift in Area 2 of Indianapolis Center on a mid-March Saturday afternoon, assisting the pilot of a Cessna 172 Skyhawk, who encountered icing conditions, would have required the same knowledge, calm professionalism, detailed checklist of tasks, and supreme focus that experienced Indianapolis Center NATCA Members, Brittany Jones and Bob Obma, bring to work. But on this particular Saturday afternoon shift on March 21, 2020, it was the first in which three areas at Indianapolis Center were closed after positive COVID19 tests.

With uncertainty swirling as the nation began its descent into the throes of the pandemic, the challenges involved with handling an emergency situation like this Skyhawk increased.

Dennis Tyner was piloting the Skyhawk. He departed Prestonsburg, Kentucky headed for Lexington, Kentucky. That’s where he encountered icing conditions. Let’s take a listen to some of the audio.

***

Pilot:  Roger, yeah; this ice is really starting to build up and I have no de-ice equipment. And when I get lower, I see some ice.

Air Traffic Control:  [Inaudible] you said you have ice building up?

Pilot:  That’s affirmative, sir.

Air Traffic Control:  November 1086, turn 20 degrees to the right and I’m going to get you to the airspace and get you lower.

Pilot:  [Inaudible], 20 degrees to the right.

Air Traffic Control:  Number 1086 Uniform, how bad are–or what is the ice right now; how bad is it?

Pilot:  I’ve probably got about a half inch.

Air Traffic Control:  Number 1086 Uniform, roger; I’m going to be able to get you to about 3,000 feet here in a moment, or in about 15 minutes–or 15 miles. There is an airport; it will be at your 12 o’clock and [inaudible] miles, is the Moorhead Airport. Let me know if you need to start thinking about diverting let me know.

Pilot:  [Inaudible], roger.

***

Doug Church:  I spoke with NATCA members Brittany Jones and Bob Obma. Here’s our conversation.

I want to start by introducing our members to you both. You know Bob, you’ve certainly been on several committees and a lot of our members who have been at CFS and convention will certainly be familiar with yourself. So, let’s start with Brittany; Brittany, can you tell us some about your background and experience?

Brittany Jones:  Well, my dad is a controller down at–or a retired controller now–down at I90, so he got me into it. I have a degree in biology and chemistry, so I wasn’t really planning on necessarily getting into air traffic control. I always knew about it you know because of my dad. But like I said, I didn’t go to CTI School or anything like that.

And then in 2014, [a bid] came out; I applied for it, passed the BQ and got picked up. Went to the Academy and the rest is history. So, been at Indy, my first facility; probably won’t be moving for a little while. I love it up here. As far as a facility, it’s fantastic. The people here are great. And I just–I love my career. I think it’s a great place to be and I feel like I hit the lottery being able to get into air traffic and just you know be able to do this as a career, actually. It’s almost unbelievable, so yeah, I love it; I love what I do. And I love the people you know that I work with and NATCA is always great, too. You know they always–always make sure that you’re taken care of. And like I said, I just really, really enjoy what I do.

Doug Church:  That’s great. Thank you so much. Bob, introduce yourself to–to those members who–who haven’t interacted with you.

Bob Obma:  Yeah; my name is Bob. Just like Brittany, Indy was my first facility and only facility. I went to the CTI School route in University of North Dakota and got hired on in 2008, and like I said, I’ve been there ever since. I had a little bit of a time away from controlling for medical stuff. So, I did have a medical for a while, which is kind of–plays into part of the story I guess for this. But yeah; I’m also a pilot. I own an airplane and fly on the side, as well.

Doug Church:  So, let’s set the stage here. So, this third or fourth week of March and you know we’re into COVID by about a week and a half or so, tell us about the facility. And we know Indy Center was one of the first facilities to have a positive test in the initial evacuation and cleaning and all of the protocols that at that–at that point were just beginning.

What was it like at the facility? What was it like in your particular part of it? And sort of take us through the–you know the both of you as to what things were like there in the early part of this crisis.

Brittany Jones:  Well, it was a little crazy. It was unprecedented, you know something we’d never obviously experienced before. I think we–everyone did the best they could. It was just I don’t know; I feel like Bob kind of has more inside knowledge to that being the Assistant PAR and all that good stuff, as far as you know the inner workings of all that. But yeah; it was crazy, just there’s not much–you know you didn’t have anything to go off of as far as you know COVID and stuff like that was concerned.

So, it was definitely interesting. There were a couple areas around us you know that were closed in regards to–I guess really contact tracing wasn’t a thing at the time, but basically just anyone that they thought possibly could have come into contact with this person they just basically you know had to send those people home. We just didn’t really know exactly how to handle the situation 100-percent.

But we made it work and just came to work, did our jobs. I know obviously our area, you know was one of the areas that wasn’t directly coming into contact with the person that had the COVID, positive COVID test, so we were there just trying to you know help our brothers and sisters that couldn’t come to work, so kind of pick up the slack on that side.

But other than that, I guess Bob, do you want to give us kind of your–?

Bob Obma:  Yeah; I mean quite possibly the craziest week of my life, I can remember. I mean correct me if I’m wrong Brittany; I think that was the–the night this happened, I think it was the first full shift that the three areas were closed, right?

Brittany Jones:  I believe so, yeah. I believe so.

Bob Obma:  Yeah; so we came to work, and like talk about one of the most surreal scenes I’ve ever seen, like work-wise, so you’re walking down the hallway and you walk past these areas and there’s like yellow police tape marking them off, right.

And all the lights are turned on, but there’s no controllers, like you can still see some like random data-blocks on the scopes in the areas, and it was just almost something out of like a B-rated horror movie, like it just felt really strange, because our area is towards the end of the building. So, you have to walk past all these deserted areas to get to our area.

Doug Church:  Wow.

Bob Obma: So, it was a really, really surreal experience to even begin the shift of that. And to add, you know to add another thing, it was my first full shift of being recertified, so I had gotten recertified the day before. So, when you come into work–

Doug Church:  The day before.

Bob Obma: Yeah; I think it was either a day before or two days before. I’d have to look again but it was within you know 24 to 48 hours, I had gotten recertified. I had gotten recertified just before COVID hit the building.

So you’re coming into the first or second shift of being recertified after you know a long hiatus from controlling, and then you, you know you walk past these deserted areas, and then you know you get to the area, you sign in, do the weather briefing, and then you get the whole rundown of what’s going on. And it was kind of almost like a Chicago fire situation where the contingency plan was never really built for a situation like this. So, we just kind of had to work on the fly and–and make up as we go how we were going to do this.

And it was, you know it made for already a busy night to begin with because we were having to re-route aircraft around closed airspace. Aircraft going to the East Coast to get to Washington Center, they’d have to come down into our area early, so they’d have to come down below 23,000 feet to get into our area, because we work all the low airspace on the east side of Indy Center.


So, you had aircraft you know diving down that we normally would ever work that we were working and you know then we were dealing with aircraft going to Canada, trying to figure out how to get them to Canada to go around closed airspace or go into approach controls. So, it was already a pretty chaotic situation to begin with before you know the emergency even happened. So, we were maybe even–it probably prepared us a little bit because I think everyone was on high-alert. Everyone was already kind of–I think their energy level was pretty revved up. Their awareness was pretty revved up. It wasn’t a business-as-usual type of night shift.


So, if anything it probably made us a little bit more heightened in our sense of looking around at what was going on and being ready to do things that we were expected to do. But it was just a really strange week overall, because like I said, we kind of knew COVID was coming, as far as–we didn’t know we’d get a positive, but you know it was rapidly changing as far as COVID and it was just an unprecedented event as far as closing down three out of the seven areas in a facility. It’s–I don’t know if that’s ever happened before.

You know normally, if a Center goes down, it’s the whole Center whether it’s a fire or bomb threat or whatever the case may be. But having a partial closure, I don’t think it’s ever happened.

Doug Church:  I think that you’re correct there; absolutely. And–

Bob Obma:  So again, the contingency, it was never planned for. Like a lot of things with COVID, it was never planned for. So, it was really the controllers working together and coming up with plans and making things work because we just had to. We had to keep things moving. I mean traffic was still busy. I mean this was before the airlines–you know before the traffic went down before they–you know they were cancelling flights and stuff like that. So, we were working you know a full amount of traffic with roughly half of Center there. So, it was challenging to say the least.

Doug Church:  That was going to be my next question as far as the traffic volume because we had heard that there was upwards of seven out of ten flights reduced, you know 70-percent reduction. So, but you’re saying that that wasn’t really the case at that point in the crisis because you were still quite busy in the areas that were still open?

Bob Obma:  Yeah; I mean I–and again, Brittany, you can–I mean you can chime in on that, too but from what I recall we were very busy that night, because as I said it was–

Brittany Jones:  Yeah.

Bob Obma:  –it was in March. The airlines had not throttled back. I think people were still flying. It was still early on in the COVID you know pandemic. Where I think people were still taking flights and going around the country. The spread hadn’t really happened yet in the country. So, we were just as busy as any normal night shift during the weekend, which is already a busy shift to begin with.

Brittany Jones:  Yeah; nothing from what I can remember had changed as far as volume is concerned. That’s for sure.

Doug Church:  So, let’s go now to the airspace where this event occurred and this pilot of the Cessna 172 Skyhawk, Mr. Dennis Tyner, had planned his flight from Prestonsburg, Kentucky to Lexington, Kentucky. So, take us through that particular part of the airspace and some of the challenges that are involved. We know we’ve got some mountainous terrain that played a role in this but let’s set the stage of the airspace first in where this occurred. And is this the kind of thing, you know an icing event that we saw in this particular case, is that the kind of thing that’s still pretty common in March that you as controllers are keeping an ear out for when you’re dealing with pilots of this nature?

Bob Obma:  Yeah; I mean it’s–you know icing obviously is a thing. I think people tend to think of icing as a winter-only event. But icing obviously can happen year-round. It just depends on where the freezing level and precipitation is. So, I mean we get icing reports in the summertime, just more high altitude icing as opposed to low altitude.

But the freezing level being March, it was still pretty low. And the airspace is–area two in Indy Center is a very unique area as far as airspace. Our area is mostly a low airspace area, so the majority of our airspace is 23,000 feet and below. And we have a lot of airspace that is–we control to the ground. So, we have Lexington approach, Huntington approach, Cincinnati approach, but the vast majority of our airspace that we own–to the ground that isn’t controlled by an approach control.

So, we have a lot of airports that we work uncontrolled. You know a lot of our airspace in Indy Center, you know a lot of the airspace is approach control. So, we’re a unique area in that already. We deal with a lot of GA aircraft, doing a lot of approaches. A lot of the smaller GA, 172s, Piper, Cherokee(s), those types of aircraft. And our airspace is vast. I mean it stretches from the boundary of Memphis Center, so down by like Taylor County, Kentucky all the way over to Beckley, West Virginia and then all the way north of Huntington, near Cincinnati, and down south to Tennessee. So, we have a huge swath of airspace that we work this low altitude airspace.

So, we see a lot of the GA community flying through and we do have you know emergencies every now and then, and icing like anything else is you know one of the things that’s a large threat to the GA community, especially an aircraft like a 172 that has no way of shedding ice, unless you get into warmer weather. So, they don’t have any deicing equipment onboard, so that’s obviously a situation that you know we’re trained for whether it’s the [DICEM] or recurrent training every year. We talk about it and try to train you know controllers as much as we can about what icing does to an aircraft and why it is a deadly situation if it’s–if they can’t get out of it.

So, yeah, it’s a unique thing I think in our area that we deal with as opposed to a lot of the other areas that don’t have a lot of low airspace. Mostly the Approach Controls handle the GA side of things in those areas.

Doug Church:  Brittany, tell me about your shift at that point on this particular day and the circumstances that led to you becoming involved in this particular event and this particular pilot.

Brittany Jones:  Yeah; well I was out on break and I was coming back into the area. Bob was sitting at our river hazard sector, which is the eastern side of the sector, the low side that we have. And I was walking in and he was sitting there, and I just heard him basically say something about an emergency, icing situation. So my first instinct obviously is I’m not plugged in yet–is to sit down next to him and get an idea of–get a briefing from him and get an idea of what’s going on and just help as much as I possibly can because I know not only is the pilot’s workload huge at this point, but Bob’s workload is dramatically increasing at this point, as well.

So, my–like I said–just to sit down and get an idea of exactly what’s going on, what the severity of the issue is, call everybody that needs to be called. I know the airport, Moorhead, the aircraft was going into is right next to one of our Approach Controls, Lexington, so I know I needed to get on the line with them and let them know kind of what was going on, so they didn’t have any aircraft come in that direction and also to make sure that I could get an idea of where the good weather was, VMC conditions, where we could get this guy to be able to land his aircraft safely and quickly in regards to all that, get approach plates pulled up and all that good stuff, so–.

Like I said, I come back from break, just immediately wanted to sit down and help out as much as I could.

Doug Church:  And Bob, correct me if I’m wrong, but there was not an emergency declared by Dennis; is that right?

Bob Obma:  Yeah; no, I ended up declaring for him. You know a situation like that, too, a single pilot you know flying in a situation like that, I’m sure his workload was so high, I doubt that it was even on his radar to even declare an emergency. I’m–you know not being able to talk to him yet, I can imagine he was probably you know task-saturated just trying to fly the aircraft dealing with the icing building up, you know just trying to fly the airplane.

So, at that time, you know being a pilot and understanding when he reported the amount of icing that he had, I knew it was an emergency situation. It was just an automatic you know this is a situation that could go south real quick. It could end up being you know a crash with that amount of icing he had.

So, you know I took it upon myself to declare for him just to get that out of the way. And I think once that you know–once I declared for him, I think both sides, him and I were on the same page of like this is a very serious situation. We need to get this plane safely on the ground sooner rather than later. So, yeah, I ended up declaring for him and I’m sure he understood the severity of the situation but again, from the pilot side of it, you know especially if you’re flying a single pilot IFR in a small airplane, it’s already a heavily task-saturated situation. And then you add in other factors, it just becomes overwhelming. And I think you know declaring an emergency would be step you know probably five or six on what he was actually probably dealing with inside the flight–you know the flight deck of that aircraft.

So yeah, I went ahead and declared for it. I mean obviously Brittany sitting down was a Godsend. You know I–to this day, I will tell people that aircraft would not have had a good outcome without her, because it was–like I said, we were busy. I was already you know having a busy sector, dealing with the COVID situation, dealing with rerouting aircraft. I had just got done dealing with a situation of a Canadian aircraft trying to get to Canada, having to figure out how to get them through closed airspace to try to get their slot time into Canada. So, it was already a busy situation, and to add that onto it without Brittany there’s no way I could have looked up approach plates, done all these things, talked to other facilities, and then maintained focus on you know looking at the pilot’s air speed and making sure the altitudes were good, you know trying to–trying to work out in my head some of the pilot side of things and trying to make sure you know he could have a safe outcome.

So, yeah her sitting down was like the game-changer of that situation.

Doug Church:  That’s fantastic teamwork, which is so often the case in these types of events–is critical. What was the altitude that he was at when this first became a problem? Do you recall exactly where he was? Was he above 6,000 feet or was he right at 6,000?

Bob Obma:  He was below 6,000; I think he came in from Huntington Approach and he checked on from Huntington. I believe, Brittany, he was at 3,500 feet or 4,000, somewhere around there.

Brittany Jones:  Yeah; it wasn’t high above what the minimum vectoring altitude in the area was. I know that much.

Bob Obma:  Yeah; I think he checked on maybe at 4,000 going westbound and–but he–the first thing he checked on with was requesting lower. And I’d have to listen to the tape again, but I believe I missed that and he came back and said he needed lower. And I gave him the minimum altitude and then that’s when he first said he needed lower because of icing, which then kind of perked up my ears.

He didn’t sound distressed, so at first, I was like okay. He’s getting a little bit of icing. He wants lower. And then when I came back around to ask him the type and intensity it’s when I was realized how serious the situation was. He was getting, I believe, his first was he was getting moderate icing, which then later turned into borderline severe icing.

Doug Church:  So, at that point that’s when the possible–or the probability of needing to get down to an alternate airport like Moorhead, Kentucky became the job number one. Is that correct?

Bob Obma:  Yeah; absolutely. Because in that situation, too, he’s already low. He’s within 1,000 feet of our minimum vectoring altitude. So, I quickly you know interpolated and again Brittany was key bringing up some of the weather reports and looking at where the freezing levels were and I knew he was going to be able to get low enough to burn the ice. There was no way.

So, the option of him trying to duck down below the freezing level to burn off the ice wasn’t going to happen. So, that–to me, once he told me how much ice he had, it was a time issue. It was okay; he’s building ice. He’s not–he’s not going to shed any ice. If anything, he’s going to keep building ice on the airplane. So, he can’t descend out of it. The amount of ice he had, there was no way he was going to be able to climb out of it even if he could get above the precip to try to burn it on the topside of it. So, it became a time situation that he needed to land. He–you know I made the call that he wasn’t going to make it to Lexington, and I still don’t think the plane would have made it to Lexington with the amount of ice he had.

So, it became an issue of we need to get him pointed to the nearest airport that he could shoot an approach into because all the airports [were] IFR. So, he was going to have to shoot an approach, so even if he had went to Lexington, he wasn’t going to be able to shoot to visual. He’d have to do an approach, so it’s a time issue. So, that’s when I pretty much told him, you need to divert to another airport. We need to get you on the ground you know to get this situation resolved. And he was very, very obliged to do that. There was no you know discussing it really. He was like yep; I–you know I agree. And that’s when we kind of started shooting him towards Moorhead and setting him up for the GPS approach.

Doug Church:  How long a period of time was it then from that point to when he finally was able to land?

Bob Obma:  Oh Brittany, maybe you might know. I honestly–you know a situation like that it feels like an eternity, but it may be–

Brittany Jones:  Yeah.

Bob Obma:  –I don’t know, Brittany, 15 minutes, 20 minutes.

Brittany Jones:  At the most. I would say probably 10 or 15. It wasn’t really that long but like you said, it felt like so much longer because we were just waiting and like come on, like get the airport in sight, you know let us know that you know you’re safe and that kind of stuff. You’re just like almost holding your breath like come on. You’re set up on the approach now. You know just waiting. So, I would say probably 10 or 15 minutes, but like Bob said, it felt like forever.

Bob Obma:  Yeah and I–and I think a part of it, too, is you know between Brittany and I we keep talking to each other, like did we miss anything? Did we–is there anything else we could do? You know we’re trying to think outside the box, you know. So, you’re thinking about a million things every second. You know you’re thinking about Plan A, B, C, and D, and–and you’re getting ready for what if he goes missed? Okay; well, we got a problem. How are we going to deal with this? So, like, during that 10, 15, 20 minutes you know your brain was just working overtime. I don’t think I’ve ever been so tired after–. I remember getting like the relief briefing and going on break; I was just like I plopped down in a recliner and I was like oh my god. I just like–man, I was spent, and it was early in the shift and I was kind of just done because mentally it was just that was a very taxing mental 15 minutes.

Brittany Jones:  Agreed.

Doug Church:  And what a way to come back into CPC fold, right, as you were saying. I mean this was your first shift, or your first day after becoming fully certified again, so–.

Bob Obma:  I mean I think that like yeah that was like a–the phrase baptism under fire probably was pretty apropos to this situation. You know then add in COVID to it, too, it was kind of the–the one, two–you know the one, two punch of kind of getting your feet wet and getting back into it.

But, I mean again, that’s the great thing about you know working with professional people is you know people like Brittany and my trainers, who had been in the agency less time than me, but were–and probably had been CPCed the same amount of time, were nothing but professionals. They helped me along the way. They trained me like they would anybody else. They gave me critiques, how to be a better controller, and they treated me fairly and just like anybody else would, right, like any other trainee. And that I think was just as important being able to help do the situation was having you know my trainers and–and people like Brittany, who you know I’m higher seniority but you know they–they treated me like an equal and they knew the situation coming back from being out on a medical for a long time and they were nothing but gracious and wonderful coworkers that helped me get recertified. And then you know obviously Brittany coming in and helped bailing me out in an emergency situation, so it–you know that just speaks to having–.

Brittany Jones:  Fantastic job, so not to interrupt, but [Laughs] more like just helping you along the way.

Doug Church:  Well Brittany, the–the amount of things that you had on your plate there, I mean in thinking of all the different things that had to be done and checking them off one-by-one, you got the winds and the weather. You’re trying to determine the best approach into Moorhead Airport, which is an uncontrolled airport, as we now know.

Taking care to amend a flight plan, getting the phone number for the airport to your supervisor, so he could call and ask the manager to make sure the lights are turned on, all those things, I mean it’s a checklist one-by-one-by-one. Talk about going through that kind of a checklist and–and making sure everything is taken care of in that condensed period of time that you had there.

Brittany Jones:  Like you said, just like any other checklist you know that you go through in your mind. It’s just you know I need to make sure that we get everything to the point where it’s the safest–safest things that we can come up with in regards to you know what are the winds like, what type of approach first of all should we you know set this person up for, making sure that you know I called Lexington to ensure that they didn’t have anyone coming in that direction, kind of give them a heads-up on you know what we were dealing with at the time. Letting the supervisor know hey; you know we got this going on. This is exactly what’s happening to pulling up the approach plate, amending the destination to Moorhead, getting the initial approach fixed for that GPS approach put up on the scope, so that way Bob didn’t need to look over if he needed to–some sort of visual guide to point the aircraft in that general direction so that he didn’t have to try to navigate towards that fix while he’s trying to deal with his icing situation. He can kind of already just be you know in that direction.

So, making sure that’s up there for him, so that he can get him established on a turf(ed) out measure of the–of the approach itself. And then you know obviously pulling up the AFD, making sure that we know you know like you said, how to get the lights turned on, you know have the supervisor call the airport manager and make sure that’s done, also let them know kind of what’s going on and figure out if we need any emergency vehicles you know standing by of any sort, so that we can get that going and get them on the way, so that they can kind of intercept if there is some sort of crash you know in that situation. Just a lot of things going on, but you know as long as you know you make sure that you take it one-by-one, you don’t forget anything and everything gets taken care of that needs to get taken care of.

Doug Church:  So, toward the end of this event then, so you’ve done everything that you can do, and he’s all set up for a successful approach and landing. But as we know, he goes beneath where you can see him and talk to him at that point. Talk about those moments of not yet knowing that he’s on the ground safely and then how were you informed then that he was.

Bob Obma:  Yeah; I mean that’s obviously like the worst part, right, because I mean you know the air traffic controller in the description of our–you know is controlling, right, so at that point you’re no longer in control. So, you’re just a passenger at that point. You’re just waiting for the outcome. And you know being somebody who is a member of the Critical Incident Stress Management Team for NATCA, you know I have an aviation safety background through college, you know that there is a chance that this is not going to be a positive outcome, right.

I mean this aircraft has got a ton of icing. It’s a stressful situation for the pilot. He’s overwhelmed. You know any small mistake on his part could lead to a disastrous outcome as well. And that being said, I mean I need to point out that the pilot obviously with the amount of icing he had and how calm he was and was able to land that aircraft is really actually an extraordinary thing on its own because I will tell you this, when he landed, you know our supervisor talked to him on the phone and I remember our supervisor later that night saying, I could barely hear him because the ice was crashing off the airplane as it was melting off. There was so much ice, the supervisor could barely hear him talk because it was just every other word was being drowned out by ice that was falling off the airplane.

Doug Church:  Wow.

Bob Obma:  So, the fact that pilot was able to have the successful landing speaks volumes to his skill as well. But those–and again, I mean I’d have to ask Brittany, I don’t know. Maybe we waited three minutes, four minutes, maybe, I don’t know. But it felt again like an eternity. And you’re just–you’re just a passenger. You’re just waiting.

Brittany Jones:  Time is super-irrelevant in those situations. You just–you don’t even think about it. It just feels like you said, like an eternity.

Bob Obma:  Yeah and again and that’s–the worst part is you don’t have control, right. You’ve done everything you think you’ve done, and if anything, you’re–those minutes that you’re waiting, you’re probably starting to second guess yourself. Did I do this correctly? Could I have done this better? You know so you’re kind of playing mind games with yourself because there’s nothing else you can do, right. You can’t focus on what else to do because at that point you’re done.

So, that was probably the most stressful because you had a second to breathe, but during that second to breathe you also had a second to second guess yourself and to think back of like things that maybe you could have done better or wish you would have done or whatever the case may be. So, that probably for me that was the scariest and worst part of the event because I no longer had a control of it.

Up until then you know you didn’t really have a chance to be nervous or scared or whatever because you had a job, you had a mission to do. But once the mission was over as far as you know the aircraft was turned over to the CTAF frequency and they’re on their own, flying to the final approach, you know Brittany and I were done. And I think we just kind of looked at each other like oh boy, like I hope this works out well, man, like we thought we did everything we could. But you know we just kind of looked at each other. I mean I remember looking at Brittany and going man, I hope this works out, because that–like that’s you know–. Like, being a pilot, I knew he was in a bad spot. Like, that’s a lot of icing he had. So, yeah; you just kind of–again, sat back and you know took a breath.

But at the same time, I remember like we were busy, so like you couldn’t even breathe that long. You had to go back to re-routing aircraft around closed airspace and you know getting back into the groove of diving aircraft into Washington Center that we normally would never do, and all these different things that you know that just–if anything, it probably helped, too, is that you had refocus your brain, okay. You got to get back to work. This isn’t like–you know the rest of the [NAS] needs help now, too, so–. That probably helped as well. [Laughs] It wasn’t a slow night, so–. [Radio Talk]

Doug Church:  And Brittany, if you–considering everything that this was the early part of COVID and all the unknowns you had as you were describing earlier, you and Bob, all those areas closed, the surreal nature of just being at work that particular day, then having this to deal with, would you put this at or near the top of your list of most memorable shifts so far in your career?

Brittany Jones:  Oh absolutely; for sure. I mean it’s one thing you know coming into the building and you see people in HAZMAT suits, you know spraying the areas down and cleaning everything and you know that’s surreal in and of itself enough. And then you know to come in and be helping you know basically save someone’s life and make sure that you know they get on the ground safely in these adverse weather conditions, yeah definitely one of the most I would say memorable days, if not couple of months even after that to be honest with all the COVID stuff up until this date I’d say, for sure.

Bob Obma:  Funny, like I would say Brittany, too, isn’t it amazing how it feels like an eternity. I remember those first days in March with COVID, when they were discussing going to the COVID schedule and all these–and it was like a new job all over again. And now you know while it’s still not normal, it feels like an utter eternity ago of that day, of how COVID, how we felt about it, as far as like it was so new, and again, closing areas and it’s amazing how little time has passed but how much time feels like it’s passed.

Brittany Jones:  Oh yeah; absolutely. It’s been crazy. I mean you’re not only you know coming into this work situation and it’s completely you know different, but you adapt because you adapt to everything. You know but you’re also worried about your family and your friends and this new virus that you just don’t know anything about, you know that’s so deadly. And you’re just like oh man. It’s been wild; that’s for sure. It’s been crazy.

Bob Obma:  Yeah and like the thing is like I mean in March the thought of facilities closing right was like panic mode. And then you know I went into the Mid last night and you get your briefing and they’re like oh by the way. Memphis, Kansas, Minneapolis, and I forget what other facility’s Center was going to close for cleaning. And it was like okay; like not like you get used to it, but you’re like okay, from this time to this time we’re going to lose Memphis Center and Kansas City Center. And it isn’t—not that it’s normal but it’s surely not surprising anymore.

Brittany Jones:  No.

Bob Obma:  But if you would have told me in February like oh by the way, like in the next nine months every other night a facility is going to shut down, you’re going to be like you’re insane. You need to go on medication. Like, but it’s just the new reality we live in.

Like last night it’s like okay; yeah, Kansas and Memphis are going down for cleaning. That’s pretty normal. And again, like it’s not normal but it’s kind of the new normal if that makes sense.

Brittany Jones:  Absolutely.

Doug Church:  Absolutely; yeah. That–what a strange trip it has been for sure this year and just simply awful for–for everything. And you and your colleagues have stood tall once again to deal with the unexpected and–and put your training and experience to wonderful use, so–

Bob Obma:  Yeah and I think that’s the thing Doug about this, too, is I think this is something that people–and especially maybe people that aren’t controllers listening to this, too, is like I have to say the amount of professionalism inside Indy Center and the rest of the country I mean again it’s–it would be easy for people to go you know what? You know there’s a chance that we may get COVID. I don’t want to do this. But people, you know they put their pants on, they tie their shoes you know tight, they came into work, and they said you know what; we have a job to do and we’re going to do it. And it’s going to be a little bit more stressful. We know that we’re going to be at higher risk than people that can stay home to get COVID, but no one complained. I’ve never heard Brittany once say I’m not coming to work; it’s scary.

I mean no; she’s–I’m coming to work. I have a job to do. The flying public depends on us, right. The Military, you know Medevacs, everybody depends on us to come to work knowing that you know we’re at a higher risk of getting COVID than a lot of other people that you know can stay home and not go to work.

But I–you don’t hear people complain because they’re professionals. They have a job to do. And while when we signed up, we didn’t sign up knowing that there would be a global pandemic, but when you sign up for the job, you sign up for shift work. You sign up knowing that it’s going to be trying times. You’re going to miss family events. And I think people knowing that this profession, while it’s a beautiful, wonderful profession, it can be a difficult profession. It just shows the professionalism of people being like you know what? It’s a risk but you know the flying public and the taxpayer has put that on our shoulders and we need to deliver. And people still–they come to work. No one is not coming to work and not doing their job right now. They know the risk, but they know that they need to come to work and that they have a job to do.

Doug Church:  And Brittany, being a second generation controller, you have known for a long, long time you know the nature of the job, the nature of the challenges, and everything involved, and you willingly signed up because you love it. And certainly, that was on display this day and each of your days at Indy Center. Any closing thoughts from you?

Brittany Jones:  Just how proud I am of everybody. You know like Bob said, everybody comes to work, you know they don’t complain, they show up when they’re supposed to be there, and they literally put everything on the table every time they walk in to make sure that everyone is–you know the flying public as well as general aviation pilots are you know as safe as they can possibly be. And like I said, I’m just proud as heck of all of them.

Bob Obma:  I guess the last thing, Doug, too, is I think you have to–we can’t–we can’t not think you know our FacRep Mark Schneider who has done an amazing job you know kind of guiding the–the Local Union through this pandemic. I mean again, he didn’t get trained on how to handle a global pandemic, right. He–you know he comes to work and works his tail off. Drew McQueen, our Regional RVP has done an amazing job keeping us informed on the–on the pandemic, letting us know–I mean obviously we have great leadership in Paul Rinaldi and Trish Gilbert who have kept our membership. I mean I think we’re just so fortunate to have a Union that cares about its–its members and–and tries to keep them informed from the local level to the top.

And I truly believe without NATCA this situation you know whether it’s an emergency situation or how to deal with the pandemic or whatever, I feel without the Union I would not be put in a position of success that I am. And so, I think that a lot of that comes to having a Union that cares about its members, like I said, all the way from the local [inaudible] up to the–you know your president and vice-president.

Doug Church:  Well thank you. That’s very well-put. Thank you both for your time. I really, really appreciate this. And it’s been an absolute pleasure to speak with you both, so thank you.

Brittany Jones:  Thanks for having us.

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