Controlling traffic during LSA show 'an adrenaline rush'

January 25, 2012

FAA Operations Manager Boyd Martin said working the air traffic control tower at the Sebring U.S. Sport Aviation Expo is a thrill. Martin, part of a staff of 21 FAA technicians, controllers, and managers deployed for the Jan. 19 through 22 event, said serving the busiest airspace in Florida is for controllers “an adrenaline rush,” similar to what skydivers or bungee jumpers feel when they take the plunge.

The four-day event included formation flybys, scores of demonstration flights, and regular routes by a vintage Waco UPF-7 biplane offering open-cockpit rides. All of that amounted to 3,434 arrivals and departures for Sebring Regional Airport in four days, including 1,256 on Jan. 21 alone, according to FAA officials. With 222 flight operations logged between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. on Jan. 21, Sebring Regional Airport had a traffic volume comparable to the nation’s busiest airports.

All of it went off without a hitch.

Martin, a veteran of many editions of Sun ’n Fun and EAA AirVenture, said Sebring offers controllers a chance to hone their airshow skills, and gives the FAA an opportunity to offer controllers who have never handled a massive airshow a taste of that kind of action.

Martin said pilots deserve credit for handling the airspace changes well—Sebring Regional is a nontowered airport for the other 361 days each year. Controllers, who spend their down time a few feet from the ramp, welcome the chance to mingle with the pilots.

“They’ve (pilots) had fun, and so have we,” Martin said.

Along with controllers drawn from busy Florida airspaces, the temporary tower was served by a staff of four technicians who kept the radios working properly throughout, pouncing quickly on the first signs of static. Martin said they were the unsung heroes, preventing communication breakdowns that could have caused problems. “They have done an outstanding job.”

Jim Moore

Jim Moore | Online Associate Editor, AOPA

AOPA Online Associate Editor Jim Moore joined AOPA in 2011 and is an instrument-rated private pilot who enjoys competition aerobatics.