You can see the airport control tower if you look carefully between the other buildings when you’re driving north on Midway Rd., although it’s probably a little easier if you stand near the airport’s south fence on Lindberg and look north.
The tower’s about four stories high with a bit of a scalloped roof and except for the glass all around, it might easily be confused as being just a fancy water tank.
The control tower at Addison Airport is no mere fixture on the grounds though. That building and the handful of air traffic controllers who staff the place are a vital link of a chain of communications facilities with international responsibilities for insuring the safe operations of all air traffic. The Addison Airport’s controllers are all employees of the FAA.
Admittedly, our control tower is responsible for a relatively small piece of airspace surrounding the airport — a circle about 8 miles across laterally and up to 3,000 feet vertically. While that might sound tiny, no airplane can operate inside that chunk of airspace without talking to the people in the tower at Addison. That’s why the jets that turn southward toward Love Field are never lower than 3,000 feet; that’s Addison’s airspace. And we never let our aircraft climb above 3,000 feet to keep them separate from the traffic at Love Field. This helps keep all the aircraft separated.
A Practical Example of Air Traffic Control
Let’s say that one of those shiny new Gulfstream business jets at Million Air is chartered for a trip to Paris — that’s France, not Texas by the way. The pilots will file their flight plan and speak to the ground controller here at Addison who begins the coordination process to make sure the pilots understand the route they’ll need to fly to head them toward the Eiffel Tower city. The ground controller here also gives the crew the active runway to use for takeoff and keeps everyone else out of their way as they head to the end of the runway.
When the crew is ready for takeoff, another Addison tower controller checks with the radar room at Regional Approach Control – a large buildings with dozens of other air traffic controllers who sit in front of radar screens – to be sure there is space for the jet to fit between other airplanes climbing and descending in the area. When the Addison tower controller is given the green light, they check to make sure no other aircraft are in the way locally and clear the Gulfstream for takeoff.
Once the business jet has cleared the end of the runway with wheels beginning to retract, the Addison controller takes one more look out the window to be sure nothing else is in the way. If all goes well, they’ll instruct the pilot to change radio frequencies and contact the departure controller at Regional who will continue to watch the aircraft as it climbs northeastward toward Paris. And on and on as the aircraft flies further east one air traffic controller after another will talk to the pilots until they arrive in the local Paris area. Then they’re switched over to the tower at Paris Charles de Gaulle for landing there.
It works pretty much the same way for jets arriving. The radar controllers at Regional head the aircraft toward Addison until the pilots report seeing the field at which time they ask them to change to our control tower radio frequency. Our local controller then fits that airplane into a stream of other airplanes for landing.
The smaller training airplanes used to teach folks to fly might also be heard on the radio as they remain in the local traffic pattern to practice landings and takeoffs. The Addison controller keeps all the aircraft safely separated from each other. On a good day, the control tower operation runs as smoothly as a fine Swiss watch.
In case you’re curious what it all sounds like, visit LiveATC and tune in on the air traffic control frequencies of airports all over the world … even ours … and all without a radio. One thing to keep in mind though is that ATC radio chatter at towers like ours tends to be in short bursts of talking so don’t be surprised if it sounds a bit quiet at times.
Just in case some of this might seem a tad confusing, do send us an e-mail and we’ll be happy to answer any airport question. Send your questions to Addison Airport Q & A. Air traffic control is a great career too in case you’ve never given it any thought.