JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska —
Looking up to the skies on any given day, multiple aircraft can be seen flying around the Anchorage area. From commercial, civilian, and military aircraft, it would be an understatement to say the skies are busy.
Thanks to the dedicated Airmen and civilians of air traffic control, these aircraft take off, fly, and return home safely every day.
“It’s the most complex airspace I have ever worked with,” said Tech. Sgt. Jason McLean, air traffic control tower watch supervisor on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. “There are so many airports that are almost on top of each other here.”
Aircraft flying in and out of Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, Merrill Field Airport, Lake Hood Seaplane Base, Bryant Army Heliport, and JBER all have their own airspace. However, that airspace is condensed to such a small area that it becomes challenging to direct the flow of traffic.
“One of our biggest challenges is the close proximity to other airports and our approach corridor that cuts through a civilian north-to-south route,” McLean said. “There’s a finite amount of airspace and too many aircraft.”
Despite the amount of traffic, the aircraft are safely guided and controlled by the ATC tower day in and day out. Among normal routines, exercises place additional stressors on the team.
“During exercises we see a decent increase in air traffic, but mostly in our hours worked,” McLean said. “Our float crews worked their full 10 hours during the last exercise.”
On a quiet day, the tower controls around 20 operations. During a busy exercise they can see anywhere from 300 to 400 operations per day.
“It can get pretty stressful and tiring because you’re constantly talking to people for 10 hours straight,” said Staff Sgt. Amanda Ahsoak, air traffic control journeyman. “I like it though because I don’t really feel stressed, more like my adrenaline is pumping, it’s exciting.”
One of the most important aspects that the JBER ATC deals with is the alert mission crews who are on standby to intercept any aircraft that could potentially enter United States airspace.
“We get them in the air very quickly,” Mclean added. “That’s one of the reason why we are a 24/7, 365-day operation. We guard the north.”
The demands of the ATC mission can be taxing on an individual, but the Airmen and civilians who run the JBER ATC tower are proud to serve.
“It’s a really rewarding job,” Ashoak said. “At the end of a shift, you think of how many aircraft you controlled that day and how many millions of dollars were in your hands. It leaves you with a great sense of accomplishment.”