MOSES LAKE — In a way, traffic in, out and around the Grant County International Airport is like any other transportation problem. But in another way it’s not – there is no such thing as an aviation fender-bender.
As a result pilots have to pay careful attention to where they are – in relation to the airport and in relation to other traffic. And they must ensure other pilots and the control tower know where they are. That’s especially true in busy locations; Michael Rivera, a captain in the U.S. Air Force, said most in-air collisions happen within 10 miles of an airport.
Rivera is based at Joint Base McChord, and a lot of training is performed in the area of the Grant County Airport. A McChord crew usually visits BBCC once per year to discuss C-17 operations and sharing airspace with the big jets.
Traditionally the McChord crew brings along a visual aid – their plane. They did so Friday, and aviation students were allowed to take an up-close look, from cargo bay to cockpit.
The airport, of course, also is used by commercial jets for testing and training, and by BBCC students in pilot training. And while there is a lot of room around the Grant County International Airport, there’s a lot of traffic, big and small, in a relatively small area.
Complicating matters further is the fact BBCC students, C-17 crews and commercial pilots all fly and train at night. And the Moses Lake tower closes at 10 p.m.
So it’s important that everybody who’s in the air has a sense of where they are and where everybody else is, and in that, communication is crucial. When there’s trouble, it usually has its roots in “miscommunication or no communication. That’s probably the biggest thing,” Rivera said.
But while communication is crucial, there’s also the possibility of too much communication, at least when C-17 crews are involved in certain kinds of training. “It gets pretty busy,” Rivera said, and the crews can miss notifications, even important notifications.
It’s also important to avoid complacency, he said. Familiarity with the airspace shouldn’t breed carelessness.
Rivera, a native of Naches, said he wanted to be a pilot from his first sight of the Thunderbirds air acrobatic team at an air show in Yakima. “I fell in love with it,” he said. He joined ROTC at Central Washington University and graduated from pilot training in 2011. He chose to concentrate on the tanker and airlift track, he said.
His most recent mission was a trip to Antarctica, he said, landing the plane on a runway of ice four feet thick. The planes and their pilots also perform humanitarian missions, in-air refueling, “tactical and strategic missions.”