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Air Traffic Controller (#2)

Lance C. Morgan

Tell us about your work---what do you do? I am an air traffic controller in an En Route Center. I don't work in a tower at an airport. I work in a dark radar room , tracking aircraft across several states, as they fly between airports. What skills are needed? The ability to think things through quickly, make a plan and follow that plan quickly and sometimes under stress. Problem solving skills are a must; I make hundreds of decisions a day, and every one has to be right. Thick skin and a sense of humor help. What was your major? Biology/pre-med. How did you get started in your career? An interest in aviation started it. I had my private pilot's license . For the job, I took a government entrance exam and scored high enough to qualify for the three-month screening class. After passing (50 percent of candidates fail) the class, I was assigned to an on-the-job duty station. What experience do you need in this job? Three years work experience of any type or four years of college (anything that proves you are capable of learning new things and accomplishing work.) You don't need aviation experience in this field. Describe your "typical" workday: Most facilities operate 24 hrs/7 days a week. The typical workweek consists of two swing shifts, two day shifts, and a midnight shift. A typical day consists of busy times and slow times. I sit in front of a radar screen, trying to keep as many as 25 aircraft separated at any one time, working with the pilots by using speed and altitude adjustments to keep them separated. What is the hardest aspect of your job? The hardest part is working a sector saturated with aircraft in bad weather that every aircraft wants to deviate around and keep them from running into each other. Two hours of a busy session such as this can leave you physically and mentally exhausted. It's like playing chess and not being allowed to lose any of your pieces. What is the most rewarding aspect of your job? Finishing a tough session and knowing I did a good job. What are your suggestions for someone considering this field? Visit air traffic control facilities. Get a feel for what we actually do. Most movie portrayals are nowhere close to accurate. Be aware that the training can last as long as three to four years. Some people can do this job and some can't---it has nothing to do with how smart or educated you are.
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