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Simulated trouble

Machine in Hawthorne trains some of JWA's air traffic controllers to deal with snow, a flock of geese or worse situations.

December 17, 2010|By Sarah Peters, sarah.peters@latimes.com
  • Joe Santoro, a support specialist at John Wayne Tower, gives a demonstration of an air traffic control simulator at the Federal Aviation Administration Los Angeles Regional headquarters Friday.
Joe Santoro, a support specialist at John Wayne Tower,… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

HAWTHORNE — "Snow" fell on John Wayne Airport runways on Friday morning.

OK, it was simulated snow, part of an air traffic control simulator demonstration by JWA airport control tower support specialist Joe Santoro.

The hypothetical situation created by a high-tech simulator is used to train controllers, preparing them for any scenario they might face in the real world, including the unlikely event of a winter dusting at JWA.

"We can create any kind of emergency, special operation or procedure that (trainees) would see in their training or maybe would not see for a long time," Santoro said while looking at a computer-generated replica of JWA's runways projected onto a series of wall-sized monitors at the Federal Aviation Administration Regional Office and training hub in Hawthorne.

The hub opened about two years ago for the training of Los Angeles International Airport air traffic controllers. In November, eight JWA traffic controllers began receiving additional training via the simulator.

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Controllers from Burbank and Long Beach airports will begin training in the hub as early as 2011 with Van Nuys airport to follow in the future.

So far, 73 airports nationwide use the simulators and the FAA plans to install four more systems in 2011 to serve a total of 86 airports. Software developer Adacel, whose North American offices are based in Florida, was awarded a $48-million contact in 2007 to deliver the Tower Simulation System, MaxSim 4.0, to FAA facilities.

The technology will play a vital role in increasing the efficiency and safety of training 11,000 new controllers expected to be needed through 2020, said Bill Withycombe, the FAA's Western-Pacific regional administrator.

"It is a very important tool in training of new controllers and that of veterans as well," Withycombe said.

Experienced John Wayne controllers will use the simulators for a refresher course in September as they prepare for wind-pattern changes caused by the Santa Ana winds. While traffic normally takes off in a southerly direction from the airport, high-winds occasionally make it necessary for pilots to take off in the opposite direction.

The Santa Anas are one of the characteristics seen at John Wayne, creating a challenge for air traffic controllers. Other issues facing controllers are the relatively small runways, a diverse mix of traffic that includes helicopters, private and commercial planes, and steep take-off requirements.

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