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Yuma to control Twentynine Palms' air traffic remotely

By Lance Cpl. Josue Aguirre | | April 9, 2009

Beginning this summer, Yuma’s air traffic controllers are scheduled to start watching the skies over the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, Calif., adding 8,000 square miles of airspace to their area of responsibility.

Already managing the airspace surrounding the air station here, its ranges and the nearbt U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground, the ATC took the second step to make Yuma home to the largest and most complex air traffic control facility in the Department of Defense.

The final phase would add ATC responsibility for Naval Air Facility El Centro, Calif., to Yuma by 2014.

“I think it’s a cutting edge initiative,” said Lt. Col. Thomas Frederick, Twentynine Palms Marine Air-Ground Task Force Training Command operations officer. “When it’s all said and done, an ATC system in the southwest region of the United States will be in place that exists nowhere else on earth. This will significantly expand the Marine Corps and Navy training possibilities.”

Currently, Twentynine Palms uses their range operations department to manage the military training airspace while Federal Aviation Administration controllers manage the airspace immediately surrounding Twentynine Palms. 

According to Frederick, one goal is the ability to redirect missions, aided by Marine air traffic controllers who possess better awareness and insight of large-scale military training exercises than FAA controllers.

Pilots can go out on a training exercise that suddenly changes while performing it, said Frederick. Yuma ATC is well suited to coordinate and ease activities in any type of scenario.

This ATC centralization program allows Yuma ATC to assume control of the FAA’s portion in Twentynine Palms, providing improved communication and coordination.

“Marine Corps air traffic control provides an essential link between Marine Corps aviation and the flying public,” said Maj. Lawrence Dibble, station command airspace liaison officer. “We coordinate directly with our counterparts in the FAA to ensure all users of the National Airspace System operate safely and efficiently. That is a shared obligation.”

With the increased workload, eight civilian controllers were hired in 2005. Five more will be hired in the future.

The first phase of the program, completed in 2007, upgraded the station ATC radar. Quality and coverage from the radar improved and a weather tracking capability was added.

The upgrade also made accommodations for additional ATC control positions and multiple radar feeds for off-site locations such as Twentynine Palms.

The remote radars at Twentynine Palms and El Centro will send communication feeds back to the Yuma ATC tower.

“The Yuma ATC function ties it all together,” said Frederick. “Without that piece, it all falls apart.”

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