The EAA AirVenture® is a great exhibition of aviation. Planes and aerial feats attract half a million people and 10,000 airplanes. It also offers a unique aperture into what the FAA air traffic controllers do. Since these images of their work will contribute to the public’s understanding of and confidence in this arcane profession, the FAA should pay for the display of these talented women and men (rather than charge for it).
The work of air traffic controllers is usually virtually invisible. They work in facilities distant from airports (ARTCCs), nearby busy airfields (TRACONs) and between the runways (Towers). Unless one takes a special tour, the specific skills used to move planes from their gates, to their runways, though take-off, in transition to the en-route environment, through the airspace, back through those procedures and then down to a landing cannot be seen.
Though OSH is not a major hub airport, it utilizes many of those techniques for the 10,000 aircraft which arrive and then depart this regional airport. Special procedures are established in a document like the above NOTAM and that document reminds the pilots of the unusual patterns and procedures applicable during the event.
The flight routes are established to separate the traffic in order to handle all of the traffic. The runways are marked to make two landing strips on the one long piece of concrete. As noted in the article,
“To save time, radio cross-talk between pilots and controllers has to be limited. So pilots are often asked to acknowledge controller commands by rocking their wings back and forth.”
That’s not a standard procedure at ORD, but it is effective at OSH.
Spotters, the pink shirts sitting and scanning with binoculars, perform some of the tasks of the TRACON and/or ARTCC, assuring that the planes are oriented for the right runways. The tower helps track the planes to touchdown and later guide them to departure. The man on the ground with wands is doing what a tower controller might do to get the plane off the runway and to the right place to park. You can see at OSH for the AirVenture® most of what these controllers do back in their home facilities. As the author of the linked article aptly said, they are “wizards of spatial relations.”
The men and women, who work at the EAA AirVenture® ATC facilities, are there because they are among the best. They love the work under these unique circumstances. The public should avail themselves of this special opportunity to see the inside workings of the ATC. Many regard this show to be equal to the stunt and historic flying; so much so that the oral banter and some of the machinations on the ground are preserved in this video:
The CNN article, the video and a visit to the EAA AirVenture® are great windows to learn about what Controllers do. Such an education should reduce the mystery about and increase the confidence in what these professionals do so well.