NATCA To Honor Congressman Costello and Congressman LaTourette With “Sentinel of Safety” Award; K.C. Center Controller Chris Thigpen Wins “President’s Award”

WASHINGTON – The National Air Traffic Controllers Association is honoring Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Ill., and Rep. Steven LaTourette, R-Ohio, with the third annual “Sentinel of Safety” award during each Congressman’s respective appearances today before more than 300 air traffic controllers gathered at NATCA’s annual legislative conference, “NATCA in Washington.” In addition, during a ceremony on Monday, NATCA President Patrick Forrey presented Kansas City Air Route Traffic Control Center Controller Chris Thigpen with the annual “President’s Award” for the most outstanding flight assist of 2006.

NATCA created the “Sentinel of Safety” Award as a way to honor a member of the aviation community who has displayed outstanding achievement in the advancement of aviation safety. The award is open to all leaders of the aviation community, with a special emphasis on those whose leadership on aviation safety issues has been historic, aggressive and courageous.       

“We are proud to present this year’s award to Congressman Costello and Congressman LaTourette for their dedication to aviation and air safety and their strong and passionate support of every air traffic controller in this country,” Forrey said.

Costello, a senior member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee and now the new chairman of the House Aviation Subcommittee, has been a beacon for the aviation community throughout his tenure in Congress. Costello has fought to ensure that the United States continues to operate the safest and most efficient aviation system in the world. The language he has authored, the legislation he has introduced, and the oversight he has provided, have raised the bar for aviation safety in this country.

The list of Congressman Costello’s accomplishments in the field of aviation safety is long and distinguished. It includes:

  • In 1996, he co-sponsored legislation to ensure that the primary responsibility of the FAA administrator was to enhance the safety and security of the commercial civil aviation industry.
  • Immediately following the events of 9/11, Congressman Costello co-sponsored legislation that required the screening of all passengers and property carried into the cabin of an aircraft be conducted by the federal government. In addition, this legislation provided for the expansion of the air marshal program on domestic and international flights.
  • In 2003, he co-sponsored legislation that would improve and standardize training for commercial aviation cabin crew members.
  • He co-sponsored a bill implementing the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, which included significant improvements to aviation security.
  • In February 2006, with Congresswoman Sue Kelly, he introduced legislation that would amend Title 49 of the Federal Code to provide a fair collective bargaining process for FAA employees.

As a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Congressman LaTourette has consistently introduced and supported legislation that makes aviation safety a priority. Throughout his 12 years in Congress, LaTourette has been a solid supporter of the nation’s air traffic controllers.

In 2006, Congressman LaTourette led the fight to establish basic fairness and equity to FAA/union negotiations. He understood that a fairly negotiated and ratified contract would provide consistency and stability to the national airspace system, thereby ensuring the safety and security of the flying pubic.

LaTourette and his bill’s many supporters courageously and enthusiastically took to the House floor on June 6, 2006, during debate. LaTourette was especially critical of FAA Administrator Marion Blakey’s move to impose work rules before the vote: “I am a pretty calm guy, but I really think that she just took her finger and stuck it in the eye of 268 members of this House (who co-sponsored the Kelly-Costello bill) and 75 of them happen to be Republican, 75 of them happen to be members of this President’s party. I am insulted.”

Congressman LaTourette’s efforts in 2006 are but one example of his legislative accomplishments to improve aviation safety.  Here are some other aviation safety advancement highlights from his career: 

  • Co-sponsored Secure Transportation for America Act of 2001 which, among other things, established standards and responsibilities for the TSA
  •  In 2002, co-sponsored legislation that would allow pilots of commercial aircraft to carry guns to be used in the event of a terrorist attack or cockpit intrusion

Thigpen earned two awards Monday. Earlier in the day, he was honored as the Central Region’s “Archie League Medal of Safety” award winner. Below is a story about Thigpen’s remarkable flight assist:

To a distressed pilot, the calm reassurance of an air traffic controller’s voice is their lifeline to safety. Even experienced pilots encounter trouble and must rely on controllers to guide them home. Charles Schultz, piloting his Beech Bonanza, N1801V, on Oct. 10, 2006, found himself in this situation and turned to Kansas City Center (ZKC) controller Chris Thigpen for guidance.

Schultz was headed from Scott City, Kan. (TQK), to Hays, Kan. (HYS), when another ZKC controller, John Bloomingdale, noticed the Bonanza making erratic turns. He radioed Schultz to ask his heading and when it did not match what the radar indicated, Bloomingdale assigned Schultz a different heading. But Bloomingdale knew the Bonanza was in trouble.

Bloomingdale declared an emergency and turned to Thigpen, who was working the next position, for help. Bloomingdale knew that Thigpen, a private pilot, would be able to assist Schultz. This decision proved correct, as Thigpen would spend the next 30 minutes guiding the Bonanza to safety.

Thigpen sat down next to Bloomingdale and, according to ZKC Facility Representative Scott Hanley, "it was as if Thigy was a paramedic walking up to a train wreck. He was assessing everything, listening to John [Bloomingdale], watching N1801V, listening to the supervisor and checking weather at Great Bend, Kansas (GBD), HYS, and Russell, Kansas (RSL) all in a matter of seconds. Then Thigy took charge."

Thigpen cleared all other aircraft from the frequency and focused on the Bonanza. He realized Schultz was suffering from spatial disorientation and knew that he needed to level his wings, watch the artificial horizon and keep his eyes inside the aircraft. After 10 minutes of working with Schultz to level the plane and stay on a correct heading, Thigpen took that extra step of establishing a personal relationship with the pilot.

"N1801V, what’s your name?"
"Charles Schultz."
"Hey Charles, my name is Chris.  We are going to point you out toward Great Bend, Kansas."
"That’s great."

From that point on, Thigpen referred to N1801V as Charles. Thigpen even asked him if there was anyone he could contact for him to let them know he would be landing in Great Bend instead of Hays.

With Schultz experiencing spatial disorientation, his instruments were useless. Thigpen took away his instruments, gave him NO-GYRO vectors all the way and kept repeating for Schultz to keep his eyes inside the plane. As the Bonanza approached Great Bend, Thigpen had a fellow controller radio another aircraft in the area to turn the lights on at Great Bend, so Schultz would be able to locate the airport. "Thigy essentially flew the airplane, completed the checklists and ensured the airport was lit for Charles," added Hanley.

Finally, after thirty minutes of vectoring, the airport was in sight. Schultz landed the plane safely and then called ZKC to personally thank Thigpen. "I really needed you tonight and you really came through," he told Thigpen.

Because of Thigpen’s calm and reassuring voice, Charles Schultz was able to make it home safely that night. 


Source: National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA)
For further information about NATCA, click here

See more news in Organisations | | Mail to friend | Add Skycontrol to favorites

Advertise on Skycontrol