Aviation industry is on its high business from its evolution in 19th century to today. Air travel has maintained strong growth of around 7% per year in the last decade. During peak hour times, only in the United States, about 5,000 airplanes are in the sky in an hour. There are approximately 50,000 aircraft flying in US skies each day. These figures help us to understand the complexity in operations related to these flights as these flights needs to departure, arrival and these aircraft should not collide to each other. These all functions are performed by a traffic control tower. The task for ensuring the safety of private and commercial aircraft falls on air traffic tower controller. The first question comes in your mind is that how these aircraft are kept from colliding to each other? Air traffic towers coordinate the positions of thousands of aircraft, that keep them at a safer distances from each other, assist them during landing and take-off from airports, Assist them in bad weather, ensure that air traffic flows smoothly and in any situation causing minimal delays to flights.
When we think about air traffic control tower, the image of the staff with computer panels and digital screens all placed in the tower of an airport comes in our mind. However, in real air traffic control system is more complex than that. The air traffic control system have many subdivision such as air traffic control system command center, air route traffic control system, terminal radar approach control, air traffic control tower and flight service station. The purpose of this article is to explain the role of air traffic control tower in case of emergency.
Emergency and Air traffic control Tower
Air traffic control tower is located at every airport with regularly scheduled flights. Air traffic control towers handle all activates pertaining to take-off, landing, and traffic control on the ground. The local controller placed in the tower follow up the skies above airfield that uses surface radar to keep track of aircrafts. On take-off, he is responsible for maintaining a safer distances among all planes in its field. The local controller gives final clearance for take-off to a pilot when it is safe to take off. Once the clearance is given, the pilot must decide if he is ready for take-off. If the pilot finds it ready and safe, he takes the plane down the runway. Air traffic controller plays a vital role in dealing with international and national emergencies, and it must be ready to act in case of any emergency. When 9/11, 2001 terrorist attacks took place in New York, the US closed all airspace and UK air controllers were facing an emergency situation with half of Atlantic full of aircraft, around 200 in total. These aircraft had to take care of themselves, and they turned around with making 60 miles of distance between them, and returned to airports in UK. This task was led by air control towers, and it proved to be a success.
Air traffic control tower act as predefined Airport emergency planning, in case of any emergency, Airport emergency planning is the process of assisting an airport to deal with an emergency at the airport or in its surroundings. The object behind airport emergency planning is to minimizing the condition of emergency and saving lives while maintaining aircraft operations. The airport emergency plan helps by coordinating the response from different airport services that could be assist in responding to an emergency. The airport emergency plan includes a set of instructions to ensure quick response of rescue, law enforcement, firefighting, medical services, police/security and other agencies on the airport and other competent, expert personnel, trained to meet all unusual events (accidents) and emergency conditions.
Emergencies situations for air traffic control tower
Traffic control tower make sure a smooth and ongoing proceed for schedule flights and making sure that all flights departure on time. The airport emergency plan must be provided for the co-ordination of the actions to be taken in an emergency occurring at an airport or in its vicinity. Different types of emergencies could be faced by air traffic control tower, which are: medical emergencies, emergencies involving aircraft, emergencies not involving aircraft, or combinations of all these emergencies.
- Emergencies involving aircraft.
- accident; aircraft off-airport in land or in water
- accident; aircraft on airport
- Incident; aircraft in flight due to decompression, severe air turbulence, structural, failure issues.
- Incident; aircraft is on ground
- Incident; bomb threat
- Incident; unlawful seizure
- Emergencies not involving aircraft.
- fire in structural
- bomb threat
- Disaster caused by nature
- medical emergencies
- dangerous goods
- Compound emergencies.
- Aircraft and structures
- Aircraft and fuelling facilities
- Aircraft and aircraft collision
In case of emergency with an aircraft, it is must that arrangements be made as per the full details of aircraft related information, such as fuel quantity, number of persons aboard and existence of any dangerous goods. Aircraft operators provides this information to air traffic control tower. This information will influence the strategies and tactics used to deal with the emergency. Operators in tower are also responsible for making arrangements in case of any uninjured persons which need medical assistance.
Action taken by air traffic control tower services
In the case of emergency air control tower must follow below steps.
- Initiate an emergency response, the crash alarm communication system, should be initiated.
- Notify to the rescue and firefighting service by providing information of the location where the accident happened, grid map points and all other location details, including accident time and aircraft type. Another notification may proceed by providing information details on the total number of occupants, on board fuel, dangerous goods on board, aircraft operator.
- Close the runway that is affected in order to minimize vehicle traffic on runway to prevent any disturbance in accident investigation evidence.
- Issue the below Notice to Airmen immediately:
“Airport rescue and firefighting service protection will be unavailable until XX: XX time or until further notice by air tower. All equipment must be committed to recent aircraft accident.”
- Verify by marking the checklist that the above actions are completed, indicating the time taken to notify with ID and name of person completed action.
All these steps should be coordinated with other agencies or services involve in the emergency situation such as medical team, firefighters and security services. In the case of terrorist attack, it is more important to first secure control tower itself so that all emergency plan could be implemented as per situation. In that condition a strong commination medium is used to call on emergency for a team of operational force. Control tower act as a medium between firefighters, law enforcement agencies, medical units and rescue units.
Air traffic control tower plays an important role in routine operations such as departure, arrival and ground activities on the runway, in case of any emergency situation control tower become more important. In any emergency situation such as accident any incident or terrorist attack, the emergency plan is carried out by control tower to minimize the effect caused by emergency situation and to control air and ground traffic. A smooth and ongoing flight schedule needs to be maintained by control tower but in case of emergency, control tower has the right to change its flight schedules and divert incoming flights to other airports in the same city or other cities. In the case of emergency air traffic control tower provides incident related information to all stakes in order to minimize the impacts created by incident and quickly deal with the situation. Control tower provides coordinates of incidents, fuel quantity in air craft, any dangerous goods and effected number of persons to services dealing with emergency. Air traffic control tower divert air traffic from particular area that is under the impact of incident to some safer place like some other runway or airport.
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Nolan, M. (2010). Fundamentals of Air Traffic Control. Cengage Learning.
Office, U. S. (n.d.). Aviation safety opportunities exist for FAA to refine the controller staffing process. DIANE Publishing.