in Good Hands
With Air Traffic Controllers on the Job
passengers riding on airplanes think that the pilot is the one
responsible for getting them in the air and back on the ground
don't know is that there are men and women sitting in rooms packed
with electronic equipment, guiding the pilot and making sure that
there are no accidents.
These people are the air traffic controllers.
They are expected to control the actions of every pilot in their
area on the ground and in the air.
On any given
day, more than 87,000 flights are in the skies in the United States.
The air traffic controller's job is to take care of every person
on every plane from the minute that the engines turn on until
they are turned off again. Controllers work quietly in the background.
If you aren't a pilot, you may not even know that they exist.
That's the way they like it. You only hear about air traffic controllers
when something goes wrong.
On September 11th, they were in the
news. They were the ones who notified the government about the
planes that were off course...on the way to attack the Pentagon
and the World Trade Center. When the President canceled all fights
and ordered all planes to land, air traffic controllers got busy
clearing the sky and making sure that all of the aircraft landed
of Lines & Dots
There are more
than 15,200 air traffic controllers who spend their days in front
of computer screens filled with lines and dots. Each dot is an
airplane. Some of the smaller private jets may be carrying just
a few people but bigger planes are loaded with hundreds of lives.
The men and women at the monitoring stations stare at the screens
for hours at a time to make sure that none of those dots get too
close to each other. If air traffic controllers notice a plane
straying from the route, they call the pilot and get it back in
place -- long before anyone suspects that there was a problem.
work at airports. You may have seen the towers where they work.
They not only watch the screens to keep the planes in the air
a safe distance apart, they also watch the planes taking off and
landing. It's the job of the controllers to make sure every pilot
is doing exactly what they should to avoid any chance of accidents.
Pilots and crews give the credit to controllers for keeping air
travel safe for everyone.
traffic controllers work in Terminal Radar Approach Control facilities
Getting assigned to work in a TRACON takes years of experience.
Only the top controllers have the personality and skills to handle
these positions. Each TRACON is responsible for the air traffic
in many airports as well as in the skies between them. Men and
women who sit for hours watching the screens in these facilities
are the reason that flying is as safe as it is.
Is The Price
Air traffic controllers know that one small mistake, a few seconds
of not paying attention during a long shift, can mean that two
of those dots might collide and hundreds of innocent people could
be hurt. The work of managing planes flying with hundreds of passengers
takes steady nerves. It demands attention to the tiniest details,
the ability to talk to more than one pilot at a time and split
second reaction times. Because of this, air traffic controllers
must stop working when they reach the age of 56. The pilots who
fly the planes can work until they are 60 before they are forced
& Satisfaction Are The Rewards
Why would anyone want to take a job so demanding that they are
forced to stop working years before most other people? Sitting
for hours staring at a computer screen, safeguarding thousands
of lives might seem like a very strange way to earn a living,
but the people who choose this line of work love what they do.
They are willing to work shifts around the clock and on weekends
Air traffic controllers may not be home for Thanksgiving
dinner or to celebrate New Year's Eve with their families, but
they do get to go home after every shift knowing that they spent
their work hours protecting thousands of people. Families were
reunited, business deals were made and honeymooners are cuddling
safely, because air traffic controllers did their job.
Calm Voice In An Emergency
One of the few times that air traffic controllers become visible
to the public is when someone has an emergency in the air. All
of the news stories about inexperienced pilots getting "talked"
through landing safely are about air traffic controllers stepping
up when they are needed. The voice that provides a lifeline on
the other end of the radio is an experienced air traffic controller
calmly dealing with another emergency situation. They don't need
The satisfaction of another disaster avoided, another
life saved, is what keeps them going. If you ask them, they'll
tell you that it's just part of the job and what they get paid