September 8 (Sat) 12:00pm Lights Out at KSQL- The Day the Tower Lost Power

Event Date: 
Saturday, September 8, 2018 - 12:00pm

San Carlos Airport is a busy, Class D airport just 9 miles from SFO.  San Carlos pilots spend our lives just west and south of the final approach path of jumbo jets bound for the SF Bay Area’s anchor airport, with 8 other towered airports in a 25 mile radius.  As a result, San Carlos pilots get good at radio communication with control towers, approach control, and air route traffic control centers. But what happens at untowered airports? What happens when your towered airport suddenly becomes untowered?


On Sunday August 20th 2018, an electrical transformer blew causing the San Carlos Airport control tower to lose all power.  Initially, operations continued largely unaffected as tower controllers used standby battery backups to keep Class D services going.  ATIS was unavailable as that system was affected by the outage. Some pilot services were curtailed in the interest of safety, so pattern work was eliminated, but departing and arriving pilots still were still able to use ground and tower to safely coordinate runway and taxiway use.  But after several hours, the tower issued an announcement that San Carlos was “ATC Zero” and that control services were no longer available, making the airport untowered.


In this seminar, we’ll investigate the pilot-to-pilot communication that occurred during the tower outage.  How pilots learned about the outage. How pilots coordinated sharing the runway. How pilots self-reported location to share airspace.  Although radio communication is not required by federal regulation at untowered airports, at a busy airport like SQL communication plays a critical role in safety.  This unusual situation is a great time to learn what happens to pilot-to-pilot communication when something out of the ordinary happens.


San Carlos Flight Center frequently holds safety seminars on radio communication issues, with the goal of helping pilots understand the radio terminology and procedures that keep radio frequencies safe and effective.  In this seminar, we’ll review recordings taken during the surprise power outage, and discuss ways that we can better coordinate safety with other pilots if this ever occurs again.


Dan Dyer is Chief Pilot of San Carlos Flight Center and has been instructing for 14 years, first in helicopter and now in airplanes. He has over 4,000 flight hours and is the Bay Area's local expert in crosswind landing instruction. He is known for finding simple and innovative ways to explain complex topics and regularly speaks on advanced ground school topics.  He co-founded and manages the Bay Area FlyOutGroup - a social club of over 400 pilots that meet for lunches, dinners, and other fun aerial adventures. Find out more about Dan at or contact him at


Herb Patten is a CFI and an FAA certificated advanced and instrument ground instructor who teaches private pilot ground school at San Carlos Flight Center. He is a commercial pilot with an instrument rating, has over 900 hours and flown into at least 111 different California airports. He is co-founder of the Bay Area Student and New Pilot Support Group, and a board member of the Upwind Foundation, famous for its Upwind Summer Scholarship Program. In 2015, Herb was named a Master Instructor by the National Association of Flight Instructors.


This event qualifies for FAA Wings credit.

Any questions, contact us at (650) 946-1700 or

San Carlos Flight Center has created BAY FLIGHT 2018, an aviation conference for SF Bay Area pilots interested in staying current about the latest topics in aviation, learning new skills and techniques, and hearing from leaders in the field and will be held on Oct 27, 2018 (

San Carlos Flight Center is committed to promoting safety in general aviation through our evening safety seminar programs. Space is often limited so it is important to sign up early through the FAA event notification system at FAASAFETY.GOV. SCFC members may choose to watch the seminar live over the web at home. Contact your SCFC member service rep at (650) 946-1700 to confirm secure online access to any particular seminar.