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The Air Up There Podcast

E1: Air Traffic Amid a Public Health Emergency

Published: Tuesday, August 18, 2020

The COVID-19 public health emergency has dramatically reduced the number of passengers flying in our airspace, but the National Airspace System remains a critical part of our nation's response. From keeping flights carrying PPE on track to mitigating risk inside the tower cab, here's how the FAA's air traffic control team keeps the system running. Hear from Air Traffic Controllers and supervisors from Bedford, MA, Memphis, TN, and others across the system as they discuss how the public health emergency affected them at work and at home.

Read the show notes on our blog.

E1: Air Traffic Amid a Public Health Emergency

E1: Air Traffic Amid a Public Health Emergency

Transcript

John Croft:
Hi everybody and welcome to The Air Up There. This is a podcast about everything aviation. It's for the aviation connoisseur. In other words, the aviation geek. My name is John Croft.

Alison Duquette:
And I'm Alison Duquette.

John Croft:
And we are aviation geeks and we happen to work at the FAA. In today's episode, we're going to talk about the FAA's air traffic controller workforce and how they've been adapting to the COVID-19. What's it been like for them lately? What have they been up to? We're going to find out. As you know, Alison we've adjusted at the FAA our operations to deal with COVID-19 and it's been a big impact across the board. Everything we do is different right now. We're of course, focused on keeping everyone safe, and that includes our own air traffic controllers, inspectors, and tech ops people. And most importantly, the traveling public. During this episode, we're going to catch up with a few FAAers from around the U.S. to find out how they've been dealing with this strange and stressful situation, how it's affected them and their families and how we've maintained a laser focus on safety despite the obstacles.

Alison Duquette:
We're all working differently these days, John, including our field reporter, Chris Troxell, who paid virtual visits to two of our employees, Miguel Rodriguez and Alyssa Smith. They're on the Bedford, Massachusetts, air traffic control team. And they've been on the front lines, helping operators get COVID supplies to where they're needed.

Chris Troxell:
So Miguel, let's start with you. You said that traffic at Bedford was down about 80%, but the flight that you are working, you said, are some of the most critical that you've worked in your entire career, same with controllers at the facility. Can you tell me what that's been like for you?

Miguel Rodriguez:
Absolutely. We're looking at a 75% drop in traffic overall. The weather today is beautiful and it would be hopping on a normal May day, but the pandemic has slowed everything down dramatically. We're watching fewer and fewer flights, but the ones that we have seen, we have seen V-22 Osprey flights coming from North Carolina with military personnel coming to help and assist with the Boston field hospital, Boston Hope hospital, and C-17s coming from Washington with medical personnel and equipment. Even the angel flights and the compassion flights that are coming into the airport with face shields from Indiana and Pennsylvania. Really everyone stepped up. This is unprecedented. It's amazing to see what is coming.

Chris Troxell:
Outstanding. Alyssa, tell me from your perspective, what it's been like working at the facility and working these various COVID related flights.

Alyssa Smith:
Yeah, I'm mean it's definitely a different atmosphere than we're used to. We're used to student pilots going out there and doing touch and goes and just playing in the pattern. And although we have had a few of those, it's drastically down, and I think it gives us a little bit of a sense of pride seeing the ones that do come in and reading the stories afterwards, knowing what was on them or what they were carrying, seeing all the compassion flights coming in and out. I read a pretty good article the other day about how there was several flights flying mass out to the Navajo nation from Bedford, which is pretty cool.

Chris Troxell:
What has the day to day been like? What kind of changes have you experienced and how have you adapted? How have you worked innovatively since the social distancing measures were put into place?

Alyssa Smith:
Well, I think that management and the union worked really well together to go into this crew system that we went into pretty fast. Miguel and our union rep worked really fast and put us into this re-crews. And we're working with crews we normally wouldn't work with because we're on a different rotation now, but it's definitely been different being in the tower by yourself at a time, one at a time. And then you have your partner downstairs. You can call up whenever you need them, but it's definitely a different experience because you're used to having three people in the cab with you working in that team environment. Although we're still a team, it's just a different dynamic that we're working with.

Chris Troxell:
Have you put different procedures into place with these new staffing requirements and lower traffic counts?

Miguel Rodriguez:
I can speak to what we've done. The whole effort is to socially distance, keep everyone safe, but sustain operations here at the airport. And so we have three crews with four to five controllers in each on five day rotations. For the most part four to five controllers are covering a 16 hour shift and not overlapping as much as possible. We do have procedures as far as the operations go where we will not line up and wait or we'll take very conservative measures to the flow of traffic, but everyone keeps moving. And the controllers, I'm incredibly proud of what they've done. In a matter of two days, we put the whole plan together and operation hasn't blinked once.

Chris Troxell:
What is it been like for you guys personally to work these flights that are carrying equipment and people who are potentially saving many, many lives in the fight against COVID?

Alyssa Smith:
I think that it gives us that sense of pride. Like I mentioned before, knowing that we are contributing in some sort of way. And although we may not know who's on the flight at the time, and we find out afterwards, or we find out what they were carrying or what they were doing. And you're glad that you were able to contribute.

Miguel Rodriguez:
I'm incredibly proud of our team. Everyone owns a little piece of this thing, and we're saving lives in our very small ways, whether we're socially distancing or providing some guidance to that Cessna that's bringing face shields for first responders. It's quiet, eerily quiet, but it's incredible. We're still here. We're still fighting. It's truly heroic what we're seeing. Numerically, we're seeing some incredibly low numbers, but those numbers, they mean a lot. We're all doing our little part in this big mess. I'm incredibly proud of the Bedford team and the sacrifices they put in and the very little that we can do right now. It is amazing. You can have one hour where you may see one aircraft, but that one aircraft is bringing 80 healthcare professionals, military fatigues that have gone into Boston Hope hospital and saving lives. That is incredible.

Chris Troxell:
Well said. Thanks. Thank you so much.

Alison Duquette:
Thanks, Chris. It's interesting to hear how working in these conditions impacts our controllers and the sense of pride that they have helping make sure that critical PPE and people are getting to where they need to go. One thing's for certain. Our aviation infrastructure is a very important part of our nation's emergency response.

John Croft:
Thanks, Alison, I couldn't agree with you more. We're going to take a quick break now and listen to a safety tip. And after that, we're going to come back and talk about how the controllers at one of the FAA's air route traffic control centers, in particular Memphis center, are handling this situation. Stay with us.

FAA Announcer:
Buckle up. Keep you and your family safe by wearing a seat belt at all times while seated. It's no secret that seatbelts save lives and prevent injuries. Most people wouldn't think twice about buckling up in a car. Statistics show that seatbelts keep people safe. For some reason on airplanes, many people don't apply the same logic. Be honest. Are you one of those passengers who instantly releases the buckle as soon as the seatbelt sign is off, regardless of whether you need to get up or not? Sit tight. You'll want to hear this. Airplane seatbelts are important, especially during rapid deceleration or an unexpected turbulence. Picture it. You're in your seat, no seat belt and turbulence suddenly tosses you out of your seat and slams you abruptly back down, possibly onto an armrest, the galley cart or your neighbor. Not great. So don't be that person. Keep your seatbelt fastened. For more info. Check out the passenger safety tips at faa.gov/travelers.

John Croft:
Welcome back. In our next segment, we have another story from field reporter, Chris Troxell, about how the Memphis center air traffic control team made sure that critical FedEx flights from around the world could land safely on one particular night during the early days of the COVID-19 situation here in the U.S.. At that time and still today, we have facilities that we have to close every now and then due to an employee testing positive for COVID-19.

Alison Duquette:
That's right, John. We had to shut down a facility to do a thorough cleaning and sanitizing procedure. We do that of course, to protect our employees. We set up an air bridge. Now you're probably wondering what's an air bridge, and we'll explain that in just a minute, but we set up an air bridge to ensure that flights could still safely make it to Memphis FedEx hub, where military transport planes and helicopters are waiting to transport critical PPE supplies.

John Croft:
Well, that's cool Alison. We're now going to hear from Memphis center supervisors, Bracken Wertz and Tawnya Weber and controller Neil Caputo who were all key figures in this event.

Chris Troxell:
Tell me what it's been like working through the national health emergency, supporting these FedEx flights in your airspace that are carrying critical PPE to frontline medical workers and the fight against COVID-19.

Bracken Wertz:
To be honest with you during our event, I was completely unaware of what the airplanes were carrying. We just work so close with FedEx. We knew that those flights were delayed and come in later than normal. So they had to be somewhat important. So we just did what we did and we made it the highest alert to make sure we can get those planes landed. We knew we had to battle the complex situation with getting everybody out of the control room, getting it clean. So with us and Indy and Kansas City, and with the help of the command center, we just made sure we got the job done.

Tawnya Weber:
And I think once we realized once FedEx made us aware and the command center made us aware of what actually was on the aircraft, that it was personal protection equipment, it just brought it to a new level of what we needed to be paying attention to. What we needed to focus.

Neil Caputo:
So when I, when I got the call from the individual that received their positive test, it was in the middle of the afternoons. It was like organized chaos because that was early into this and what a positive test would look like. It was pretty evident fairly quick, how fast things could start snowballing and happening. The timeline, it started about two o'clock in the afternoon, local time here. And we were still working through the details all the way up until 9:30 that night.

Chris Troxell:
So you set up this air bridge. How does that work?

Tawnya Weber:
We didn't use that term until you guys said it, but it sounded cool, so we kept using it after that. What we ended up doing with Indy was Indy center works them in radar. They hit a point just outside our airspace. They terminate service. They've been cleared on what we call a nonradar route where nobody's really tracking them for separation. Indy can still see them because our radar systems are so great. They can see them all the way down to Memphis. They just can't talk to them because the radio coverage isn't there. So we agreed on a point just outside of Memphis approaches airspace, where the aircraft, each of the FedEx aircraft, would contact Memphis approach. And then Memphis approach would let Indy know, okay, they've passed this point. I've got them on frequency and we've radar identified them and then they'd work them right on in.

Tawnya Weber:
So for just a short period of time from just inside our boundary to just outside of Memphis approaches, they're not talking to anybody, but because of electronics and all of the satellites and everything that we have now, they're still able to talk to their people on the ground. FedEx was in the loop on it. So they had Indy centers, telephone numbers. They had Memphis approaches, telephone numbers, everybody's shared telephone numbers so that they could just keep everybody updated as each one of these passed the point for separation. And then the rest of the airspace is sterile. So there's nothing else going on inside that airspace.

Chris Troxell:
I understand you kept these flights. You're able to keep these flights moving without delay, even though you're airspace was closed?

Neil Caputo:
The day that it happened, we'll call it the perfect storm, is that FedEx has two nights out of the week that they do not usually do a full sort. It's a limited sort on the weekends. And on the Saturday night shift going into Sunday morning and Sunday night going into Monday morning, they have a very limited of international flights. Not knowing how long the local contractor would take to clean the control room was the biggest thing, but we decided if we're going to do it, let's do it tonight. We're trying to gauge when the majority of the flights we're going to get in. At that time, we did not know these aircraft were carrying PPEs.

Neil Caputo:
We just figured it was no different than a regular normal goods that they transport. So when we started letting FedEx know, hey, here's our plan. We're going to go ATC zero. At this time, operation is going to be shut down. You're going to have to either look to delay these aircraft or divert them to other places until we can actually get them up. An ATC zero event is where a facility has met the criteria need, where they need to sterilize the airspace and all of the air traffic that would normally go through that facility would have to be rerouted around that facility and no airplanes would transit through that area at that time. It's a very rare event if it does happen. It is usually the last resort because all the other times that we would do is ATC limited, we would slow air traffic down miles and trail, do reroutes, and keep it as a very limited basis.

Neil Caputo:
But for an ATC zero event to happen, it's pretty much the last resort of anytime you want to do that because it does create a huge burden on the other facilities. And that was a concern of the facilities adjacent to us that when we did that, we're now working in these reduced schedules that did they have the ability to support that extra, additional airplanes they would be taking on that would normally go into our airspace. So we had to factor that into that as well when we made that decision. But being that it was a weekend night and it was less travel, the impact Indy center said they had sufficient and they would be able to accommodate it. So it wasn't like we just said, okay, stop everything coming in and out of Memphis. It was not that simple, but it is when you do completely sterilize the airspace. That's when it came to light that they were really pushing back saying that is not an option.

Neil Caputo:
Still not understanding. Well, you don't understand. This is about the safety of the workers in the building. We need to have this done. We can't wait until four o'clock in the morning because if we wait that long and seeing how long the cleaning could take, we're now pushing into the day shift and start impacting the other airliners. And it was like, you got to work with us here. It was when they explained to us that here's the reason why these aircraft are carrying PPEs and there was a military transport plane on the ground waiting for them to arrive. These aircraft are already airborne. They're halfway across the Atlantic. We can't turn them around when they don't have enough fuel to divert, or they don't have enough fuel to hold. So we had to get outside the box very quickly. Nobody was trying to play the head person in charge.

Neil Caputo:
Everybody was like, what can we do. Tawnya? She went straight to making sure the operation and coordinating with headquarters and coordinate with the command center and saying, this is what we're looking at. Bracken and I started trying to figure out an alternative plan of how many flights we were looking at. They started moving flights around the facility that were not landing at Memphis. And then we try to determine how many flights would we actually have to work through that air bridge. And it came down to be about seven or nine. So that's when we started coming up with old school rules of, I use a nonradar and coming up with transfer control points to between one facility and Memphis approach coming in from one direction and just put enough space between them that as they got in, they were completely separated, safe, and there was no conflict ever going to be a problem.

Neil Caputo:
It was not the most expeditious process, but when you're dealing with seven airplanes, it was probably the best thing we could've come up with at the time.

Bracken Wertz:
Yeah. Basically the only thing we did was establish the route. So we had the five out of Anchorage and then we had the four out of Europe and we just had to make a single point of where all these aircraft went into to ensure that they were 20, 30 miles laterally separated so that we could go with the nonradar rules and miles and trails. So that's basically the only thing we did before all the air bridge, everybody having phone numbers. We just wanted to make sure that we establish the correct rooting for the airplanes. So they got in there safely and efficiently.

Tawnya Weber:
No one would pass each other up. No one would get too close to each other of those nine aircraft. It would just be one right after the other all spaced nice and pretty, all apart from each other.

Chris Troxell:
And so I understand that flight operations have dropped significantly during the health emergency. But how about your airspace? Has that been as busy as ever with these cargo flights?

Bracken Wertz:
Memphis airport Monday through Friday has then since all this stuff happened, the number three or four busiest airports in the United States due to FedEx operations. And we're busier than say Atlanta airport, which on a normal day last year would do between 2,500 and 2,600 operations per day. Memphis airport is not a very busy airport in the grand scheme of things under normal operations. I mean, obviously it's the busiest airport in the world between 10:00 PM and midnight. But other than that, it's not.

Chris Troxell:
Have you had full staffing?

Bracken Wertz:
No. So we have two crews. We're five days on five days off. I've got an A crew and a B crew to prevent cross-contamination. If we have any people with health concerns, diabetes, asthma, anything like that, they're staying home. All our support staff is staying home. Training department. Basically, we normally would have 10 to 11 people on a shift. Each area is at five to six people on a shift.

Chris Troxell:
How does it feel on a personal level to be a part of this fight against COVID helping these first responders, these frontline medical workers, get what they need and get to where they need to go?

Neil Caputo:
After we had the event and we learned about the PPEs, it's patting yourself on the back because did not know at the time, but once you realized the gravity of what was being accomplished and where those supplies were going, and they're going to the, at the time, critical areas, the Northeast and all the hotspots that they designated, you felt because you feel as I was doing my part. I mean, we're over here in the mid-South, that it wasn't as bad as areas that were on the other spots. So it felt good to be actually be able to do something, but it was completely unintentional because we didn't know what we were doing at the time. But after you learned about it was like, okay, that was a good thing we did that day.

Bracken Wertz:
Well, it makes everybody really proud. Obviously we're reduced staffing. The sectors can get busy. And every day I get a list of about 40 different airplanes that are critical to the COVID-19 response, all that PPE equipment and or medical stuff on board. And we distribute, make sure those airplanes don't get delayed at all. Make sure they get the highest priority, whether that means at night or whether that means during the day. So all the controllers, all the men and women out there, are doing a great job, not just the Memphis center, but everywhere and it's taxing.

Tawnya Weber:
And then you think about you're at home doing telework and you're not really worried about the person or the dog or the cat sitting next to you that might have the coronavirus, might have gone to the grocery store and gotten contaminated or anything like that. But each one of these guys out here that's in their mind when they come into the control room. Did anybody come in contact with that virus? And is this going to take me and my family down when I go home?

Chris Troxell:
I can't, I can't relate. I feel for them and I appreciate them being on the front line.

Tawnya Weber:
But these guys are troopers. Even that night on that ATC zero, when those controllers knew that their counterparts, their peers, were coming in to replace them, majority of them volunteered to stay as long as they needed to so that their friends and coworkers didn't have to come in and possibly be contaminated. And it was unnerving for them to come in here and work with that on their mind. That after they were notified that somebody had tested positive and they might have come in contact with it, that was weighed heavy on their mind.

Bracken Wertz:
And it's a very common question that's always asked. You go up and meet someone for the first time and the conversation leads to, oh what do you do? And you say you're an air traffic controller. And they go, that must be the most stressful thing ever. And you go, it's just like anything else. If you know what you're doing, it's not stressful. If you don't know what you're doing, obviously it's going to be stressful. We don't think about, or at least I don't for the most part, think about when I'm coming into work about that. I'm thinking I'm going there to do my job. Then I'm going to go home and be with my family. So on a day to day thing, every now and again, it pops in your head. For the most part, I'm just thinking I'm going to work doing my job and I'm going to go home.

Tawnya Weber:
And I'm thinking when I come in, is there anybody else that's going to test positive and are we going to have to go through this all over again? How am I going to keep my staff calm and focused on working air traffic? How am I going to do that? Because everybody has their breaking point. And is this time going to be a breaking point for somebody? Is this going to be a time that somebody says I don't want to expose me and my family to this. How am I going to let them know hey, it's okay. We've got you covered. We were going to sanitize this. When we get done with this, it's going to be great. And because we go through all the motions … 15 minutes before we show up, people start cleaning the sectors. They start cleaning the workspaces so that when our relief comes in, we've got a nice clean, sterile area for them.

Tawnya Weber:
And then if I'm the one being replaced, my fear is going to come through for 15 minutes and clean the workspace, clean the area, whatever it is and sanitize. And I was just talking this morning to my boss. This is the least amount of times I've ever gone to the doctor. I'm not having the sinus problems that I did before because we're just going through all these different cleaning motions right now. And it's wonderful. I don't know what the long-term effect of breathing in Clorox wipes is, but we'll find out. But that's the thoughts that go through my mind. And I also am thinking about the same things that Bracken's thinking about.

Chris Troxell:
Thank you both so much for your time, and I hope you both stay healthy through this.

Tawnya Weber:
Thank you.

Bracken Wertz:
You guys too.

John Croft:
Very cool story, Chris Troxell, so thanks again. What's amazing to me is how they use old school tactics to make a tough situation almost trivial.

Alison Duquette:
Well, I don't know about trivial, but I sure do like trivia. So now we're going to have some aviation trivia and then we're going to follow up with stories from two more of our air traffic controllers and hear how they've been dealing with COVID-19.

FAA Announcer:
Why is it important to drink water during an airplane flight? The human body can lose slightly more than a quart of water, 34 ounces to be exact during a three hour flight. That's why some people get a slight headache after a flight from minor dehydration.

John Croft:
Okay. In our final segment today, field reporter Sasha Horn caught up with our operations manager, Donnie Malott at the Raleigh Durham tower and Marcus Brice, who works at joint base Andrews at the tower there to discuss how working during the COVID-19 situation has challenged them in terms of operating with reduced staff and applying social distancing. And we'll also hear about their concerns for their families. Alison as a pilot, I've been a pilot. I know a lot of pilots and I'm telling you, most of us don't think of air traffic controllers as having lives outside of work, or even for that matter feelings. I think this segment goes a long way towards giving us a different picture of air traffic controllers and showing how they want to help people, help pilots and help everyone in aviation.

Alison Duquette:
That's right, John. As a pilot, you don't get to see the controllers that are in our towers and our en-route centers. I've actually visited those facilities and I can tell you that they're dedicated on duty 24/7, making sure that our skies are safe. Now, commercial air travel is slowly beginning to see more traffic. Back in March, flights were down 90%, but the sky stayed open and we were able to move essential workers and supplies to where they needed to go. Because of COVID-19 and social distancing, we've less air traffic controllers working in towers and centers, but make no mistake. We're still making sure that we're able to transport people and goods through the airspace safely.

Sasha Horne:
Marcus Brice has been an air traffic controller with the FAA since 2009. He's currently assigned to Joint Base Andrews tower outside of Washington, DC.

Marcus Brice:
As the pandemic hit and we started going to shutdown, I just got accepted to a temporary supervisor role. So it put a delay on getting that started. And now I've started that during the pandemic, but because of the rotations we do now, we do five days on five days off, we're already set with teams. They didn't want to disrupt that. So they've been keeping me on with the regular team to help out, but I've been getting some of the supervisor training, minor responsibilities, like make sure everybody's up to date on any briefing items that come out, nothing serious yet. Now it's just a weight game to find out when this ends and when I can really start training and move forward to the next step of this career.

Sasha Horne:
Adjusting to a set schedule with no rotating shifts has been easy. Adjusting to life homeschooling his daughters has had its fair set of challenges.

Marcus Brice:
That's the fun part. So since we did five days on five days off and the children out of school, so two of them are school age and one's high school. One's elementary school. Speaking of.

Sasha Horne:
As if on cue Bryce's daughter wandered into the room temporarily halting our Zoom conversation. How are you?

Child:
I'm good.

Sasha Horne:
I'm interviewing your Dad about his work because he has a very cool job. The new normal for those who have been working from home over the last several months.

Marcus Brice:
It's me getting the package that the school sends. It's me going out and finding workbooks and worksheets and online stuff that she can use. So I use a lot of YouTube.

Sasha Horne:
Bryce has also converted a part of his home into a makeshift classroom.

Marcus Brice:
In my hallway upstairs, I painted the hallway two of the walls with chalkboard paint so they can write on the walls now as part of their learning. That's just been sitting here and I have some dry erase markers. So I just put that to work and a desk that my mom gave me some years ago. I just put it all together. So now she has a work desk.

Sasha Horne:
But balancing homeschooling work and sleep, which is non-negotiable for controller, has taken creativity and strategic planning.

Marcus Brice:
It's just another thing that I just had to make adjustments to. And when I got my weekends and the kids were on the weekend, we were on the same weekends, I could just truly rest. I could sleep in and I could relax.

Sasha Horne:
There was a lot of behind the scenes coordination that took place for the FAA and specifically air traffic services and their union partners to keep the airspace safely operating for those who needed to travel despite the stay at home orders. To learn more about implementing and adapting to this new normal, we talked to Donnie Malott, an operations manager at Raleigh Durham tower in North Carolina. So this is the kind of an interesting environment we're in. Commercial flights are down, but controllers are continuing to keep the nest safe so that essential workers and suppliers can continue to get to where they need to be. Tell me a little bit about what it was like once all of this started, the planning that went into making sure that you keep your controller safe, but also that the mission continues.

Donnie Malott:
It was pretty hectic or chaotic initially, getting a lot of information flowing down, trying to figure out exactly how the pandemics going to affect your facility as well as the country. So you're dealing with a personal aspect as well as the professional aspect and coming to work and being an essential employee worrying about your families. I think the FAA as a whole has done a good job protecting the employees and trying to implement social distancing as we can, and still provide a safe mission and allow flights to continue, supplies to be delivered, that type stuff. So the flying community didn't stop. It just slowed down. And we had to pick up those pieces and roll with the punches.

Sasha Horne:
I've been to a couple of facilities in a tower and some of those places it's hard to social distance, right?

Donnie Malott:
Yeah, it definitely is. We're pretty fortunate here. We had enough controllers and supervisors to go to a three team concept. Basically we've assigned three groups of people. They work odd days on, and then 10 days off, the 10 days off being that there's always what we call a clean crew. If someone were to test positive and we had to shut down for a couple of hours and clean, we could quarantine a whole team and bring in a clean team and air traffic services would be delayed minimally for a couple of hours just so when we have to clean the facility to get that next crew in. So that piece of it's been great. So as far as the traffic numbers, I would say we'd average between eight and 900 ops a day. When this initially kicked off back in March, our traffic count reduced down to about 164 ops for the day. Since then, we've rebounded to where we're averaging right around 470, 500 ops a day.

Donnie Malott:
Majority of that be in GA air carriers that canceled a lot of flights. So a majority of ours is flying schools and GA. With all the downtime and the fuel prices low, everyone's coming out that's got a pilot's license or everybody who wanted to be a pilot now is paying for those lessons and they're getting the pattern work that they normally couldn't get here because of the air carriers. It's working out good. It's given the controllers something to do. It keeps them busy. And it also allows us to provide a service that sometimes we weren't able to provide prior to this.

Sasha Horne:
Wow. So that's a nice little making lemonade out of lemons type situation, I guess you'd say.

Donnie Malott:
Yeah. They're actually getting to come in and get instructions from an actual FAA tower at a busier airport with multiple runways and work pattern work to three different runways. So yeah, I think it gives them a different perspective that they're probably not going to get if the traffic's normal because when the air carriers come and you're busy, you have to send them to a smaller airport or an airport that doesn't have a control tower. So it's worked out good. I think it's a good way for them to learn and get their feet wet. It's slow enough that they don't have to get nervous and it's not so hectic that they can't handle it and the instructor has to take over. So in my opinion, it's a good thing. It's probably going to produce some better pilots later down the road.

Sasha Horne:
Across the FAA teams are using outside of the box thinking strategies to sustain national airspace system operations and prevent the spread of COVID-19 within its facilities. In the event an air traffic employee tests positive for COVID-19, facilities undergo a deep cleaning. Air traffic leaders look at flight schedules and identify the best ways to clean facilities while providing the least disruption to air traffic services. Back to you, John and Alison.

Alison Duquette:
Well, John, that's a really interesting perspective. Who would think that less air traffic could mean more well-rounded pilots in the future? All because they've been able to get so much practice.

John Croft:
That's fascinating, Alison. It makes me want to go out and get in my plane and fly to one of the larger airports and experience what the general aviation pilots are getting to do. It's really cool stuff. I think overall, based on what we've heard through all of our segments today was that it's a weird time. It's a weird situation, but the FAA and each employee that we have is still focused first and foremost on maintaining safety for both our own people and for anyone flying the friendly skies. And we're also getting important cargo and people where it needs to be on time and quickly.

Alison Duquette:
Speaking of on time, that's it for this episode of The Air Up There. We'll hope you join us next time. Stay safe out there. Happy landings.

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