Airfield managers compare, integrate, learn

TYNDALL AFB, Fla. --  Second Lt. Charles Jesse, 325th Operations Support Squadron airfield operations officer, monitors live air traffic in the Radar Approach Control center here. (U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Amanda Ferrell)

TYNDALL AFB, Fla. -- Second Lt. Charles Jesse, 325th Operations Support Squadron airfield operations officer, monitors live air traffic in the Radar Approach Control center here. (U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Amanda Ferrell)

325th Operations Support Squadron

325th Operations Support Squadron

TYNDALL AFB, Fla. -- Military and civilian aircraft operate in overlapping airspace, making the task of controlling air traffic the joint responsibility of both Air Force and civilian controllers.

Airfield operations officer trainees here are taught the importance of interoperability with civilian controllers from day one. And before they graduate the course here and begin supervising air traffic controllers at operational bases, all airfield operations officer trainees must visit a live civilian air control facility to gain insight on their role in the joint effort.

"Students from all phases of the officer training program attended a four day base visit to Warner-Robins AFB, Ga., and Atlanta," said 2nd Lt. Nicole Backes, 325th Operations Support Squadron airfield operations officer trainee. "There was a two-fold purpose to the trip. The first was to expose us to other areas of air traffic control and airfield management that we may encounter while deployed. The second was to see civilian air traffic control facilities in action, and understand how military and civilian operations integrate."

Six students, accompanied by one instructor, arrived first at Warner-Robins AFB, Ga., for a lesson in deployed air traffic control operations.

"Touring mobile air traffic control equipment gave insight on expeditionary operations, and what a typical day is like for airfield operations officers when deployed," said 2nd Lt. Charles Jesse, 325th OSS airfield operations officer.

"A typical day for airfield operations officers when deployed involves deconflicting airspace and resolving airfield issues while maintaining the highest level of safety possible," said Lieutenant Backes.

Operating in deployed locations puts airfield operations officers wherever runways are built, which is often in austere locations with little time to establish working facilities.

"The insight I gained from the airfield managers at Warner-Robins AFB was how fast the Air Force can 'stand up' mobile air traffic control units for immediate service in deployed conditions," said Lieutenant Jesse. "This gives us the ability to control aircraft anywhere on the globe within one and a half hours of stand up."

"I also learned just how involved our role as airfield operations officers will be while deployed, and how our expertise is used on a regular basis by multiple agencies both at home and in deployed locations," he said.

The students were briefed on mobile Radar Approach Control systems and mobile tower units, which bring navigation devices and other needed air control systems to isolated locations.

After touring Warner-Robins AFB, Ga., and becoming acquainted with Combat Communications facilities, the trainees traveled to Atlanta to witness their civilian counterparts in action.

"Our first stop in Atlanta was to the Terminal Radar Approach Control Center," said Lieutenant Backes. "The center controls air traffic into Atlanta, Macon, and Columbus, Ga., and they communicate with military aircraft when our pilots enter their airspace."

The officer trainees learned that the challenges encountered on military airfields are similar to those civilian controllers see every day.

"The military provides a service to its customers, who are pilots, just as the civilian sector does. We operate under the same federal jurisdictions with the main differences being the volume of aircraft we control," said Lieutenant Jesse.

Students were able to better understand their civilian counterparts' duty as air traffic controllers and airfield managers after visiting the facilities and speaking with the professionals themselves.

"Visiting the Atlanta (air traffic control facilities) gave great insight into the interactions between military and civilian control centers, as well as offered a view of the Federal Aviation Administration's equipment and control methods," said 2nd Lt. Nathan Coyle, 325th OSS airfield operations officer trainee. "Military air traffic control members are in constant communication and interaction with civilian controllers. We work together to safely and expeditiously move civilian and military aircraft to their destinations."

Lieutenant Coyle said that the opportunity helped him realize "the significant influence members of our career field may have on the National Airspace System, specifically those working as Air Force representatives to the FAA."

The trainees broadened their knowledge of air traffic control, and gained new perspective.

"I have a whole new level of respect for what our civilian counterparts do on a daily basis," said Lieutenant Jesse.