New England Region: Patrick Sullivan – Boston ATCT (BOS)
Article by Shannon Lyman (Boston Center, ZBW)
It was a typical Tuesday evening around 11:30 p.m. when Boston Tower (BOS) controller Patrick Sullivan was contacted by the pilot of N477GJ, a BE40, requesting to taxi to Runway 9. Patrick issued taxi instructions of Bravo, Charlie, and Mike with clearance to cross Runway 4L. The pilot read his clearance back incorrectly, which lead Sullivan to reissue the taxi clearance, which the pilot again read back incorrectly.
“In the back of your head, you are kind of like, I want to pay attention a little bit more to this particular pilot than normal,” Sullivan said, recalling the exchange.
As N477GJ started his taxi, he had the wrong code entered into his transponder, which Sullivan noticed as well. The pilot turned off his transponder to reset the code.
“I may have even given him the taxi instructions again, just to make sure,” Sullivan noted.
The airfield at Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) is complex. All the taxiways intersect runways, and it can be confusing for any pilot, particularly corporate pilots who are not routinely going in and out of BOS.
To get to Runway 9, you must cross Runway 4L and then make a 90 degree turn on Taxiway Mike, which brings you right to Runway 9. But this pilot did not do that. This pilot did not make the turn onto Taxiway Mike and was heading right for Runway 4R, which had an aircraft on short final.
“I jumped up and said, ‘STOP!’ and he stopped and said, ‘Thank you’ and asked if he was in trouble,” Sullivan recalled. “I said, ‘No, you didn’t cross the runway, you didn’t get onto the runway. Just stay right there.’”
Patrick decided the best course of action was to have the pilot hold position and eventually turn around on Runway 4R and taxi him to Runway 9, as initially assigned.
“Weren’t going to assign a new runway,” Sullivan said. “Make sure there’s no planes in the area, he can enter the runway he’s about to get on, turn around, and taxi to 9.”
Once N447GJ was turned around and taxied to Runway 9, he took off without incident.
“The controller who I was working with, Rob Lawn, who I work a lot with on overnights, he and I just looked at each other, and just took a deep breath and moved on,” Sullivan said.
This was a great save by Sullivan, but he made sure to note, “Many people I have worked next to over the years have done the same exact thing. It is just something you see, you do, you take a deep breath, and you move onto the next function.”
When asked what lessons he has learned over his 23-year career that led him to this level of awareness and safety, he credited the older controllers he has worked with in the past. Sullivan said they pushed him to make sure he was paying attention, that he was not turned around to the back of the tower cab having conversations. They engrained in him: “You can always be doing something. You are always going to catch something. Stuff is always happening.”
Sullivan recommends to the younger generation of air traffic controllers work to eliminate the distractions.
“I know it can be boring at times when you’re not busy,” Sullivan said. “But those are the times you really need to catch the mistakes.”
Congratulations to the NATCA Archie League Medal of Safety recipient for the New England Region, Patrick Sullivan of Boston Tower!
“The modern-day impediment to aviation safety is distractions. Patrick’s commitment to his craft and the safety of the National Airspace System were evident that night. His focus on every detail of his role as an air traffic controller during a midnight shift saved the aircraft involved from an impending life-threatening event. Congratulations Patrick and thank you for your dedication to safety!”
– New England Regional Vice President Mick Devine