Sea-Tac airport controllers don't answer pilots

SEA-TAC AIRPORT - For 25 minutes in the wee hours of April 11, the control tower at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport did not respond to airplane traffic.

“There were two planes affected - one trying to take off and one trying to come in,” airport spokesman Bob Parker said Monday.

The unexplained silence, which started at 3:15 a.m. that day, ended at 3:40 a.m. when a Port of Seattle staff member drove to the guard shack at the base of the control tower.

“They went over to the guard shack at the tower and he (the guard) was able to raise someone,” Parker said.

Airport officials said that a Boeing 747-400 flown by Taiwanese carrier EVA was on its final approach to Sea-Tac at around 3:15 a.m. when it radioed the control tower for permission to land.

There was no response. Eventually, the airliner reached a dispatcher at the airport’s departure control facility, who is not in the control tower, and made a plan to remain airborne until a controller could be reached.

Meanwhile, a Delta Airlines jet attempting to back away from the airport’s south satellite got no response when it sought clearance to leave.

The airfield - the runways and taxiways - was cleared of maintenance workers until the tower resumed communications, Parker said. “They followed procedure and left the immediate area,” he said.

The EVA plane landed safely once contact was reestablished. The matter is being investigated by the FAA, which oversees air traffic control, Parker said. The FAA would not comment on the incident.


Can we find the hold pattern for that EVA-air flight?


This happened over in the UK recently too. Funny.

EVA31 EWR-SEA is the Eva flight, and DAL9912 SEA-SLC is the Delta flight.

Not if it had let to an accident and possible loss of life. Tower controllers not paying attention to the frequencies is very serious.

Haven’t you ever heard people use the term “funny” to imply strange or weird?

Yes, but I thought you meant it in the comical sense. Sorry for the misunderstanding.

At the scales of the KEWR/KSEA and KSLC/KSEA flights, there’s no detail to be seen about maneuvers needed at Sea-Tac. Those are ‘poster child’ cases for the ability to zoom maps.

For the Eva flight, you can look at the track log and see that at the end of the recorded flight the plane descended down to 700 feet, and then ascended again back up to 5000, probably when it realized there was no one responding.

As for the Delta flight, I would no expect to see anything different other than a late departure time, since during the whole incident it was just sitting on the ramp.

How an arrival message was filed for the Eva flight when everyone was asleep in the control tower, I have no idea. :confused:

How would this work procedurely? Approach hands the flight off to Tower- shouldn’t you expect to be in contact with them before the OM? is the clearance from approach valid up to MAP?

The approach controller probably cleared them for the approach, and then handed them off to the tower. They probably then tried a few times make contact with the tower, all the while descending towards the airport, and when they finally realized no one was responding, they aborted the approach and went back up to 5000.

If the position report is accurate, they were 300 FT AGL (700-433 APT EL). I am just curious if the approach clearance is vailid to that point.

As an airfield maintenance employee I find it very disturbing that an airfield could go unmonitored so long. Even with lights out and closure lights burning at the end of each runway, I still would want a controller available to keep some metal from landing on me or my crew…

Sure, an ILS usually goes down to 200ft and you can continue if you see the runway (environment). All you need tower for is the clearance to put your gear on the runway.

No problem. 8)

This happened to me on a smaller scale, I was flying into a Class D controlled airport (KIXD), I attempted to contact tower for to allow me into the D airspace. Nobody answered for a good 10 minutes, all while I was circling 5 miles south of the airport to remain clear of the D airspace… finally somone spoke up, and I entered the airspace… come to find out, the control tower is usually just a single man operation at this airport… He had to use the bathroom (6 stories down at the bottom of the tower)… I guess if you gotta go, you gotta go… but it still urked me that I couldn’t get into the airspace for 10 minutes

I actually have an airport by me (KGYY) which is class D and when the controllers are by themselves and have to use the washroom they bring a handheld radio into the washroom with them to talk to traffic. I know because my good buddy works their and tells me stories.


I started my ATC career at YNG Youngstown and can remember working the mid night shift alone, the tracon was combined to the tower cab and you worked everything. It was slow, if you worked 20 aircraft during the entire night that was average. When you needed to use the restroom, you tell an aircraft on frequency you would be back in a few minutes, please advise anyone who checks in on the frequency. Did not have any other options.

union controlled nap time and the shop steward forgot to set his watch :unamused:

Good call by the Capt on the EVA fight to not just land, especially if the airport had a bunch of PAEW type NOTAMS, that could be ugly.

I hope the FAA reimburses both aircraft for wasted fuel and flight time. 25 minutes in a 747 at low altitude… OUCH! Wishful thinking, I guess that would prove they made a mistake.

What’s the nearest alternate for SEA for a 747? Vancouver maybe, fuel only?
I’m just wondering how much margin (in hours) they’d normally need, what they planned to do if they had to bail, and thus how much time they probably had left before doing it.

Nearest I can think of would be the Boeing factory, Paine Field (KPAE) 50 miles to the north. No airline support there, but at least they could hold the pax as hostages there until crew rest issues are no longer a factor. :laughing: