For Immediate Release

Release No. ASW 19-02
October 30, 2002
Contact: John Clabes
Phone: (817) 222-5804

FORT SMITH — Air traffic controllers like Richard Alexander, a controller with Fort Smith Tower/Razorback Approach, have more than one airport to track. As a radar controller, he serves aircraft for his own airport and for several other Arkansas and Oklahoma airports nearby that don’t have their own radar coverage.

Alexander recently made a suggestion to make radar tracking at such multiple-airport areas around the country more efficient, and the Federal Aviation Administration showed its appreciation by giving the controller a $6,810 suggestion award.

Put in everyday terms, Alexander suggested a way to alert controllers when an aircraft takes off from an airport and the radar's computer doesn't recognize the aircraft. Aircraft which depart under instrument flight rules, IFR, are issued a four-digit transponder code. Normally that code is read by the system and a data tag with information such as call sign and aircraft type attaches itself to the radar display to assist the controller in tracking the aircraft.

If there is a problem, such as the pilot put in the wrong code, the computer would not recognize the aircraft and the aircraft would just be a small blimp on a busy screen. The fix, Alexander suggested, would be for the four-digit code to flash if it is not recognized and the controller would see that flash and fix the problem. FAA has adopted the suggestion.

Ft. Smith TRACON controllers manage air space over a 9,600 square mile area covering northwestern Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma. Major additional airports covered by the controllers include Northwest Arkansas Regional (XNA) and Fort Smith Regional (FSM). In 2001, Ft. Smith Tower received the Southwest Region's Tower of the Year award for towers of comparable size, Level-8 towers.