MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AFNS)
A single error on an airport approach procedure can put the lives of pilots, crew members and their passengers in danger. To protect Defense Department aircraft, specialized teams of air traffic controllers personally ensure they land safely when flying abroad.
The Terminal Instrument Procedures (TERPS) team at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, works with nations in Central America, South America, the Caribbean, and Mexico.
Although they report directly to headquarters Air Mobility Command at Scott AFB, Illinois, the team is housed at MacDill AFB to be near the countries in their areas of responsibility (AOR).
“Each of us has our own countries that we deal with on a daily basis. That way we always maintain continuity of what is happening in the country,” said Tech. Sgt. Bruce Dally, a TERPS specialist assigned to the AMC Air Operations Squadron. “We get the host nation’s information off the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) website, and then rebuild it into our software and apply Air Force criteria to it.”
This special duty was created following a tragic accident in April 1996 when U.S. Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown and 34 other passengers and crew members were killed when their aircraft crashed into a mountain at Dubrovnik Airport, Croatia. An accident investigation board concluded that the cause of the crash was pilot error and a poorly designed approach procedure.
In response, the defense secretary put a policy in place requiring all DOD aircraft Foreign Terminal Instrument Procedures (FTIP) be evaluated and reviewed by a TERPS office before pilots take off on a mission.
Currently, there are four specified areas of responsibility for FTIP that fall under major commands, which includes Pacific Air Forces, U.S. Air Forces in Europe, Air Combat Command and AMC. Everything the specialists do is for safety, which means even the smallest changes are recorded.
“We review and publish procedures supporting all DOD aircraft, including for the president, that fly into the AOR,” said Dwayne Emsweller, the TERPS chief assigned to the AMC AOS. “We review more than 1,200 procedures a year, and more than 600 procedures are published.”
However, the TERPS specialists cannot rely on the NGA website alone. They also work closely with their host nation counterparts for updated information, and each specialist visits their assigned countries, big or small, to build strong, trusting partnerships.
One of these established partnerships was called on in 2010 when a massive earthquake devastated Haiti, and a way to provide humanitarian aid was quickly needed.
It just so happened that six months before the crisis, Emsweller received a call from a U.S. Southern Command member in the Dominican Republic asking for assistance to get newly installed navigational equipment inspected at a host nation military airfield. Although it wasn’t his job to request this type of inspection, Emsweller was the AOR expert.
“We assisted with everything they needed to get the inspections completed, which was for one of their military airfields; San Isidro,” Emsweller explained. “When the Haiti crisis happened, the first place we wanted to stage out of was San Isidro.”
With the Dominican Republic located adjacent to Haiti, access to San Isidro gave the U.S. forces a way to quickly respond with humanitarian support.
“Something may not be our job, but as the AOR experts, we try to help out any way we can,” he said. “The troops are air traffic controllers, but when they are assigned to the unit, they are Air Force ambassadors.”
It is through enhancing partnerships with host nations that TERPS specialists are able to help ensure the Air Force can safely execute rapid global mobility.