There are 15 NATCA members out of 16 controllers at Lake Charles ATCT (LCH). It is a level 6 up/down tower and TRACON facility. The TRACON airspace extends about 90 miles east from the Louisiana-Texas border, 20 miles south offshore into the Gulf of Mexico, and north to about 60 miles north of the gulf coastline. LCH is responsible for everything between the ground surface up to 10,000 ft. LCH is also one of the last remaining terminal radar service area (TRSA) facilities in the country.
LCH borders airspace with Lafeyette Approach (LFT) to the east, Polk Approach (POE) to the north, Houston Approach to the west (I90), and Houston Center (ZHU) to the south and above their airspace. In addition, LCH works with multiple satellite airports, including controlled satellite airport Chennault International Airport (CWF), which is an FAA contract tower.
“We work a large variety of aircraft at LCH,” explains FacRep Brad Holz. “We handle a mix of commercial airlines, general aviation, and military, as well as a relatively large amount of helicopters in and out of the Gulf. Era Helicopters LLC is one of the longest serving helicopter transport operators in the oil and gas industry, and has their headquarters at LCH. It can be challenging when working with a mix of aircraft types, especially when trying to sequence slow GA with fast military.”
Working at LCH is a unique controller experience because of the many military operations it handles and unique approach capabilities.
“Since LCH is a smaller facility, many military aircraft will come here to train in a non-congested airspace where we are happy to accommodate requests that are out of the ordinary,” says Holz. “That includes our ability to offer opposite direction operations as well as Airport Surveillance Radar approaches (ASRs). Our satellite airport, CWF, is a former Strategic Air Command base with one of the largest runways in the state and attracts a lot of military training aircraft. Our TRACON is at its busiest when the military squadrons arrive requesting multiple practice approaches from our wide offering of approaches, including the ever-elusive Localizer Back Course approach.”
In addition to working military aircraft, the controllers at LCH are also versed in extreme weather events.
“The weather usually cooperates quite nicely, with the exception of the occasional hurricane,” explains Holz. “In September 2005, Hurricane Rita devastated the area and flooded the airport. The controllers at the time worked diligently to provide service to the thousands of helicopter operations in the following months, all while working in a temporary air traffic control tower.”
The strong NATCA membership holds several solidarity events, despite their busy operations schedule.
“We have occasional facility cookouts, and many of us try to get together outside of work to enjoy the local festivities and various recreational opportunities, such as golfing, bowling, and fishing,” Holz says.
“The local atmosphere is very amiable, and we strive to maintain a collaborative environment with our management,” Holz continues. “The ages range from young to old, yet we are all very dedicated to our profession and work well with each other. Becoming the FacRep has provided me with a great amount of insight into our profession. I have witnessed the grand scope and power of our union, and have connected with many other members throughout our profession. NATCA has been able to accomplish amazing things thanks to our unity and ability to stay focused on our goals.
“The best part about being the FacRep has been the opportunity to help others. By passing along knowledge that I have been given, I can help others who may not be as familiar with their own rights. Education is key to strengthening our union, so I encourage newer members to attend various NATCA Academy courses. It is such an honor to be a FacRep and to help improve and guide our facility forward.”