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Controlling the air space through COVID-19

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Dustin Brannan, 334th Training Squadron air traffic control instructor, practices air traffic simulations inside Cody Hall at Keesler Air Force, Mississippi, March 4, 2020. Brannan was selected to be a part of the Air Education and Training Command Air Traffic Control Rapid Response Team, initiated to combat the potential loss of manning due to COVID-19. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Seth Haddix)

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Dustin Brannan, 334th Training Squadron air traffic control instructor, practices air traffic simulations inside Cody Hall at Keesler Air Force, Mississippi, March 4, 2020. Brannan was selected to be a part of the Air Education and Training Command Air Traffic Control Rapid Response Team, initiated to combat the potential loss of manning due to COVID-19. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Seth Haddix)

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgts. Dereck Padgett, Kyle Hayes, and Dustin Brannan, 334th Training Squadron air traffic control instructors, practice air traffic simulations inside Cody Hall at Keesler Air Force, Mississippi, March 4, 2020. The instructors were selected to be a part of the Air Education and Training Command Air Traffic Control Rapid Response Team, initiated to combat the potential loss of manning due to COVID-19. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Seth Haddix)

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgts. Dereck Padgett, Kyle Hayes, and Dustin Brannan, 334th Training Squadron air traffic control instructors, practice air traffic simulations inside Cody Hall at Keesler Air Force, Mississippi, March 4, 2020. The instructors were selected to be a part of the Air Education and Training Command Air Traffic Control Rapid Response Team, initiated to combat the potential loss of manning due to COVID-19. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Seth Haddix)

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgts. Dereck Padgett, Kyle Hayes, and Dustin Brannan, 334th Training Squadron air traffic control instructors, practice air traffic simulations inside Cody Hall at Keesler Air Force, Mississippi, March 4, 2020. The instructors were selected to be a part of the Air Education and Training Command Air Traffic Control Rapid Response Team, initiated to combat the potential loss of manning due to COVID-19. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Seth Haddix)

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgts. Dereck Padgett, Kyle Hayes, and Dustin Brannan, 334th Training Squadron air traffic control instructors, practice air traffic simulations inside Cody Hall at Keesler Air Force, Mississippi, March 4, 2020. The instructors were selected to be a part of the Air Education and Training Command Air Traffic Control Rapid Response Team, initiated to combat the potential loss of manning due to COVID-19. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Seth Haddix)

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Dustin Brannan, 334th Training Squadron air traffic control instructor, practices air traffic simulations inside Cody Hall at Keesler Air Force, Mississippi, March 4, 2020. Brannan was selected to be a part of the Air Education and Training Command Air Traffic Control Rapid Response Team, initiated to combat the potential loss of manning due to COVID-19. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Seth Haddix)

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Dustin Brannan, 334th Training Squadron air traffic control instructor, practices air traffic simulations inside Cody Hall at Keesler Air Force, Mississippi, March 4, 2020. Brannan was selected to be a part of the Air Education and Training Command Air Traffic Control Rapid Response Team, initiated to combat the potential loss of manning due to COVID-19. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Seth Haddix)

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Dereck Padgett, 334th Training Squadron air traffic control instructor, practices air traffic simulations inside Cody Hall at Keesler Air Force, Mississippi, March 4, 2020. Padgett was selected to be a part of the Air Education and Training Command Air Traffic Control Rapid Response team, initiated to combat the potential loss of manning due to COVID-19. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Seth Haddix)

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Dereck Padgett, 334th Training Squadron air traffic control instructor, practices air traffic simulations inside Cody Hall at Keesler Air Force, Mississippi, March 4, 2020. Padgett was selected to be a part of the Air Education and Training Command Air Traffic Control Rapid Response team, initiated to combat the potential loss of manning due to COVID-19. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Seth Haddix)

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Air Force has continued to protect our air space and carry out the mission while facing challenges.

To mitigate and prepare for the potential loss of manning of the air traffic controllers in Air Education and Training Command, an ATC rapid response team has been initiated. From selecting a suitable team, coordinating with other bases and developing appropriate training, Chief Master Sgt. Michael Merritt, AETC air traffic control MAJCOM functional manager, was able to demonstrate the team’s abilities.

“We needed to provide a short-term response and find an efficient process,” said Merritt. “The team has been able to identify limiting factors and improve. The training and preparation has been phenomenal.”

Currently, the team includes five ATC instructors from three AETC bases with prior experience and advanced ATC flight simulation training through the PilotEdge training program. The instructors have traveled to different bases to demonstrate their capability to carry-out various missions.

“So far, the experiment has been a success,” said Tech Sgt. Derek Padgett, 334th Training Squadron ATC instructor and response team member. “We were able to adapt to other base flightlines and safely support their mission. Our experience and training programs have prepared us instructors to take on other environments head-on.”

The team will be able to prevent any effect on pilot training while AETC continues to train air traffic controllers as well.

“If COVID-19 tries to take us down, we can continue to keep planes in the sky and train our pilots,” said Padgett. “Pilot and ATC training is essential and the driving force for success. The instructors can adapt and continue to support our mission. This is the first time I have seen this in ATC history. This has been an eye-opener and proved our flexibility.”

The team continues to prepare for any potential scenario to help revolutionize how ATC functions throughout the Air Force during pandemics and any situation that can affect manning or the overall mission success.

“The solution we were able to construct allowed us to challenge the norm and improve possibilities going forward,” said Merritt. “Embracing innovation and working through challenges such as COVID-19 is what maintains our readiness.”

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