A tale of two towers

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Sean Campbell
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
It seems counterintuitive for Air Force air traffic controllers to not have full jurisdiction of the airspace surrounding an Air Force base, but for Fairchild, that's exactly the case.

The Spokane International Airport, or GEG, controls all of the airspace surrounding Fairchild, and it takes both control towers to carry out the mission. For inbound or outbound military aircraft that require use of the airspace, GEG will transfer control of the area that Fairchild operates in. When the area is no longer in use, the control is then given back to GEG.

Communication between the Fairchild and the GEG air traffic control tower happens in multiple ways. The primary method is a direct line built into the equipment consoles in the towers. This method includes the use of a "shout line" that works similarly to an intercom. Another way of communication is through the radar system. Attached to the radar system is a keyboard that allows communication via automation.

"Communication is the key in allowing both airports to function safely and efficiently," said Master Sgt. Judy Lewis, 92nd Operations Support Squadron tower chief controller. "Exchanging information concerning flight paths, altitudes and even equipment, ensures there is a clear understanding of which facility is doing what and for which aircraft."

There is limited impact on the mission here due to the working relationship and communication between the two towers. A big part of air traffic control is managing time. Real-time coordination of airspace happens every day with the GEG tower.

"There are no issues with sharing airspace; however, there is more management of time that has to take place," Lewis said. "Additionally, training is critical in understanding the different airspace configuration and the procedures associated with it for controllers and aircrew."

The impact of shared airspace positively affects base functions. The close working relationship allows GEG to have a major role in supporting Fairchild. The base is able to work closely with GEG, not only during real-world missions but also with exercises, inspections and airshows, Lewis added.

"Because of our proximity to GEG, we are a Class C airspace," said Lewis. "With Class C airspace, we are required to do a lot more coordination. For example, an aircraft operating under Visual Flight Rules requires coordination prior to departing."

Controlled airspace falls into one of five categories A, B, C, D and E.  Class A airspace is typically from 18,000 feet, mean sea level up to 600 feet flight level. Class B is from surface level to 10,000 feet, surrounding the United States airports with the highest volume of traffic. Class C is from surface level to 4,000 feet above airport elevation. It surrounds airports that have a certain volume of Instrument Flight Rules. Class D is from surface to 2,500 feet above airport elevation. Class E airspace goes from the surface to the next adjacent class of airspace. Uncontrolled airspace is represented by Class G.

"Everything works pretty smoothly," said Stephanie Anason, Spokane Air traffic Control front line manager. "Things get delayed sometimes. But no matter what kind of traffic it is; whether it's the Air Force base or another airport, when Fairchild has something mission critical, they call over here and we make it work for them."