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San Carlos Tower Has An ATC Problem

The repercussions of contracted controllers being overworked and underpaid seem to be spilling onto the radio waves, and is a sign of a bigger problem with the system. ( More...

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EMK69 20
I don't argue with ATC but clearly, the controller was rude and very, very unprofessional in his dealings with a student. I kept thinking, what if there was a young solo pilot w/o his instructor to run interference?

Personally, I would terminate the employment of this controller he appears to be an accident waiting to happen. Attitudes don't belong in the tower, or in the Air.
wdlewis 4
I'm based at SQL, and saying it has an ATC problem is an understatement. I can't understand why this is a contract tower, (read... lowest bidder), considering the volume of traffic it has. It's been understaffed for some time now and at points has reduced hours and denied any pattern work. I've been told that SQL not considered a GA airport, but a commercial airport due to all the 135 operations. The FAA will finally realize there is a problem when there is an accident, which, if past performance is an indication, I believe is inevitable. As a side note, SQL is closed for runway and taxiway improvements and won't reopen until October 11th.
Fill Cee 1
Does PAO have the same kind of problems as SQL? What about HWD, RHV, and lots of other GA-heavy, training oriented D airports? Why is SQL seemingly so afflicted?
Steve Aliamus 4
After flying out of SQL for many years, I can say that this appears to be an isolated controller incident. As the article states, lots of students do pattern work there, and that is where I did my training and solo. The controllers were always polite and patient. The only thing a controller said to me one time was "keep up your speed little buddy" as my C-150 was in front of a twin about to turn final as I was coming in to land. :)
wdlewis 2
We used to have an excellent tower. They had patience and a sense of humor. I personally have not found out to be the case for at least the past year or so.
Jim Allen 1
Wasn’t this the airport that Ellison wanted so he fly his plane in and out as he pleased? My memory is faulty.
Ian Clements 1
No. That was SJC.
Over-flying SQL enroute to HWD across the Bay one afternoon, the SQL controller assigned me a 090 heading. Unfortunately, this heading would cause us to enter the SFO Class Bravo if we were left on that heading and altitude. You guessed it. He forgot about us until we reached the edge of the Class B and issued a hard right turn instruction to another heading. Since both he and I knew where the boundary was, I felt he had authority to issue the heading over my obligation (in VFR) to avoid the Class B, which would be the case if he were an Approach controller. In this case, I believe I could have gotten into a bit of a mess. At the time, my concern was that the controller had a sky full of students below me and was obviously overworked.
James Cross 5
The one issue is that you can't enter a bravo unless specifically issued clearance - so it would have landed on you, I'm afraid, even though the controller issued the heading that put you in that situation.
mariofer 3
Not sure why but the episode where a Starbucks employee went berserk because a rainbow Frappuccino was to hard to make comes to mind when I hear this exchange. Heck, I have not worked 8 hours a day since Carter was President.
Fill Cee 2
I have a friend who I met when he worked ATC at SQL after a full and award winning career as an FAA controller at various stations including SFO, NCT and so on. He used to be able to work 7 in the pattern and hold a conversation in the cab. Not a joke. Unquestionably service quality has declined since then. A notable example is I've heard the controllers shut out pattern work with as few as 2 in the pattern. It also seems they have little idea of what to do with helicopters even though several are based there and there are plenty of transients.

I've also witnessed (not directed at me) the ugly mood swing effect over the air. This is the height of unprofessional. And to be sure I've also heard ATC make more than enough mistakes including some that would have resulted in a loss of separation. While nobody is perfect, quality at SQL has deteriorated far below that where it used to be and not even close to where it is with say PAO. Even RHV with "bad Steve" back in the day was better than SQL is now. I think both are fair comparisons.

Everyone on staff, ATC or otherwise, and I'm including airport ops, one of which is particularly badge heavy, needs to realize SQL is a TRAINING airport and treat people accordingly. We're not dealing with 20,000 hour airline pilots going to SFO. Everyone needs to help each other out, pilots and ops staff too.

If things continue to be bad or get worse, I say take recording to the airport manager and also use the public comment period at the county board of supervisors. Play the tapes. Let people hear what's going on. Nothing like public exposure to "clear the air" as it were. Organize the people at SQL. You might be surprise at what 150 people can do if they each take a speaker's card and talk on an issue at a BOS meeting.
Keith Brown 2
The problem is not just the individual controller (if he's really a problem), it's the contractor. Who are they going to replace him with? And they don't contract with the city, they contract with the FAA, under DOT and useless Mayor Pete. That's why I've said elsewhere, take it up with the FAA. The symptoms you iterate are examples of the failed administration. I NEVER had to man a busy tower cab by myself, and can't even imagine how impossibly unsafe that would be. This guy is clearly trying to maintain his sanity and his job at the same time. He certainly can't live in NorCal driving Uber. Even at the Center I worked at, I could work a sector by myself, but I was surrounded by other sectors and a supervisor and controllers on stand by to help out if necessary.

And...any facility has the authority to deny training flights. Period.
btweston 2
I KNEW that Mayor Pete was personally responsible for this specific instance of subpar behavior.
Joe Birts 2
Towers have been understaffed since Regan fired all the controllers.
Keith Brown 1
Not true. I was there. There was massive hiring starting almost immediately in 1981 and it lasted through 1991, where I came in as the second to last Academy class. In the mid-90s to early 2000s staffing was just fine. The problems started with Republican presidents that wanted reduce Federal employees and break their unions. They also ignored the warnings of a "retirement bubble" that would soon occur as all those replacement controllers hired in the 80s reached retirement eligibility. Ever since, they have failed to address staffing shortages with any sort of intelligent plan.
Keith Brown 0
Sarcasm? No he's not directly responsible for an individual, but he is responsible for failing to staff facilities adequately. And he's not alone, it's been a problem since the late 90s, trust me, I was there. I'll also correct myself, the contract towers do actually contract with the city or municipality, but they are still partially funded by the FAA and required to abide by all applicable rules and regulations. If you pay taxes, you are not getting your money's worth, let's just put a bow on it.
sparkie624 3
I disagree... He is personally responsible for everything thing in the Government that happens.. Anything he puts his signature to, he is responsible for. That is the problem with this country.. People not standing on there own two feet being responsible for there actions or the lack there of!
sparkie624 4
You get what you pay for... Cheap Labor, Cheap Product...
Jim Allen 4
How is there such as a contract tower in the first place? It seems like any time a regulated function gets subbed out, there are problems (i.e. maintenance, operators). If the airline/function can’t afford to follow the regulations in-house, either the regs are too strict or prices need to go up to cover the cost of the service in-house where quality can be controlled. We’re in a race to the bottom.
Bill Overdue 2
... add illiterate and oppressed to the list!
linbb 2
Contract controller needs to go that attitude will result in an accident. Stupid to argue with a pilot to start with get things moving and then sort it out later on the ground. Didnt know that they could stop someone from flying by telling them to terminate there flight. WOW
dee9bee 4
Based on my experience 'pounding' the asphalt at SNA in the early 70s where eight aircraft in the pattern for the short runway was the norm, the Controller can order full stops if he/she feels things are getting out of hand. You just taxi back for takeoff, Hobbs meter churning away.

That doesn't seem to be the case here, however.
Jim Allen 3
Rich people don’t like being told by some lowly employee making 1/10o of them to wait. I think it’s just systemic within society these days regardless. For example… I called a local ferry company asking a question about fares. After pointing out a discrepancy in what the agent said she said: “Listen, I just work here”. I wasn’t arguing with her. Drive these days? Civility on the roads is become a thing of the past. For example, my wife told me she was driving yesterday afternoon some guy behind her was flashing his lights and swerving to the left and right to pass her. My wife pulled over to let them pass and 6 cars refused to let her back in to traffic. Mind you, this is a 30 mph road. People think about themselves.
Ian Clements 1
By definition, aren't you're doing better than someone else if you can afford lessons and to fly for recreation?

With your ferry example, the operator is likely given given a script to follow. When you question the operator, they aren't answering once for you, they've probably already heard it and she's telling you "I get it but that's what I'm supposed to tell you".

As far as driving goes, your wife pulled off the road. There is no obligation to let traffic entering the roadway in. It's up to your wife to do so when it is safe. Never mind there is also an obligation to pull over when five or more cars are behind you--regardless of the speed.
olsende 1
I logged many student hours in 610SP at SQL 2007 - 2209 (WVFC). Controllers were always very accommodating. Nothing ever like this.
Sorak 1
VasAviation on YT has the audio from this exchange if anyone wants to listen to how it went down.
Jim Jablonski 1
Why she?

[This comment has been downvoted. Show anyway.]

C J 5 know that the FAA contract tower program has nothing to do with individual states, right?
Larry Kreuger 5
Sad how nowadays some folks seem to need to blame a problem that exploded in the 1980s on a large state that did not want their controllers mindlessly fired…for the record, I believe only one major airport in the US is fully up to controller capacity…in short, we’ve never recovered. You get what you want and what you pay for when it comes to political grandstanding…kind of like the apparent implosion about to happen in Congress with McCarthy unable to function due to a gaggle of right wing goofies holding our country hostage. Sad
Bill Overdue -5
"I'm working too hard"? Was this taken straight out of the UAW playback? This "oppressed" ATC has no business being in the tower. Resign or be fired, ok, just fire the controller! Post haste!
Keith Brown 3
Tell me Mr. High Horse, with no experience, how does a single controller working an 8-hour shift take a bathroom break? Or any break at all, with a pattern full of airplanes?
Keith Brown 1
And BTW, I'm sure you'd be against flying on an airliner with a single pilot, which BTW, the industry is trying to push. Put some thought into it.
Bill Overdue -3
You sound oppressed? Relax! I'm all for single pilot, which I am by the way, among other things! If this person doesn't want to work as a controller, then she should leave! Inflammatory outbursts are amateurish, and displays inexperience.
Jim Jablonski 3
Jim Allen 2
If you’re single pilot, what happens if you have a grabber? Get distracted? Confirmation bids? Sorry, I want that second person on the cockpit. Having said that, I concur that the there was no excuse for the controller attitude regardless of how long they’re on shift for. SQL seems to be a perpetual problem
Keith Brown 2
For the record, I never argued the controller wasn't unprofessional, but we all reach that level of frustration at some point in our lives, controllers are no different. It's a symptom of the problem (understaffing), not the problem itself.
Bill Overdue 1
The "real single pilot" the FAA is pushing isnt necessarily human!
Jeff Zweber -1
This has nothing to do with workload or pay. In thousands of hours of transitions, you did a few seconds of testy exchanges.
Keith Brown -6
To all the folks that say this controller should be fired... you don't get it. He was alone on a shift, which in itself is a travesty, and if he isn't there, no tower. Pick your poison. I flew in and out of a lot of very busy *uncontrolled* airports in NorCal (I was also a controller) and it was very dicey, I even once took over the pattern from the air because of a few boneheads. I'll take a few snippy comments over an unsafe environment, thankyaverymuch. Take it up with the FAA, because while it's a contract tower, they still have to abide by FAA regs and safety standards as much as any government facility.
Ian Clements 3
Respectfully, there are two problems here. One which is out of any pilot's control and that is staffing. The second is the controller and how he performs his job. I'd argue arguing isn't just unproductive but puts everyone at risk.


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