Air-space control changes: MCAS Cherry Point assumes responsibilities for several airports in region
Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point assumed control of air-traffic control responsibilities for civilian and military aircraft over northeastern North Carolina earlier this month.
On Feb. 5, the Federal Aviation Administration’s Washington Center in Leesburg, Va., ceded those responsibilities to MCAS Cherry Point, which is adjacent to Havelock in Craven County. The change affects Washington-Warren Airport, Plymouth Airport in Washington County, First Flight Airstrip in Kill Devil Hills and Dare County Airport in Manteo. They had received air-traffic control services from Washington Center for many years.
“Washington Center is divesting themselves of this service, it really doesn’t match what they’re built to do. And we are acquiring this service and we are built to do it,” said Marine Corps Installations East Regional Air Space Coordinator David Plummer in an interview with Public Radio East.
The transfer of air-space control will give the military greater flexibility when conducting training exercises, according to Plummer. Documents related to the switch indicate the change was made to improve and enhance communication and air-space coordination among military and civilian pilots and lessen the burden on civilian air-traffic controllers.
Officials familiar with the switch said it should result in real-time information and data going to military pilots flying is special-use airspace and improve air-traffic control over Roanoke Island and the Albemarle Sound. Military aircraft — Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force — often use airspace in northeastern North Carolina on their way to and from the bombing and strafing range at Stump Point near Mann’s Harbor.
“We’ve been working together with the Federal Aviation Administration for quite some time to improve ATC services in Eastern North Carolina,” Plummer wrote in an email. “In the past, we had issues with having to ‘borrow’ the training airspace over top of Cherry Point from Washington Center. The borrowing and giving back required lots of coordination and was a burden on the air traffic controllers. This new arrangement will make the formerly ‘borrowed’ airspace available on demand and removes the coordination burden. As part of the agreement, Cherry Point also agreed to expand the ATC service area to include airports where Washington Center currently performs airport services typically performed by Approach Controls. The outlook going forward for the local aviation community looks very positive.”
Gilbert Alligood, chairman of Washington’s airport advisory board, said there had been some “glitches” with the switch, most notably problems with the MCAS Cherry Point radar being unable to detect aircraft at low altitudes over or near Washington-Warren Airport. Alligood, at a recent meeting of the advisory board, said he experienced that problem as he left the airport and returned a few days later during a trip northward. He said during his radio conversation with MCAS Cherry Point personnel, they told him they could not “paint” his aircraft with their radar.
“I talked to the pilot for Skydive (Washington) who was up the same day. He said he heard me and they were reading him, but he was over to east a little bit,” Alligood said.
“So, if any of you go up, call Cherry Point and make a record of where they say they can paint you on radar,” he added.