Behind the scenes of the 'World's Busiest Air Traffic Control Tower'
OSHKOSH, Wis. (WLUK) -- Air traffic controllers at the Experimental Aircraft Association’s AirVenture won't earn a Super Bowl ring, but they say working the event is like playing in one.
At times this week, the Federal Aviation Administration's traffic control tower at Wittman Field sees more traffic in just a few hours than O'Hare in Chicago sees in a full day.
About 10,000 planes of all types fly in for the EAA AirVenture. That's why, during this week, the Oshkosh control tower is coined the "World's Busiest Air Traffic Control Tower."
"It has nine people working just the one runway, which in our normal world -- our normal everyday jobs at the towers we work at -- it takes normally only one person to do," AirVenture traffic control manager Tim Fitzgerald said.
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Monday, the control center was lit up in bright pink from all the t-shirts of tower workers it takes to man the event.
There are 65 controllers, 18 supervisors and three operations managers from multiple FAA air traffic facilities. They are among the most qualified traffic control operators in the country and have been chosen to hold down the tower.
"We have 16 teams of four controllers that all come up here, so there is a whole bunch of us, but that's how we keep it safe," Fitzgerald said.
Air traffic controllers working the convention say the EAA AirVenture is the Super Bowl of air traffic. So just how does the small Oshkosh airport stack up against some of the other heavy hitters during AirVenture?
This time last year, Chicago O'Hare saw about 2,500 flights in a 24-hour period. Oshkosh had almost 2,300 in just 10 hours.
One thing that is different in Oshkosh, though, is that everything, for the most part, is done by just looking out the window and visually spotting an aircraft.
"You see the controllers up here with the binoculars up to their eyes just looking for the airplanes and looking to identify them just by what they look like, or what color they are, ‘Is it a high wing or is a low wing?’ That kind of stuff,” Fitzgerald said.
The air traffic control manager said he tells his employees that this week is the hardest they'll ever work, but also the most fun they'll probably ever have.
The FAA has staffed a tower at the fly-in since the 1960s when the event was still in Rockford, Ill.