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Pilot Lands Without Clearance From A Temporary Control Tower

Did you know non-towered airports can be temporarily towered? Here's how...

What Is A "MATCT"?

The FAA has a handful of Mobile Airport Traffic Control Towers (MATCT) available for unusual circumstances around the country. These temporary control towers are used for events like aerial demonstrations, fly-ins, sporting events, and natural disasters. They can be deployed at either towered or non-towered airports, meaning airspace that's usually non-towered can becoming temporarily towered.

Mobile towers are staffed by FAA controllers on temporary duty assignments. While the towers aren't tall, they are placed so controllers get the best view possible (read the guidelines here). Some trailers can be self-powered with diesel motors, to continue managing operations even when power isn't available. Here's an example of a MATCT placed in Key West following Hurricane Irma:

FAA

NASA ASRS Report

The following report was published in 2012, after a pilot landed at the East Hampton Airport, NY (KHTO) without clearance from a temporary control tower...

I landed at HTO without communicating with the temporary Tower. I communicated over the published CTAF frequency, but there was a temporary Tower in effect in Class G airspace. I had called Flight Service for weather but didn't mention HTO, which was an unplanned fuel stop. I had called HTO to inquire about fuel; they didn't mention the temporary Tower. I used flight following with Providence Approach who released me five miles from the airport with "no traffic observed between me and the field, squawk VFR, and have a nice day". They did not advise of the Tower.

Your sectional chart and airport chart supplement won't be updated to reflect temporary control towers. So, where can you find out if a temporary control tower is in use? The FAA is required to publish NOTAMs for MATCTs to include, at a minimum:

  • Hours of operation
  • Frequencies
  • Patterns
  • Portions of the airport not visible from the temporary tower

Obviously, for the pilot on this flight, this was a tough situation. The fuel stop was unplanned, and he was communicating with ATC.

What could have been done differently? If you're talking to Approach or Center for flight following, or if you're talking to Flight Service, specifically ask for any NOTAMs at your new destination. If there are any (including a temporary tower), they'll tell you.

Boldmethod

Forest Fires Near You? Be On Alert For Temporary Towers

With forest fire season quickly approaching in the western US, you need to be on high alert for temporary towers. The FAA often sets up temporary towers at airports where firefighting operations are based. Just last year, several non-towered airports, including Spanish Fork, Utah (KSPK), had temporary towers in operation for the majority of the summer.

C-17 Aerial Transport Options

Relocating temporary towers is getting easier too. Last year, the FAA rolled out a Large Mobile Tower (LMATCT) that's compatible with military C-17 Globemasters for aerial transportation. According to the FAA, "the new models, specifically designed to be transportable on military airlift, directly support the FAA's Mobile Asset Management Program (MAMP), which delivers mobile systems necessary to restore ATC capabilities during natural disasters, facility outages or when other permanent systems are out of service for upgrades... The test load was conducted in order to validate the Air Transportability Test Loading Activity certification and ensure the newly constructed towers were compatible for airlift aboard U.S. Air Force aircraft."

FAA

These new LMATCTs, equipped for aerial transport, will allow the FAA even more flexibility for immediate deployments.

Where Have You Seen Temporary Towers?

Oshkosh AirVenture is one place where temporary towers are deployed every year along arrival routes. When was the last time you saw one? Tell us in the comments below.

Swayne Martin

Swayne is an editor at Boldmethod, certified flight instructor, and an Embraer 145 First Officer for a regional airline. He graduated as an aviation major from the University of North Dakota in 2018, holds a PIC Type Rating for Cessna Citation Jets (CE-525), and is a former pilot for Mokulele Airlines. He's the author of articles, quizzes and lists on Boldmethod every week. You can reach Swayne at swayne@boldmethod.com, and follow his flying adventures on his YouTube Channel.

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