Pilots, Controllers Talk Safety

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Ever wanted to meet the controller working your flight face to face? Well, here's your chance to address a room full of them, but don't be surprised if they have a thing or two to say about pilot performance. The occasion is the National Air Traffic Controllers' Association annual conference, Communicating for Safety, April 29 and 30 in Denver. But far from being a gripe session, participants in the panel discussions, Q&A sessions and seminars actually try to solve some of the evolving problems in the National Airspace System. This year, the conference is in Denver and is co-sponsored by the Air Line Pilots Association and AOPA. The FAA will also be there. Moderator Wes Stoops tells AVweb there's plenty for GA pilots to learn from -- and offer -- the conference. "GA makes up the majority of our business," said Stoops, a Florida controller who is one of NATCA's leading safety reps. "This is a grassroots thing. It's first-line service providers talking to first-line users of the system," said Stoops. Of course everyone is talking about the emergence of satellite-based navigation, but there have been some growing pains. Stoops said equipment performance is inconsistent, resulting in some surprises, and inefficiencies, in the air and on the ground. "There is a lot of upside potential to RNAV but we're going to have to go into it more slowly," said Stoops. Other topics include a 10-year technology forecast from the FAA (any bets on STARS deployment?) and a session on interaction between controllers and pilots during emergencies. Keynote speaker is Bruce Landsberg, head of AOPA's Air Safety Foundation. Stoops said he always makes sure there is plenty of time for audience participation. "We want to provide people out in the field with the opportunity to ask questions," he said. And don't be intimidated by all those captain's bars in the room, said Stoops. Anyone with an interest in airspace safety is welcome to take part and the modest ($50) fee includes lunch.