Air traffic

An inside look at one of the world’s busiest air traffic control towers

OSHKOSH (NBC 26) – FAA air traffic controllers plan to direct more than 17,000 aircraft as pilots enter and exit Wittman Regional Airport this week during EAA AirVenture 2022.

It’s hard to miss Wittman Regional’s control tower, though its workers remain behind the scenes.

There are 16 air traffic control teams with four people per team: two spotters, a communicator and a team leader.

“The observers are looking out the window and seeing the plane coming in, and they’ll say whatever needs to be said,” said Jay McKinty, director of air traffic.

EAA AirVenture air traffic controllers come from all over the country. Everyone meets certain criteria to work at the event. McKinty said experience and availability are assessed.

Messages are communicated directly from the tower to the pilots.

“It was very effective. There were so many planes there,” said Douglas Gibbs, a pilot from Toledo, Ohio.

Gibbs has been a pilot for nearly 30 years. He landed in Oshkosh on Monday with his hand-built Stolp Starduster Too SA300.

“We started almost 30 miles away from the finish. We followed a guy, a mile behind him. I followed him to the airport. He landed on runway 27. We landed on runway 36.”

Gibbs said he attempted to land on Sunday but decided to wait due to heavy air traffic.

According to the FAA, they saw more than 2,300 surgeries on Sunday.

“We were crossing this big conga line. There were 300 planes in it and we were getting light. I looked at my watch. I said, “Let’s just go to Fond du Lac and play it safe.” So we did. Got some fuel and came here today,” Gibbs said.

It took Gibbs 7.5 years to complete the construction of “The Pretty Penny”, an airplane made of mahogany, spruce and color tubes. Although he had been at EAA AirVenture for the past five years, this was the first time he had flown his new build at the air show. Gibbs said he’s glad everything went well and hopes to win a contest or two this week.