Controllers, pilots meet at BDL

 - May 7, 2008, 11:45 AM

“Grab your fast food and join us for lunch” was how the invitation opened. Personnel from the ATC center at Bradley International Airport (BDL) in, Windsor Locks, Conn., conducted a noon seminar on September 4, sponsored by Signature Flight Support and the New England Air Museum, where it was held. The session was designed for pilots to meet with representatives from Bradley Center “to discuss areas of mutual concern to controllers and pilots.” The session was further billed as “a great opportunity to clear up areas of confusion and misunderstanding.” Though the problem of runway/taxiway incursions was a focal point for the seminar, participants were urged to bring any and all questions to bear.

Bob Martens, safety officer at the local flight standards district office (FSDO), and Mark Guiod, air traffic manager at Bradley Center, represented the FAA. Other controllers were involved in the presentation, which included a computer-slide program outlining recent runway-incursion incidents at BDL.

Roughly 60 pilots attended, ranging from new students to regional
airline pilots to the management of several Bradley-based corporate flight departments. The latter group representative included United Technologies, Cigna and Mass Mutual. Among the controllers present were Bill Leary (BDL tower operations) and John Crew (Tracon specialist), who are active on the FAA’s runway-incursion accident investigation team. The team travels to as many New England airports as possible to tour the runways and taxiways and offer suggestions for improving signage and procedures.

The examples of runway incursions highlighted the need for pilots’ attention to airport configurations and procedures, as well as the responsibility for controllers to maintain vigilance. In one instance, an experienced Bradley-based Air National Guard A-10 pilot inexplicably made a wrong turn on a taxiway and taxied back across an active runway. In another case, a company that makes daily trips to BDL landed and requested taxi clearance to a destination other than that to which it normally went. Apparently because he expected to hear the usual request, the controller cleared the aircraft “to the ramp,” after which it crossed an active runway on the way to its intended destination on the airport.

Though no accidents resulted from these incidents, the controllers used them to illustrate how easily mistakes can happen. The gallery of pilots added a few incidents from their experience, and the floor opened to suggestions on what could be done to minimize the danger of incursions.

A pilot for Mass Mutual suggested that when a single controller is working both local and ground control, it would be better if all the conversation took place on one frequency. Pilots would have greater situational awareness, and there would be less of a problem with pilots blocking another transmission on a frequency they couldn’t hear. The same pilot commented that his company had recently switched to NOS charts from Jeppesen and complained that the government’s airport diagrams were not as good.

A number of pilots suggested some form of a blinking “stop light” at intersections involving an active runway. However, some pilots and controllers countered that a continuously operating light system could breed complacency among pilots.

An instructor pilot raised the issue of ground controllers who were less than enthusiastic about providing progressive taxi instructions for pilots unfamiliar with the airport. Guiod assured everyone in the room that such conduct on the part of a controller was not acceptable to the FAA, and he encouraged anyone who experienced such a response to contact the tower manager at the airport. “We’re in the tower because you’re out there,” he said, “not the other way around.”

Another pilot raised the question of contract towers and enforcement of such standards at those facilities. Guiod provided the name of Tom Esposito, the regional manager for contract towers in the New England area, and reiterated that the same standards apply. (Contact Esposito at (518) 899-9622 or

Long after everyone had finished lunch, the FAA controllers remained to answer questions from all pilots at all levels of complexity–except one. Even they did not know why pilots sometimes get easy handoffs to and from the adjacent New York airspace, and other times it appears as though those electronic boundaries are as impenetrable as Einstein’s time/space continuum.