By Peggy Fox
March 24, 2011
MANASSAS, Va. (WUSA) – A small airplane is about to land at Manassas Regional airport. A request has been made and granted by an FAA air traffic controller in the tower.
With 130,000 take offs and landings every year, it’s the busiest general aviation airport in Virginia, and the only one with a control tower.
“We have two parallel runways which would make it very difficult without a tower for people to be landing side by side at an un-towered airport,” said Juan Rivera, Manassas Regional Airport Director.
The tower is only staffed with controllers from 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Planes can still land when no one’s up top, just like what happened at Reagan National.
“It’s something that happens at smaller airports all the time,” says Bob Hepp, owner of the flight school Aviation Adventures.
Hepp says the passengers on board those airplanes flying into National (where the controller was sleeping) were not in danger, because the pilots did what they’re trained to do, and what some do all the time, communicate their intentions directly to other aircraft.
“We call them ‘calls in the blind.’ That is, just make an announcement of where they are and what they intend to do. At that point, all the other air traffic is aware of what they’re doing and then they land it safely,” says Hepp.
Hepp says the tower controller is like a traffic cop.
“If traffic is very low, then you really don’t need that traffic cop as you would as during a busy time,” said Hepp.
You might think ground crews would have been in jeopardy when those planes were landing at Reagan National, but ground crews are required by law to communicate with the tower. If nobody was talking, they would not be granted to permission to be anywhere near the runway.
Ground crews would be monitoring the tower frequency and would steer clear of the runway if they didn’t have permission to be there, or if an aircraft were coming in for landing.