Laughlin implements innovative air traffic control procedures for smooth communications

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Keira Rossman
  • 47th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

While managing an average of 230 aircraft operations during a single day, stakes are high and precision is paramount for 47th Operation Support Squadron air traffic controllers.  

Pursuing improved efficiency, enhanced training opportunities, and safer skies, the 47th Operation Support Squadron air traffic control (ATC) team  implemented “dual local” operations at Laughlin.  

Air traffic controllers at the seventh of the busiest airfield in the Department of the Air Force are no strangers to the challenges of orchestrating aircraft movements in the sky. 

Dual local is a groundbreaking procedure, currently only used at one other Air Education and Training Command (AETC) installation, Vance AFB, Okla.   

“We controlled 101,000 operations in fiscal year 2023,” said Master Sgt. James Dent, 47th OSS chief controller, tower. “Controlling three runways at once with different airframes flying in multiple patterns and departures can be very complex and overload an air traffic controller very quickly.” 

Dual local operations harmonize communication and coordination efforts between tower controllers, runway supervisory units (RSUs), instructor pilots and student pilots.  

To begin dual local operations, the tower coordinates with the RSU, a small, strategically located building, to control the inside runway operated by T-6A Texan II aircraft. 

This transition of aircraft coordination workload is distributed amongst the tower, Local Control East and Local Control West. The Local Control West, a newly created position, takes control of the most complex pattern and the inside runway; Local Control East controls the center and outside runways. 

“What we realized [after the implementation of dual local operations], was that us taking the inside runway and pattern from the RSU, gives our Instructor Pilots, who were manning the RSU, the ability to go fly and train during that flying window that tower has control,” said Dent.  

These unique positions also provide complex training opportunities for air traffic controllers, keeping them proficient and prepared to deploy or transfer locations. 

Distributing control amongst the runways isolates communication lines for pilots to reach respective points of contact, which greatly reduces the overlap of aircraft frequency transmissions, resulting in clearer communication between controllers, student pilots, and instructor pilots. 

“Prior to the implementation of dual local operations,” explained Capt. Luke Amato, 85th Flying Training Squadron RSU manager, “the T-6 pattern operation training was inhibited by oversaturation on the radios due to the tower having to control upward of 25 aircraft across three runways and two patterns, limiting the capabilities for the tower to allow takeoff for new aircraft at a reasonable rate and provide quality training for the students in each pattern. The introduction of dual local operations frees instructor pilots in the RSU to fly student advancing syllabus sorties and contribute to the wing goal of 375 graduating pilots per year.” 

The program required the update of 101 checklists for each position to account for the new position during things such as runway changes, opening procedures, closing procedures, emergency checklists and more. 

Dual local operations enhance Laughlin’s operational efficiency and sets the stage to reach new heights. Team XL is poised to aim higher and achieve an even more ambitious goal of graduating 415 pilots within the 2024 fiscal year.