EAA Chapter 54

St. Paul, MN. (Lake Elmo)

Downtown St. Paul Airport Controllers Seek to Reduce Traffic Conflicts
   by Bob Collins EAA Chapter 54


Downtown St. Paul tower controller Keith Thompson shows what his radar screen looks like during a safety seminar on March 30, 2024

Keith Thompson shows what his radar screen looks like during a meeting with area pilots at Fleming Field (KSGS) on March 30, 2024.


(March 30) - Meeting with area pilots at South St. Paul's Fleming Field, two tower controllers from downtown St. Paul Airport sought to enlist help in reducing the number of traffic conflicts between pilots arriving and leaving South St. Paul and air traffic -- mostly jets -- arriving downtown. To be sure, the controllers noted that conflicts have been substantially reduced over the last few years in the East Metro because of increased emphasis on "hot zones" by ATC and the FAA.

In addition to calling attention to some recommended procedures, controller Keith Thompson pleaded with the pilots not to be afraid to talk to St. Paul tower, and even come visit for a tour of the place.

"You don't want to talk to us, you maybe had a bad experience or you're just afraid whatever," he said. "We understand that you guys are training and working and trying to get better. We want to help with that, and we also want to help you keep flying and you can't do that if you're sliding in front of a Gulfstream. So let's work together on this."

Thompson showed several radar videos of conflicts between Fleming Field and Downtown traffic.

"South Saint Paul aircraft departing eastbound are the most at risk, but just because of that close proximity to the final (approach path for KSTP)," he said. "They can quickly depart and be directly in front of an arrival (to downtown). Just like that. I mean, it's so fast how the closure rates and how fast everyone operates. Arrivals from the Northeast are unpredictable risks mixing in with Minneapolis traffic, especially when they're skirting, the edge of our Delta (downtown St. Paul airspace). For controllers, we don't know what the aircraft's going to do. It's something we have to watch closely, and for pilots arriving to St. Paul, they're coming into that critical stage flight where they're configuring for landing. They're getting ready to touch down." 


(For a pdf version of this image, click here.)

The controllers said the hot zone isn't in their airspace so they can't impose a route; it's uncontrolled airspace. They enlisted support for recommended routes. For example, KSGS inbound traffic could route from the Cottage Grove water tower to a spot between the St. Paul Park water tower, just south of an oval track, and stay well below 2500'.  That takes the KSGS traffic south of RULDE, which is the final approach fix for KSTP traffic.  That inbound traffic will be at 2500 feet, with aircraft destined for KMSP at 3,000 feet.

KSGS managers recommended inbound pilots fly at 1700. Outbound pilots from KSGS fly at 2,000.

"The problem is there's just not enough airspace here," Thompson said.

Some members of the audience said flight schools are still teaching students to head for the Cottage Grove refinery on the East side of the Mississippi River and then make a 45-degree traffic entry for Runway 16 or a crosswind entry for the downwind for 34. But that potentially puts their plane in the path of the inbound KSTP traffic.

The South St. Paul Airport manager said he's seeing more pilots doing right 360s on downwind for Runway 16 for spacing, but the controllers said that creates a potential traffic conflict. They recommended the downwind pilot  call St. Paul Tower (119.10) and simply extend the downwind leg into the Class D airspace of downtown St. Paul Airport.

In fact, they recommended pilots almost anywhere East of KSGS from the Pine Bend Refinery up to I-94 in Woodbury and East to Woodbury Drive talk to Saint Paul Tower even though it's not airspace they control.

"We want to talk to you guys," Thompson sad. "We are people too, we're not looking to deviate anybody. We're not looking to yell at anybody on frequency or mostly not looking to end up on YouTube." 

"If you're going to be flying East, give us a call, we'll let you know if someone's on final or if you guys want to transition to Anoka, come on by. We'll get you there quicker. It's free for now.  Let's say you're departing 34, and you're going up to Anoka. If you call me as soon as you can, even if you get inside the Delta, I'm not going to deviate you. My controllers won't deviate you. We understand the constraints that we have if you're making a good faith attempt. Now, if you make it to midfield (at KSTP), we might have to have a conversation but -- and you guys laugh -- it's happened."



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