The AOPA Air Safety Foundation has honored six air traffic controllers for their roles in helping general aviation pilots in trouble land safely. The commendations were presented during the Archie League Awards banquet at the National Air Traffic Controllers Association‘s Communicating for Safety conference, March 3.
“Air traffic controllers are an invaluable resource in the general aviation cockpit,” said Bruce Landsberg, president of the AOPA Air Safety Foundation. “Pilots’ and controllers’ common goal is the safe conclusion of every flight, and when a pilot needs assistance, especially if he or she is the only person on board, the controller’s calm voice at the other end of the radio can be exactly what’s needed to get safely down to the ground.”
Landsberg presented commendations for controllers from six of the FAA’s regions. Mark Duncan of the Eastern Region was honored for providing “outstanding assistance” to a Cessna 150 pilot over mountainous terrain in instrument conditions. The VFR pilot reported being on top of the clouds, was low on fuel and having radio problems. Dean Pesato of the Great Lakes Region was commended for his assistance to a Columbia 400 pilot who suffered an engine failure over mountainous terrain at night. Mike Naiman of the Northwest Mountain Region was honored for assistance to a Mooney pilot in instrument conditions, who reported icing and needed vectors. Low ceilings and icing conditions required several diversions until a suitable airport was found.
Brent Evans of the Southern Region earned his commendation for assistance to a Piper PA28 pilot over flying mountainous terrain. The pilot reported icing and engine roughness, along with the loss of navigation and communications equipment and a failing electrical system. William DeBolt of the Southwest Region was honored for his assistance to a Cessna 210 pilot in instrument conditions. The pilot reported a loss of flight instruments and was suffering from vertigo. After providing an attempted approach, DeBolt diverted the flight to VFR conditions. Jason Hughes of the Western Pacific Region was commended for assistance to a Cessna 182 pilot, flying over mountainous terrain, who reported icing and a need for vectors. After determining that the first alternate was not suitable, Hughes provided vectors through high terrain at minimum altitude.
In all six cases, the controllers’ efforts resulted in safe on-airport landings with no injuries or damage. “Pilots should never be concerned about asking for controller assistance,” said Landsberg. “The controllers are there to help, and oftentimes their help is the difference between a safe landing and an accident.”