San Carlos Tower Has An ATC Problem


Thanks to sites like LiveATC, we get a small peek into the world of air traffic controlling. Most times, everything runs pretty much smoothly between the pilots, ground crew and controllers, but there are interesting incidents that pop up from time to time.

VASAviation is one of those YouTube channels that covers a variety of notable events. In one of their later videos, they picked up on a heated exchange taking place between a student pilot at the tower controller at San Carlos Airport (SQL) in California.

Located just under 10 miles southeast of the San Francisco International Airport (SFO), San Carlos Airport is home to a number of general and corporate aviation companies, and is a popular choice for student pilots.

Given that many student pilots fly in and out, and practice circuits, it might be safe to say that San Carlos ATC should be a bit more forgiving if things don’t go perfectly. In the incident below, a student pilot was conducting runway 30 pattern work. The pilot was on the right downwind leg (see illustration below) and was asked by the tower controller to report traffic ahead of them also on the downwind turning right base near the cement factory.

After two requests to report the traffic in sight with negative responses each time, the controller was clearly agitated and instructed them to make a “normal” right turn, informing them that they would also be performing a full stop landing after that.

Usually the controllers would clear them for the “option”, which just as it sounds, gives the pilot the option to perform a touch-and-go, low approach, missed approach, stop and go, or full stop landing. Telling the pilot that he has to perform a full stop landing pretty much shows how frustrated the controller was during the ordeal.

The tower controller also said, “if you want to go somewhere else…I’m working too hard”

At this point, the controller told the pilot to rejoin the downwind as they may have been getting too close to the other traffic on base. The instructor on board the aircraft chimed in saying, “we’re still negative on that traffic. We turned right there because that’s what you told us to do.”

He later said, “traffic is in sight now. We were looking directly into the sun to find them so you got to kind of manage your expectations for what we’re able to do.”

The controller was clearly not having and replied saying, “I have to manage mine and it’s a full stop landing only, you’re done.” At this point they turned final and were cleared to land.

There was a bit of a back and forth once on the ground regarding discussing the incident off air, but the controller quickly dismissed them telling them to call the company.

The controller ended things off saying, “I’m working eight hours by myself today. I just don’t have time to work this hard for a student. I’m sorry.” You can check out the full interaction below.

STRESSED CONTROLLER takes it on Student and Instructor Pilots!

Just a few weeks earlier, it appears the same controller also had a run in with a Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE) on board another flight after the controller berated the pilot for not knowing where the hospital landmark was located. You can check out that incident in the video below.

VERY HEATED exchange | Controller and FAA Examiner at San Carlos!

A symptom of a bigger problem

If it wasn’t clear why this controller sounded annoyed by the whole situation, that last line pretty much speaks numbers. San Carlos is one of many smaller airports that hire contracted air traffic controllers and not those from the Federal Aviation Administration.

It seems that many of these controllers are overworked and woefully underpaid (given how expensive it is to live in California), and this results in poor controlling experiences, especially for new pilots who may not be fully confident to deal with this kind of conflict. Not excusing the controller here, but situations like this really highlight the bigger problem higher up the hierarchy.

Unfortunately it seems situations like these are happening more frequently, with little resolve taking place to alleviate the root problem. It would be a shame if took two planes crashing into each other to get the FAA to seriously investigate incidents like this to put pressure on contracting companies to pay its staff more adequately.

[Featured Photo: Saufhn/Wikimedia ]

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