My visit to the FAA Center

  Jeneal McKinleyNov 27, 2017  

I recently toured the FAA traffic control center in Longmont where a friend of mine works. She met me at the guard gate and I told her I remember when this was way out in the country. She said during the cold war, that all centers, or en-route facilities as she calls it, were placed outside of populated areas in case of a bombing. As we walked to the building she explained that there are three types of facilities, Tracon, tower and centers. A Tracon is a stand alone radar approach and departure control facility. A tower is airport traffic control, controlling the runways and traffic patterns. DIA has both Tracon and a tower.

I walked through the security gate and into the building where we walked up a flight of stairs. It looked just any stairway to any building until you go through the doors and turn the corner. It’s a low light area, but not dark. Perfect for both seeing all the screens but also plenty of light to see. It doesn’t take long to get adjusted to it.

The first area you come to is the Traffic Management area. It’s a fairly large area that has “the big picture” where they coordinate all the facilities. They are responsible for spacing and delaying planes. They will let the controllers know which planes may need to slow down a bit and then the controllers may have the planes do an S pattern or in some cases even put them in a holding pattern.

Then she took me to a map on the wall and explained that Denver center was responsible for 11 states. Those eleven states are divided into six areas. Each area have between 5 – 7 sectors. She covers northwest arrivals, west departures and ski country, which as she explained, during ski season it becomes stupid busy. Flights in and out of ski country are color coordinated to airlines and below the map is a list of colors and the corresponding airlines.

I asked how our name change would effect her and she stated that every week they get a list of airline changes, such as Spirit become Frontier, airport changes and Navaid changes.

She took me to her station for the day, which changes constantly and explained all the different monitors, keyboards and such. She has one monitor for just looking up types of airplanes. She can punch a button and talk to just about anyone, anywhere. She could even order pizza from where she sat and said the phone bill for the center was astronomical.

It was time for me to plug in my headset and listen to her work. She took the time to explain what I was seeing on the screen. Each plane had a set of information that goes with it. Destination, N number on one line, altitude and speed on another. When the center makes contact with the plane a little green icon appears and remains with that plane until it gets handed off.

She protects up to 14,000 feet and sometimes a pilot will state that they want to fly from point A to point B at 8,000 feet. She will redirect them around the mountains. She has 3 sites she goes to for mountain information for possible weather updates.

On her screen she has 2 military bases that she doesn’t deal with although at times a C130 will fly onto her screen.

She made contact with a plane where she wanted to verify why he was where he was. He explained that he was a medivac. It had not been coded as a medivac so she changed that so that he would be recognized to all and she explained medivacs can go anywhere.

I asked how it was during the eclipse and she said it was crazy. Even prior to the eclipse it was busy with pilots practicing their VFR and some requesting flight following. Casper was not equipped to handle the volume that was expected so they set up specific routes for the pilots to follow.

While I was there a plane was headed to FNL where she did a quick point out approach and then the pilot continued on his way.

All too soon my time was over. On the day I visited I wasn’t able to view the power point so I will return in the near future and watch the video.