Air Traffic Control to be Demystified at First Friday Forum of the Year

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Mark Sherry will explain air traffic control and how it facilitates Bay Area travel in his Jan.3 lecture.

    With more than 1,000 aircraft flying in and out of San Francisco International Airport daily, how are the airways kept safe?
    First Friday Forum’s lecture by Mark Sherry titled “About Air Traffic Control” has the answer. 
    Sherry was the staff specialist at SFO’s Air Traffic Control Tower for 32 years. His job description included training, quality assurance, and plan and procedures. 
    His first three years were in this position at the Oakland Airport. He is also a licensed pilot and was a flight instructor at Buchanan Field Airport in Concord in his early years. 
    A graduate of De La Salle High School and California State University, East Bay, he has been a Diablo Valley resident for more than 60 years. He has an Irish sense of humor, gift of gab and good story telling.
    “The focus of my talk will be how the air traffic control ensures the safety of the system at San Francisco International Airport,” Sherry says. “I will explain the different parts of the Air Traffic Control System and how the aircraft arrive and depart the Bay Area. There will be an explanation of delays and why they occur at SFO in particular.”
    So what do air traffic controllers do? Sherry says they direct aircraft safely through assigned flight paths, involving a specific sector of airspace. Needed skills are problem solving, communication, decision making, multi-tasking, and the need to be able to concentrate when there are many things happening around them. This can lead to a great amount of stress. Air traffic controllers must pass a rigorous assessment and training program.
    Sherry has worked on such projects as implementing air traffic plans for major construction work, including improvements for runway 28L, training of operational personnel, tracking safety issues and participating in the design and implementation for the new control tower at SFO.
    He also conducted research and analysis to determine the root cause of numerous aviation incidents from an air traffic perspective. 
    SFO has four asphalt runways arranged in two intersecting sets of parallel runways. On them, in 2018, the airport had 470,164 operations with an average of 1,287 a day. Of those, 87 percent were commercial, 10 percent air taxi, 2 percent general and under 1 percent military. 
    As the seventh busiest airport in North America, SFO is one of the most challenging for air traffic controllers. New technologies and a seismically vulnerable existing tower led to the development of a new air traffic control tower at SFO that exemplifies structural engineering innovation as it provides a safe, stable and best-in-class workspace for controllers, Sherry says.
    The lecture takes place at 1:30 p.m. Jan. 3 in the sanctuary of Lafayette-Orinda Presbyterian Church, 49 Knox Drive, Lafayette. Refreshments will be served starting at 1 p.m.

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