Awards honor controllers who save lives

March 5, 2009

“We’ve got an engine failure.”

They’re words no pilot wants to speak and no controller wants to hear.

Then the response: “All the airports in the area are IFR.”

That’s the beginning of a calm but frightening exchange between the pilot of a Bonanza and air traffic controller Joe Mackie in the Greenville–Spartanburg TRACON.

What happened next made Mackie a hero and earned him a coveted Archie League Medal of Safety Award, presented by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association on March 3 at the group’s annual Communicating for Safety conference.

Other award–winning controllers assisted pilots facing a whole range of potentially life threatening situations, including smoke in the cockpit, low fuel, vacuum pump failures, and icing. Recordings of the exchanges between pilots and the controllers are available below.

Also at the Archie League awards ceremony, AOPA Air Safety Foundation President Bruce Landsberg announced the first ever “Controller Commendation” awards recognizing air traffic controllers who go the extra mile to assist pilots in hazardous situations.

Earlier in the day, Landsberg had been part of a panel discussing critical safety issues and answering controller questions. Among the topics of discussion were successful efforts to reduce runway incursions; the importance of pireps as a pilot decision making tool, especially in icing conditions; and the many safety and education resources available free through the AOPA Air Safety Foundation, particularly the “Say Intentions: When You Need ATC’s Help” interactive course and safety advisor.

AOPA Executive Vice President of Government Affairs Andy Cebula also served as part of a panel at the conference, this one discussing current topics ranging from the effects of the economic downturn to environmental issues to air traffic control modernization.

Audio Recordings of the Award Winners