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Air-traffic crew gets a hand

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A team of 12 air traffic controllers has arrived in Utah and is preparing to help handle air traffic during the 2002 Winter Games.

The 12 come from seven states in the Rockies and Pacific Northwest and will be working in two temporary control facilities that will be used to handle additional air traffic expected in February.

Even though there are strict flight restrictions on general aviation aircraft during the Olympics, it's hard to predict how much traffic will actually be in the area, said Carol Branaman, National Air Traffic Controllers Association Northwest Mountain regional vice president.

"We have to be prepared for any contingency," Branaman said. "We're proceeding ahead as if nothing unusual had happened."

The temporary towers are located in Provo and at a municipal airport near Salt Lake City. The controllers reported on Monday and are training before starting work this weekend.

Branaman said temporary towers such as the two in Utah are sometimes used for large fly-in events. Atlanta used similar towers during the 1996 Summer Games.

One controller from each of the 24 towers in the FAA's Northwest Mountain Region was nominated for the Olympic assignment. Branaman said it was difficult to narrow the field to 12 but said they were chosen because they have extensive experience working with general aviation.

"The people there are pretty much ready for anything," she said. "They're schooled in old techniques and familiar with all kinds of airplanes."

Seattle Center controller Jim Ullman helped lead the association's Olympic plans and said this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for these controllers.

"These people are willing to leave their families for a month to work," he said. "They won't receive any glory other than to say they did it."

Branaman said the controllers are accustomed to widely changing conditions.

"They're pretty much using binoculars and the seat of their pants to control people," she said.

The controllers have to get acquainted with the area and use the experience they have in the system to get by, she said.

"It's all new to them, but they're good at that," Branaman said.


E-mail: lculler@desnews.com