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March 5, 2015

          Contact: Steve Hedges
                        [email protected]


FREDERICK, MD – The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s (AOPA) Air Safety Institute has awarded Flight Assist Commendations to 10 air traffic controllers who guided general aviation pilots to safe landings despite thunder storms, icing, mountainous terrain and inoperative instruments and radios.

The controllers worked in seven different regions throughout the U.S., responding calmly to pilots with critical heading and weather information.

Bruce Landsberg, AOPA senior safety advisor, presented each controller with a Flight Assist Commendation plaque during a March 4 awards dinner at the National Air Traffic Controllers Association annual meeting in Las Vegas.

“The professionalism and temperament exhibited by these 10 controllers was the primary reason the pilot in each of these flights was able to realize a good outcome from a bad situation,” said George Perry, senior vice president of the Air Safety Institute (ASI). “These controllers exemplify the high standards that we’ve come to expect from our air traffic control system, and their work clearly demonstrates why we have the safest system in the world.”

Recordings of several of the pilot-controller encounters may be found at ATC Help.

Controllers recognized by ASI include:

Mark Schad of the St. Louis, MO TRACON (Central Region), who on Jan. 11, 2014 provided exceptional guidance and used a calm demeanor while assisting the pilot of a Beech Bonanza that had lost primary flight instruments. With Schad’s help the pilot was able to conduct a successful approach in low instrument conditions.

Thomas Prestia of the Morristown NJ Tower (Eastern Region), who on July 25, 2014 provided exceptional assistance to a new pilot of a Cessna 172 who lost situational awareness in twilight VFR conditions and became upset and distracted.

Christopher Lane of the Norfolk TRACON (Eastern Region), who on Dec. 22, 2014 offered exceptional guidance to the pilot of a Cessna 182 that had lost primary flight instruments in low night instrument conditions. Lane worked with the pilot over a one-hour period of extensive vectoring that resulted in a successful instrument approach.

Laura Kuhn of the Minneapolis Center (Great Lakes Region), who on May 19, 2014 calmly guided the distressed and disoriented pilot of a Cirrus SR-22 that had encountered severe icing in instrument conditions.

Andy Olson of Seattle Center (NW Mountain Region) who on Feb. 28, 2014 assisted the pilot of a Cessna 172 that had encountered moderate icing in instrument conditions by guiding it to visual conditions.

Dan Benitez of Miami Center (Southern Region), who on March 12, 2014 guided the pilot of a Cessna 172 with limited fuel through convective conditions during a nighttime return flight to the U.S. mainland from the Bahamas.

Brandon Rosario of Miami Center, who also worked on March 12, 2014 to guide the Cessna 172 returning at night from the Bahamas through stormy weather.

Eddie Alejandro, yet another Miami Center controller, who on Aug. 15, 2014, guided a Cessna 172 pilot through convective weather.

Rafael Pichardo, Miami Center, who on Aug. 15, 2014 also assisted a VFR Cessna 172 pilot who had encountered stormy conditions along Florida’s east coast.

David Bricker of Albuquerque Center (Southwest Region), who on Dec, 18, 2014 guided the pilot of a Cessna 172 that encountered moderate precipitation, icing and turbulence in mountainous terrain.

James Hansmann of Los Angeles Center (Western Pacific Region), who on May 15, 2014 guided the pilot of a Cessna 182 with inoperative radios who had become disoriented in mountainous terrain, near restricted airspace and an international border.

Since 1950, AOPA’s Air Safety Institute has served all pilots—not just AOPA members—by providing free safety education programs, analyzing safety data and conducting safety research. ASI offers award-winning online courses, nearly 200 live seminars annually throughout the U.S., flight instructor refresher courses, webinars, accident case studies and other materials to help pilots be safer and better informed.


Since 1939, AOPA has protected the freedom to fly for thousands of pilots, aircraft owners and aviation enthusiasts. AOPA is the world’s largest aviation member association, with representatives based in Frederick, Md., Washington, D.C., Wichita, Kans., and seven regions across the United States. AOPA provides member services that range from advocacy at the federal, state, and local levels to legal services, flight planning products, safety programs and award-winning media. To learn more, visit

- AOPA -


AOPA Communications staff

Topics: ATC, FAA Information and Services, Safety and Education

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